SBC, FCC Joust Over VoIP Tariff

SBC is defending a proposal to charge VoIP
providers for a more efficient method of completing calls to its customers
after the plan drew fire from FCC Chairman Powell.

At issue is the regional carrier’s proposed True IP to PSTN (TIPTop)
offering, which would allow VoIP providers to connect IP traffic to
circuit-switched network through a specially designed interface.

The program was outlined in a filing with the Federal Communications
Commission (FCC) on Wednesday and would be optional. The charges that VoIP
providers would pay haven’t been set.

FCC Chairman Michael Powell, who favors minimum regulations and fees for
VoIP, weighed in Friday.

“Should we conclude that this tariff is being used to justify the imposition
of traditional tariffed access charges on VoIP providers or to discriminate
against SBC’s competitors, the commission will take appropriate action
including, but not limited to, initiating an investigation of SBC’s
interstate tariff and any other tariff that proposes similar terms,” Powell
said in a statement.

He added that the FCC already has three issues before it related to the
charges applicable to VoIP services, including a large intercarrier
compensation proceeding.

In response, SBC said the program isn’t at odds with Powell’s aims.

“It is a voluntary offering … and would in no way prejudge or prejudice
the FCC’s resolution of its pending intercarrier payment proceedings,”
James C. Smith, an SBC senior vice president said in a statement.

San Antonio, Texas-based SBC said BellSouth has had a
similar program in place since May 2003. SBC also believes that VoIP
providers will find TIPTop attractive. In fact, more than 20 VoIP providers
have contacted SBC about it, spokesman Michael F. Balmoris said.

Others are taking a wait-and-see approach, however.

“We haven’t really been able to react to the SBC news, because no one has
seen the actual tariff yet,” Brooke Schulz, a Vonage spokeswoman, said.
“Our only real concern is that this proposal will block competitors from
utilizing tandem interconnection, or make it so tandem interconnection is
not palatable.”

Tandem connections are used by local exchange carriers to interconnect with
each other, Schulz said. Vonage currently goes through a competitive local
exchange carrier to tap into Baby Bell networks.

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