March 21, 2005 11:24 AM PST

Vonage says its calls are still being blocked

Two broadband providers are causing problems for Vonage's Internet phone traffic, a spokeswoman said Monday, suggesting that a recent federal fine for blocking Vonage calls may not have had its intended impact.

A cable operator and what Vonage spokeswoman Brooke Schulz would only describe as a "wireless broadband provider" are the two alleged culprits. The problems include Vonage calls not getting through and Vonage home phone adapters not working, she said.

The complaints surface about three weeks after a Mebane, N.C., telecommunications provider, Madison River Communication, said it would "refrain from blocking" voice over Internet Protocol calls and pay a $15,000 fine to the government. Vonage, a VoIP provider, brought Madison River to the Federal Communications Commission's attention, and may do so with providers involved in these latest problems.

The FCC had hoped the Madison River enforcement would help eradicate what's commonly referred to as "port blocking," a way of blocking traffic--one that telecom providers threatened by VoIP are turning to with increasing frequency. The FCC did not comment on Monday about the impact of the fine or about the Vonage complaints.

Schulz said the company at first assumed the latest problems were user error, a typical starting point for any investigation of this nature. But now the "ongoing investigation is of great concern," she said.

She would not say whether by "wireless" she meant broadband providers using networks based on cell phone technology or Wi-Fi, which are high-speed wireless networks over free-to-use spectrum commonly found in transportation hubs, lodgings, offices and homes.

It's more likely a Wi-Fi operator is involved. Wi-Fi and Vonage traffic are based on Internet Protocol, the backbone of the Internet and of most privately owned and operated communications networks. In addition, Vonage encourages its 500,000-plus subscribers to turn Wi-Fi hot spots into giant free phone booths.

While cell phone operators are showing more willingness to add VoIP and Wi-Fi to their repertoires, there aren't enough commercial services or VoIP-ready handsets in the United States to generate traffic levels that would worry a cellular operator.

 

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