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FCC Rules on VOIP – Sort Of

At its open meeting today, the FCC took a couple of baby steps toward providing regulatory clarity on Internet telephony.

The first big decision was a victory for VOIP proponents. The commission ruled that Pulver.com's Free World Dialup VOIP service is an information service, not a telecommunications service. The decision was based largely on the analysis that it doesn’t fit the 1996 Telecom Act’s definition of a telecommunications service.

“There is no question that this doesn’t constitute a telecommunications service,” said commissioner Kathleen Abernathy. “It falls squarely outside that statutory definition.”

That analysis was shared by commissioner Jonathan Adelstein: “Pulver.com’s service is largely unregulated today and, in my view, should stay that way.”

Commissioner Michael Copps dissented amid concerns that the FCC hadn’t fully considered the implications, particularly for law enforcement, universal service, and public safety. “I’m afraid we’re leaping before we’re looking,” he said. “This rush to reclassify will lead us down a road where we’re compelled to engage in legal calisthenics and contortion of both CALEA and the 1996 Telecom Act to meet our statutory obligations. This is admittedly an important decision, but not so important that it cannot wait a little while longer while we conduct an expeditious review.”

That review is coming. After the vote on Free World Dialup, the commission initiated a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on Internet telephony (see http://hraunfoss.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/DOC-243868A1.doc). Although the commission is starting from the premise that VOIP should be subject to minimal regulation, it still has to clarify issues such as wiretaps and whether Internet telephony is an intrastate or interstate service.

However, there are two reasons to believe that the FCC won’t issue an Order on VOIP until late 2004 -- if then. First, the commission historically doesn’t undertake major policy initiatives in a Presidential election year. Second, Internet telephony is such a complex issue with such far-reaching implications that it’s difficult to see how it could be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction, let alone in one fell swoop.

One thing is clear: The commission believes that federal regulators, not states, should set VOIP regulations. The NPRM is an opportunity to avoid a patchwork of rules across the country, Abernathy says. Nevertheless, completely preempting state authority likely would send Internet telephony to the courts, prolonging uncertainty.

— Tim Kridel, Senior Editor, Heavy Reading

lastmile 12/5/2012 | 2:26:24 AM
re: FCC Rules on VOIP – Sort Of VOIP service is an information service, not a telecommunications service.
Thanks to the FCC now everyone knows that VOIP is basically voice e-mail, an information service, similar to email.
Now regulated POTS will need to compete with unregulated VOIP.
The only controversy that remains, concerns calls that originate on the Internet and then move through public phone networks.
Once broadband penetration reaches the critical mass of 50% of households the concept of POTS will be outdated.
The Bells that continue to offer circuit-switched local-phone facilities are in for a big shock.
Even though they have an enormous lobbying clout, it is the consumer that will decide their future.
Good luck to the Bells.
mtd 12/5/2012 | 2:26:20 AM
re: FCC Rules on VOIP – Sort Of
>>Now regulated POTS will need to compete with unregulated VOIP.
Once broadband penetration reaches the critical mass of 50% of households the concept of POTS will be outdated.
Good luck to the Bells.

============================================
Good luck to the vendors also who are offering only legacy tdm and POTS and do not offer VOIP services.
technonerd 12/5/2012 | 2:26:14 AM
re: FCC Rules on VOIP – Sort Of Boy do you people have it wrong. What's to prevent the RBOCs from offering channelized VoDSL, routed through the circuit-switched network, but calling it VoIP and thereby evading regulation? This isn't about Jeff Pulver, it's about the RBOCs finding a way to kill off what's left of the Telecom Act. The funny thing is that anyone actually believes anything else.
bonnyman 12/5/2012 | 2:21:35 AM
re: FCC Rules on VOIP – Sort Of At the same meeting, the FCC also voted to issue a NPRM (notice of proposed rule making) for new rules to facilitate deployment of BPL (broadband over power lines). This would allow power utilities to offer broadband access in competition with cable TV and telco carriers.
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