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Vonage complains of Shaw 'VoIP tax'

Wed, 03/08/2006 - 6:55am
Jeff Baumgartner, CED

In a move sure to stoke the flames of the ongoing "network neutrality" debate, Vonage Canada issued a complaint Tuesday alleging that Canadian MSO Shaw Communications is recommending that its cable modem users pay an additional monthly fee if they tap a third-party VoIP service provider.

Calling it a "thinly-veiled VoIP tax," Vonage Canada alleged that Shaw is recommending that its high-speed customers pay an additional $10 charge for such a service, and has asked the Canadian Radio-Television & Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to investigate the matter.

On its Web site, Shaw does promote a "Quality of Service Enhancement" for $10 per month "to improve the quality of Internet telephony services offered by third party providers."

Other than providing a QoS "feature," Shaw's explanation on the Web about what the fee actually provides is vague and does not go into much technical detail.

Shaw officials were not available for comment by Wednesday's deadline.

Vonage Canada, for its part, acknowledged it does not have "credible, complete information" on what the fee covers, but it is seeking proof on what enhancement is being provided. It also questions whether Shaw is justified for charging a recurring fee on something that "may consist of a one-time configuration."

Traditional cable modem services are considered "best effort." Quality of service capabilities are usually applied to PacketCable voice services that travel an operator-managed network rather than the public Internet. On its site, Shaw warns that customers "may encounter quality of service issues" with third-party VoIP services that use the public Internet.

Vonage Canada, meanwhile, claims the extra fee is designed to help Shaw protect its own phone service.

Shaw introduced its own VoIP service about a year ago. Today, the MSO offers it in areas such as Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Victoria and Vancouver. Last month, Shaw launched a special promotion that offers Shaw Digital Phone for $29.95 per month for the first three months of service. The regular monthly price for the MSO's VoIP service is $55.

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