Congress Praises FCC VoIP Ruling

Both sides of the Voice over IP divide weighed in
on yesterday’s Federal Communications Commission (FCC)
ruling that stipulates the interstate nature of VoIP services.

Two lawmakers were quick to agree with FCC Chairman
Michael Powell who said Tuesday’s ruling “lays a jurisdictional foundation” for future telecom reform.
However, rural telecom and consumer groups saw little to celebrate in the agency’s decision.


“I strongly support the
FCC’s decision to exempt Internet telephony from state regulation,” wrote
U.S. Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.), chairman of the House Energy and
commerce Committee. “To subject this emerging global technology to
the quagmire of 51 possible sets of regulations in the U.S. alone would
suffocate both quality and cost-efficient choice.


“With this decision, Congress and the FCC can work in the
coming year to allow VoIP services to become a viable alternative to
traditional telephone service,” Barton added. “I look forward to creating clear rules for
all IP-enabled services.”


In the Senate, New Hampshire Republican John Sununu, a member of the Senate
Commerce Committee, praised the FCC for “following the lead established” by
his legislation calling for the pre-emption of state regulation of broadband
voice services. Like Barton, Sununu predicted more congressional action on the issue.

“Comprehensive federal legislation is needed now to deal with expected legal
challenges to this FCC decision, and to address other aspects involving this
technology,” he said in a statement.


The FCC decision leaves much for Congress to consider. Narrow in scope, the
vote determined only the interstate nature of Internet telephony. It did
not, for instance, rule whether VoIP is an information service, such as
cable modem broadband, or a telecommunications service like the Bells.


Nor did the FCC rule on the 911 obligations of voice providers or
potential Universal Fund contributions, which legacy network users pay to
fund telephone costs in rural areas as well as Internet connections in schools and
libraries. The FCC has already ruled broadband phone companies must make
their networks wiretap-friendly.


Foreshadowing the coming telecom reform debate, consumer and rural telecom
interests expressed disappointment with the FCC’s action.


National Telecommunications Cooperative Association CEO Michael E.
Brunner accused the FCC of giving VoIP a “free ride” and an unfair
competitive advantage over copper legacy networks operators.


“We disagree with the FCC’s decision to give preference to one technology
and tilting the competitive advantage in VoIP’s favor to the detriment of
other technologies,” Brunner said in a statement.


Janine Migden-Ostrander, counsel for the Office of the Ohio Consumers’
Counsel, issued a statement declaring, “With traditional local telephone
competition in jeopardy, the last thing consumers need is for their new
choices to lack any safeguards.”


After declaring VoIP under the jurisdiction of the FCC, the agency must now
determine the regulatory obligations of Internet telephony. Exactly what
those obligations will be is part of larger regulatory process under way at
the FCC examining all IP-enabled services. The FCC projects the review will
be completed “sometime in the spring.”


By then, the 109th Congress will be under way and under siege by a broad
range of technology interests, along with distance carriers and, of course,
the Baby Bells, to make significant changes to the 1996 Telecommunications
Act.

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