ITEXPO begins in:   New Coverage :  Asterisk  |  Fax Software  |  SIP Phones  |  Small Cells

Feature Article
September 2004

VoIP: The FCC Should Run the Show

BY John Cimko

Questions poured out of the FCC’s recent Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) regarding Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and other Internet-enhanced services like cicadas boring up out of the ground in Washington, D.C., this spring. The FCC barraged readers of the NPRM with a swarm of more than a hundred queries about how regulators should deal with Internet telephony services.

Based on the comments that have now been filed in the proceeding, it is clear that many of these questions — what to do about access charges, intercarrier compensation, compliance with Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) requirements, access to 911 emergency services — will pose difficult challenges for the FCC.

But one of the questions raised by the FCC should have an easy answer.

When the FCC turns to the issue of who should be in charge of setting the regulatory framework for Internet telephony, the FCC itself should step to the front of the line.

There are several reasons why the public would benefit from the FCC’s playing a lead role in mapping out the future course for VoIP and other Internet services:

  • The FCC has the right vision. The agency has made it clear in the NPRM and in its earlier decisions that VoIP services should remain unfettered by federal or state economic common carrier regulation. The agency has stressed that Congress, in the Telecommunications Act of 1996, set a national policy for competitive development of Internet-based services, and FCC policymakers have made the case for letting that development proceed without regulatory roadblocks.
  • Some of the states may have the wrong vision. The states have an incentive to try to impose regulations on Internet-based services aimed at preserving revenues for a variety of state telecommunications programs that currently draw funds from carriers operating on the public switched network. As voice traffic migrates from the old network to the Internet platform, the states have a stake in moving existing subsidies along with the traffic, even if these payment structures might hinder the competitive development of Internet-based services.
  • A national framework makes sense. The best way to ensure the efficient development and provision of Internet voice telephony is to create a national set of rules, so that service providers and customers do not need to cope with a crazy quilt of state requirements that would get in the way of new Internet services responsive to consumer demand.

Make no mistake — the Internet is bringing a sea of change to voice communications. Four years ago former FCC Chairman William Kennard predicted that, once Americans discover the value of Internet telephony, “…they will leave the circuit-switched world forever. And it will happen very fast.”

This prediction seems to be on solid ground. Companies like Time Warner and Cablevision are rolling out Internet voice services. And Comcast recently announced that it will offer VoIP telephone services to 40 million households in the next two years. Even companies like Verizon are getting swept up by the Internet tide.

The migration of voice traffic from the switched network to the Internet holds enormous promise for business and residential customers. VoIP services are likely to be cheaper and will bring a wide array of functionalities to the marketplace.
Managing the transition to Internet telephony is important, because it must be done in a way that promotes broadband deployment, preserves and enhances public safety communications, and achieves a competitive balance that does not favor any players.

It’s no surprise that comments filed in the VoIP rulemaking reflect the fact that jurisdiction will be one of the contentious issues in the proceeding. A number of players — including CompTel, CTIA, Qwest, SBC Communications, and Verizon — lined up in favor of exclusive federal jurisdiction and preemption of state regulation. Many of the state commissions that filed comments took a different view. The California Commission, for example, favored shared federal-state jurisdiction.

Meanwhile, FCC Chairman Michael Powell, in his keynote remarks at the recent Supercomm conference in Chicago, expressed chagrin over efforts by some states to impose rules on VoIP services. Chairman Powell got it right when he argued that these state efforts could hamper innovation and competition.

In sifting through the comments in the VoIP rulemaking, the FCC needs to keep its eye on the ball. The FCC is in the best position to structure a transition to Internet voice telephony that achieves the competitive growth of this service for the benefit of residential and business consumers. The FCC needs to assert its jurisdiction and get on with this process.

John Cimko served for fifteen years at the FCC, and currently practices law at Greenberg Traurig LLP in Washington, D.C. The views expressed are solely those of the author and should not be attributed to his firm or its clients.

If you are interested in purchasing reprints of this article (in either print or HTML format), please visit Reprint Management Services online at or contact a representative via e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 800-290-5460.

[ Return To The September 2004 Of Contents ]

Today @ TMC
Upcoming Events
ITEXPO West 2012
October 2- 5, 2012
The Austin Convention Center
Austin, Texas
The World's Premier Managed Services and Cloud Computing Event
Click for Dates and Locations
Mobility Tech Conference & Expo
October 3- 5, 2012
The Austin Convention Center
Austin, Texas
Cloud Communications Summit
October 3- 5, 2012
The Austin Convention Center
Austin, Texas