Google anger over per-minute charges for VoIP

Google accuses plans currently under review by US telecoms regulator the FCC of "letting the tail wag the dog", by imposing per-minute voice call charges on IP traffic.

In a letter to the Federal Communications Commission, the search giant's lawyers have urged the regulator not to impose the same per-minute termination charges levied on traditional voice calls on the rapidly expanding market in IP-based telephony, which routes voice data over the Internet.

The letter from Google counsel Donna N. Lampert comes as the FCC is considering the idea of levying access charges on Internet-based Voice over IP (VoIP) telephone services such as Skype and Google Talk. A US tech innovation policy called the ESP exemption has until now kept per-minute access charges off the Internet.

That situation could end if the FCC adopts proposals (PDF) made by a consortium of rural telephone companies in the United States who claim that VoIP applications compete unfairly with their own home phone services, and are getting a "free ride" over their network.

The issue is a loaded one, and Google claims the proposals before the FCC are backward-looking - particularly as the volume of IP-based voice traffic creeps ever closer to that of calls over the conventional public switched telephone network.

According to Google's figures, IP voice calls in the US represented roughly 21,000 terabytes a month during 2010, next to 36,000TB of conventional calls. But according to slides attached to the letter, by 2015 IP traffic could rise to 23,000TB, against to a declining 26,000TB a month for PSTN.

The relative importance of conventional voice traffic has declined massively over the last decade, with the Internet carrying more than 160 times more data than the voice networks - a stark contrast from the picture in 2000, when standalone voice traffic peaked at more than double the total volume of IP-based data.