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FCC Weighs Taxing, Regulating VoIP

When the FCC's Internet Policy Working Group begins wheeling into action in January, one of its first items of business will be to determine whether VoIP will seep into the nation's telephone universe quietly over a period of several years or sweep in with a vengeance in a few months.

Indeed, the timetable for IP telephoning will likely dictate the action the IPWG will recommend. FCC Chairman Michael K. Powell announced the establishment of the working group at a meeting Monday that delved into the rapidly-developing VoIP universe.

Several players in the unfolding VoIP drama testified and their opinions were as varied as the many different approaches to the technology. One speaker, Commissioner Carl Wood of California's Public Utilities Commission, believes the recent drive into VoIP by the country's four major telephone carriers -- BellSouth, Qwest, SBC, and Verizon -- will telescope the time telephone users will switch over to VoIP.

"I think they (the phone carriers) have the capacity to migrate the majority of their customers, maybe all of their customers, in a very shot period of time, a year or two perhaps," Wood said in a statement.

On the opposite side of the argument is long-time VoIP advocate Jeff Pulver, whose Free World Dial Up Internet telephone service has some 90,000 subscribers. Pulver cautioned the FCC not to be influenced by "excessive hype" and pushed into premature regulation. Pulver said VoIP could take a decade before it really catches on. "My hope is that (the FCC Commissioners) leave room for IP communications to continue to innovate and experiment."

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