Stage Set For Heated FCC Debate On Regulating VoIP

When the FCC examines VoIP in landmark hearings Monday, the battle lines in the debate will be sharply drawn.

November 27, 2003

3 Min Read
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When the FCC examines VoIP in landmark hearings Monday, the battle lines in the debate will be sharply drawn between the country's two sunny states -- California and Florida. California wants to regulate VoIP, Florida doesn't.

Each state is sending a public regulatory commissioner to argue its respective merits. Carl Wood of California's Public Utilities Commission has long championed regulation as the best means of conserving what he calls "the benefits of large-scale public investment in public infrastructure for the public." Florida's Charles Davidson, a former executive director of the state's Information Technology Taskforce and currently a commissioner of Florida's Public Service Commission, champions deregulation and has promoted what he says "are public policies to help ensure that Florida maintains progressive economic development processes and rational regulatory regimes."

Wood maintains that the deregulation drive contributed to the energy crisis and abuse by elements in the energy industry including Enron. Davidson follows the trail made by the Florida legislature, which made it clear in legislation passed earlier this year that VoIP service will not be subject to traditional telephonic regulation and taxation in the state.

The U. S. telephone industries are in a stage of upheaval and much of the chaos can be traced to the recent boom in VoIP, which accounts for about 10 percent of the country's phone calls. In addition to the changes wrought by VoIP, wireless telephone technologies are encroaching on landline telephony rapidly and contributing to the uncertainty that is facing the entire market.

Davidson and Wood will participate in a "VoIP and Public Policy" panel and discuss whether current regulatory obligations for traditional telephone service should be placed on VoIP providers and whether such obligations are feasible. Other participants in the panel include Michael Gallagher, U. S. Department of Commerce acting assistant secretary; James Crowe, Level3 CEO; Tom Evslin, CEO ITXC; Jeffrey Citron, CEO Vonage; and Dr. Gregg Vanderheiden of the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Project on Telecommunications Access, University of Wisconsin.Another more technical panel will delve into the technology and market issues surrounding VoIP. In a statement, the FCC said: "Panelists will address how the FCC might distinguish among numerous services employing VoIP, and whether it could feasibly distinguish between VoIP and other IP-enabled applications facilitating communication ranging from e-mail to instant messaging to videoconferencing to interactive online gaming.

Panelists on the technical and market issues panel will also discuss VoIP capabilities and its development of possible lower-cost and innovative services. Its panelists will include Kevin Werbach, founder of the Supernova Group; Charles Giancarlo, a general manager at Cisco Systems; Jeff Pulver, president of; John Hodulik, managing director of UBS Communications Group; and John Billock, COO of Time Warner Cable.

FCC Chairman Michael Powell, who will speak at the hearing, has said the FCC will consider VoIP and its ramifications for a year. One issue that remains unresolved is the issue of Web taxation -- the U. S. Senate was considering extending a ban on Internet access taxes, but put the issue off until next year because it couldn't finish debate.

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