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The often debated topic of net neutrality is usually approached from the angles of online censorship and web services, but there are also very real ramifications for the Internet-based industry of VoIP telecommunications. Put simply, “net neutrality” is a principle by which internet service providers cannot discriminate against the data that they transmit. Under net neutrality, all data is required to be transmitted with equal fidelity and at the same price. Without net neutrality, an ISP can alter its pricing structure and bandwidth prioritization based on type and source of traffic.

There are two sides to net neutrality: charges to the consumer and charges to the content provider. Without net neutrality it would be possible for an ISP to charge someone more for having VoIP telecommunication services with another telecommunications provider. Further, the ISP would also be able to prioritize the data sent to and from this other telecommunications provider as less important, thereby lowering overall call stability. The ISP would also be able to charge VoIP companies more regarding the amount of data it transmitted. This could increase the overall price of VoIP communications.

Many companies do not contract services for VoIP telecommunications directly with their Internet Service Provider; commercial VoIP services tend to be contracted specifically through telecommunications companies, while residential services are more likely to be contracted through an ISP. Should ISPs desire to limit this type of traffic or promote their own commercial services, a lack of net neutrality could become costly for corporate VoIP clients. Other clients may see the stability or the speed of their telecommunications service slow down drastically.

Restricting external VoIP services in this way may seem unlikely, but it’s exactly what many individuals are concerned ISPs will do regarding streaming video services, which have become competitive with the television services provided by cable-based Internet service providers. At the same time, Internet Service Providers are assuring consumers that a lack of net neutrality will not significantly alter their product offerings .

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