European mobile operator to charge extra for VoIP

Network neutrality has been something of a contentious issue in recent years. The concept that all data are equal when it comes to the availability and distribution of content – based on the simple idea that one byte is no different from another – is one that campaigners have been trying to etch into the consciousness of network operators, legislators and consumers alike.

The operators aren’t entirely sympathetic to this argument; they’ve been enjoying things a certain way for a long time - for example, with unrealistically high charges for SMS text messaging, the true cost of which is a tiny fraction of the amount that they charge per message. The advent of VoIP calling services, such as Microsoft Skype, and instant messaging services – which treat calls and messages as just bits and bytes of data over a network – represent a clear threat to the revenue streams that operators have enjoyed for so long.

So perhaps it’s not entirely surprising that some carriers are panicking in the face of this threat, in an effort to try to safeguard their incomes in new ways. The European mobile operator TeliaSonera is one such example, as it will shortly introduce surcharges for customers using VoIP services over its network. TeliaSonera is Europe’s fifth largest telecommunications provider, with 157 million subscribers in numerous markets including Scandinavia, Russia, Spain and Turkey.

Disregarding the net neutrality tenet of no data being more equal than others, the carrier will first introduce the new charges in Spain on its Yoigo network in Q2 2012, before bringing them to the Telia network in Sweden in the following months.

The Next Web noted comments made by the group’s CEO, Lars Nyberg, in its quarterly report, in which he stated that the company has been completely open and upfront about its plans: “We have been early in introducing tiered pricing of data, lower costs for data roaming and recently openly communicated that we will start to charge for mobile VoIP,” he said.

The company report also explained that its customers “will have the opportunity to either choose a subscription which includes mobile VoIP or one without. When the need arises, this service can then be bought separately.”

Nyberg’s justification for introducing these charges – cited by The Wall Street Journal – will no doubt be shared, though perhaps not quite so publicly, by network operators around the globe. He said: “If all our customers suddenly decided to switch over to making internet calls, and we charged them only for the data traffic usage, we would lose about 70% of our revenue.”

But perhaps that’s the ultimate consequence of operating in a free market economy: sometimes the market dictates where you go next - and resisting that natural change, in an effort to force the good ol’ days to last forever, rarely ends well.

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