Powell Farewell Highlights VoIP Realities

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Outgoing Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Michael Powell
offered sobering advice to an IT industry eager to rollout Voice over IP services.

“You will not be a rock star forever,” Powell said during his keynote
at the Voice on the Net tradeshow here today. “Be prepared for that day
and identify how things can turn south in a moment.”

Powell’s so-called swan song was catered to a packed hall of service
providers, regulators and related companies looking to capitalize on a
burgeoning IP telephony industry.

Analysts with JupiterResearch estimate
VoIP services will grow to 12.1 million households by 2009, representing
about 10 percent of all U.S. households. Additionally, 17 percent of all
U.S. broadband households will use a VoIP telephony service in 2009, up
from 1 percent by the end of 2004.

But despite VoIP’s growing acceptance in the mainstream
marketplace, Powell said VoIP providers would need to continue to work
with regulators on issues like how to improve 911 emergency calls,
broader access, universal service and ubiquity.

Michael K. Powell
Michael K. Powell
Source: FCC.gov

“You don’t want to be on the front page of a newspaper because a
house burns down, and a grandmother dies and it’s because her VoIP
service doesn’t work,” he said.

Often accused by consumer groups of serving the Bells’ interests,
Powell said he was proud of his legacy and the aggressive nature he took
with the industry to protect and foster VoIP.

A case in point was Madison River, who admitted
no guilt in port-blocking complaints brought by Vonage, but agreed to a
$15,000 fine and promised to drop the practice.

“This is a remarkable regulatory feat in that the initial complaint
was brought to us a little more than three weeks ago,” Powell said to a
round of audience applause.

Powell said he was encouraged by a growing number of VoIP-related
equipment being sold at popular electronics stores alongside his two
favorite innovations, TiVo and the iPod.

The FCC chairman also discussed the agency’s new relationship with
the venture capital community. Powell said he was encouraged in the last
six months in his meetings in New York and California with fund mangers
who were excited by the promise that VoIP might bring.

“I see optimism and excitement. They were lined wall to wall around
the table,” Powell said. “This was not true two years ago when VCs
complained that it was too confusing.”

When asked by the audience about VoIP providers being charged the
same access rates as legacy phone companies, Powell said VoIP providers
would need to continue to “keep squawking” and “be noisy.” He
characterized the compensation issues as riddled with inconsistent and
arbitrary statutes.

“We have an item on the floor for consideration that may provide some
clarity in compensation for VoIP, but I’m not at liberty to discuss it.

Powell also called on his as yet unnamed replacement to continue
focusing on his theme of establishing Internet freedoms: freedom to view
content; freedom to run any application; freedom to attach a personal
device; and the right to view a service policy.

“The revolution is not an academic one,” Powell said. “I’m looking at
the generation that is behind me and I pity the policy maker that stands
on some arcane legal theory to prevent innovation.

The minute that you
do, there will be some 16- to 18-year-old who will come up with a more
disruptive way of doing things.”

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