There remain many regulatory issues, clearly wearing thin, yet standing in the way of the complete growth of VoIP technology. Despite these dwindling restrictions, VoIP has nevertheless been embraced in a huge way across the country. Corporations especially, have reported “Significant Use” or “Extensive Use” of VoIP technology, according to a recent survey conducted by Sonus Networks. However, a proverbial tug-o-war has ensued since the inception of Voice over technology, where no side is clearly the winner and VoIP remains in regulatory limbo.
The battle rages on, while carriers and service providers simply can’t agree over marketplace and technological issues, the issue is exacerbated by the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) refusal to define IP-enabled services included interconnected VoIP. Regulatory questions associated with VoIP have arose even before the FCC for more than a decade, largely because the independent federal commission has yet to determine whether VoIP is a telecommunications service or an information service, in spite of numerous petitions to do so. VoIP providers largely favor a filing as information-services, which would exempt VoIP from FCC regulations. The only immunity to these exemptions would lie in places where the FCC has “ancillary jurisdiction”, such as E911, which is implemented under the commission’s Title I jurisdiction for the preservation and promotions of public safety. On the other side of the coin, competitive local exchange carriers argue that managed VoIP should be given common-carrier classification under Title II of the Communications Act.
“It creates a huge regulatory uncertainty,” said Karen Reidy, Vice President of regulatory affairs at COMPTEL, the Washington-based trade association of competitive communications service providers. “Managed VoIP should be treated just as other voice service. The commission needs to clarify that Section 251 applies.”
In 2009, AT&T filed a 32-page report detailing its position on the matter of phasing out landlines. The two biggest requests on the report were mainly that the FCC eliminate the regulatory requirements that support a landline network, and that it provide a firm deadline for phasing it out. AT&T painted a pretty vivid yet bleak picture for landlines, including the fact that less than 20 percent of Americans rely exclusively on PSTN for voice services, and that at least 18 million homes (at the time) use[d] a VoIP service; AT&T asked that the FCC provide a firm deadline for phasing out landlines completely. The FCC has yet to provide a definitive answer to the proposal.
Returning to present day, the five-member FCC has essentially taken a hands-off approach to VoIP regulations, holding strongly to the opinion that VoIP is strictly an information service and not subject to utility-type common-carrier regulation. Besides consumer-protection and public-safety requirements, the FCC has traditionally declined to apply traditional telephone regulation to Internet-based servicess that involve data processing following a congressional directive in the Telecommunications Act of 1996 to “preserve the vibrant and competitive free market that presently exists for the Internet.”
The preliminary consideration by the FCC of VoIP technology services dates back to 1998, in a report submitted to Congress. In lesser terms, the report noted that the regulatory body would classify VoIP in future proceedings. Now 2012, the “proceedings” are ongoing in what appears to be a regulatory stalemate. In 2004, the Vonage Preemption Order was declined by the FCC, where they once again declined to categorize VoIP as a telecommunication or information services. Instead, the commissioners said the FCC and not individual states had the discretion to decide whether regulations apply to a VoIP and other IP-enabled services.
At least three federal district courts have found that VoIP services are “information services,” Verizon attorneys wrote, “The Commission has had the question of VoIP’s regulatory classification before it for many years, and it should confirm once and for all that VoIP is an information service.” Amid the steady oppression via FCC regulation over the VoIP space, state legislatures have sought to exercise jurisdiction–most notably by preempting their respective state regulators from regulating the VoIP space in an aim at encouraging technological innovation by offering some degree of regulatory certainty. The question of whether VoIP fits under Title 1 or is better considered simply as another voice service still rings on, with various companies and organizations reaching out with no answer.
Source: Fierce Enterprise Communications