Powell Takes Credit for VOIP Growth
Looking bureaucratic and perfectly-pressed, Powell took the stage, endured an awkward-looking bear hug from conference organizer Jeff Pulver, and waited while much of the audience stood and applauded him (Pulver had suggested they do so).
“My nearly eight years as chairman of the FCC is coming to a close, but I can think of no better place than VON to deliver my swan song. Because VOIP clearly stands for what I have so hard fought to achieve.”
Powell said VOIP’s success hit him when he recently walked through an electronics store an saw a shelf full of plug-and-play VOIP products for the home. No word on whether the same feeling was shared by several Vonage Holdings Corp. customers last Friday (see Vonage Off the Hook).
Powell has indeed been a strong ally of the VOIP movement. For two years now a debate has raged on how to regulate VOIP. Powell has insisted that VOIP is fundamentally different than circuit switched phone service and should not be regulated like one (see Powell: VOIP Regs 'Grave Mistake'). He is seen as the central player in holding off the regulatory forces of state bodies in favor of broader federal oversight of the industry -- an approach industry types much prefer.
Vonage CEO and VOIP industry poster boy Jeffrey Citron told Light Reading Monday: “I think that the loss of Michael Powell is a great loss for the VOIP business, and not only the VOIP but whole telecom industry. He’s always been very proactive, not reactive, and that’s why he’s been so effective.”
Legislation that would legally establish VOIP as an “advanced” service (as opposed to a new flavor of phone service) has been circulating in Washington during the last three Congresses, but no Federal law has to date been passed.
Powell reviewed his “Four Net Freedoms,” which he outlined in a speech two years ago and that he says have guided his policy decisions ever since. They include the consumer freedom to access content, to use the applications of their choice, to use any access device that they have paid for, and to obtain clear service plan information.
As proof that he's been squarely in VOIP’s corner, Powell points to last week’s decision against Madison River Communications, the rural telephone company cited for port-blocking Vonage service. “I have to tell you that this was a remarkable regulatory feat,” Powell says, as he reached way around to pat himself on the back (see FCC Fines VOIP Villains). He explained that the entire action against the carrier took only three weeks, to which the audience here responded with a long ovation.
“That’s like zero to sixty in three and a half seconds for a regulatory agency,” Powell says. “But is also establishes a precedent that will not be easily overturned; that we have a directive and an obligation to overturn any action that violates the Four Net Freedoms.”
Powell ended his comments with some advice for the VOIP crowd.
“The future is so very bright for voice over the net, but you must realize that you won’t be a rock star forever, that you must take care to work with your government on those things that are of great public importance and that will never, ever yield,” Powell says.
Then he quoted Kafka!
“Every revolution after it evaporates leaves behind only the slime of a new bureaucracy,” Powell warned. “But that doesn’t have to happen here if the industry is constructive and engaging on issues such as private call 911, cooperation with law enforcement, and the American ideal of universal services ubiquity and [number] portability services for all.”
The FCC’s hands-off approach can continue if the industry actively engages its regulators and leads the way, Powell says. “It is up to you to show public officials the way, because I’m pretty confident that you don’t want them to do it for you.”
— Mark Sullivan, Reporter, Light Reading