FCC Urged To Act Quickly On VoIP

VoIP proponents at Supercomm said the FCC needs to establish a national policy on VoIP -- quickly.

June 23, 2004

2 Min Read
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CHICAGO -- Voice over IP proponents on Tuesday urged the Federal Communications Commission to act quickly to establish national policy guidelines for the technology, in order to head off potential regulatory roadblocks that are surfacing at the state level.

At a panel here at the Supercomm 2004 show, state regulators as well as VoIP service providers implored the FCC to take the lead on VoIP policy issues, before individual states could muck up the process.

"We desperately need the FCC to step in and take the bullets for us," said Susan Kennedy, a commissioner with the California Public Utilities Commission. Though Kennedy is a VoIP proponent, the California PUC is one of several state bodies whose own internal conflicts over VoIP regulation are leaving potential VoIP customers, investors and providers in a state of uncertainty.

Without the clarity of a national policy, VoIP's momentum could be stalled by the separate state efforts, proponents said.

"Clearly, there is a need for a national framework," said Jeffrey Citron, CEO of leading VoIP provider Vonage, who said the regulatory uncertainty surrounding VoIP often gives a pause to investors and potential users of the technology. Such delays, he said, could stall the economic recovery being spurred by VoIP providers and their suppliers, as well as the ongoing venture capital investments in VoIP startups."A lot of this [business activity] is in jeopardy," Citron said.

While Kennedy herself is a proponent of light-touch regulation on technologies like VoIP, other members of the California PUC are actively trying to exercise regulatory control over the technology and VoIP service providers. Other states, like New York, are also trying to keep a regulatory clamp on VoIP.

The problem of such attempts at local regulation, VoIP proponents said, is the potential of a patchwork of regulations that will put undue strains on startups (like Vonage) who don't have the resources to comply with different forms of VoIP regulation for a large number of different states.

If states are allowed to set up individual sets of regulations, "it will kill the [VoIP] industry," said Charles Davidson, a commissioner with the Florida Public Utilities Commission.

While the FCC is generally in agreement with a national VoIP policy -- both chairman Michael Powell and commissioner Kathleen Abernathy made statements to that effect in speeches at Supercomm on Tuesday -- the sometimes tedious process of FCC rulemaking can frustrate the fast-paced technology business."We have numerous proceedings going on, and this [topic] is very important to us," said Bill Maher, the chief of the FCC's wireline competition bureau. "Can we move faster, and [have a result] that's bulletproof? No."

But Joe Waz, vice president for public policy at cable provider Comcast Corporation, said a regulatory policy needs to be established so providers can feel comfortable making investments in infrastructure.

"Many [companies] stand ready to invest in facilities [for VoIP]," Waz said. "We just need to know the rules by which we're playing."

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