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VoIP Regulatory Issues Dominate VON Buzz

Regulation -- or the potential lack thereof -- was the buzzword for the morning sessions of the VON (Voice on the Net) conference Monday, during the show's "Telecom Policy Summit" track, which packed the rooms assigned to it at the Santa Clara (Calif.) Convention Center.

While we'll be posting some more in-depth interviews later today and through the week, the prevailing sentiment during panels about federal and state regulation Monday morning seemed to be that industry players need to work together to solve thorny issues like intercarrier compensation and how to fund programs like Universal Service, to take advantage of the prevailing "light touch" political mood in the FCC and most state regulatory bodies.

However, the details of talks from a wide range of industry participants -- from big carriers like Verizon and AT&T to startups like 8x8 Inc. and PointOne, as well as a smattering of political players -- showed that there are still many points of contention that will keep any magical solution from happening anytime soon.

"It's clear with the changes in technology that the old distinctions [of what services should be regulated] do not apply, and that the regulatory framework cannot keep up," said Kathryn Brown, senior vice president for government issues at Verizon. While Brown was confident that industry vendors and service providers could work out many issues amongst themselves, she did agree "it depends on the cooperation of all the players."

Perhaps the most savvy statement of all was made by Blair Levin, managing director and principal regulatory strategy analyst at investment research house Legg Mason. Levin, who helped oversee the implementation of the 1996 Telecom Act as Chief of Staff to then-FCC Chairman Reed Hundt, noted that from a lawyer's viewpoint, "everyone says they want a level playing field, but nobody ever hired me to do it."

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