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Speak Up On FCC VoIP Regulation 127

Posted by timothy
from the appropriate-circumlocution dept.
jeffpulver writes "Speak now or forever hold your peace. The FCC will decide whether or not to regulate Internet Telephony in the U.S. over the next several months. On February 5th I filed a petition with the FCC on behalf of Free World Dialup, asking for a Declaratory Ruling that states that Broadband Internet Telephony which doesn't touch the public switched telephone network (PSTN) should not be ruled as either "Telecommunications" or as a "Telecommunications Service" as defined by the Telecom Act of 1996. On February 14th the FCC put the pulver.com petition out for public comment. The public has until March 14th to respond." This is an important issue -- read on below for some more information on the background and significance of the present petition.
A copy of the original petition is posted here. [1.5 MB pdf file]

Back in March, 1996 the ACTA Petition was filed which in effect asked for the internet telephony software companies selling to consumers to be treated to the same regulations as phone companies. While the FCC never ruled on ACTA, the petition started to raise questions about the future regulation of Internet Telephony in the United States and around the world. Some countries were quick to ban internet telephony based on the out of control hype that existed back in the Spring of 1996 while many other countries took a "wait and see" approach.

The pulver.com Petition is in many ways the exact opposite of the ACTA petition insomuch what I was asking for is that end-to-end Internet Telephony over Broadband remain unregulated. After seven years of waiting, now that VoIP technologies have gone mainstream and now that consumers are once again using these technologies and now that these technologies work quite well, I wanted to remove the cloud of regulatory uncertainty when it came to VoIP and broadband Internet Telephony. My hope is that "we" as a community can encourage the FCC for fast action on the FWD petition as a way for the FCC to help encourage investment. Once the regulatory uncertainty is removed, I strongly believe investors will once again look at the VoIP industry as the hot space to invest in and encourage innovation in.

Please take advantage of the pulver.com Petition and share your comments with the FCC. Click here for details on how to reply to the petition.Please reply by March 14th."

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Speak Up On FCC VoIP Regulation

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  • by jolyonr (560227) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @07:25PM (#5310704) Homepage
    Surely the transport mechanism doesn't matter. If you're providing a method for person A to talk to person B why should any one service be deregulated when others are regulated? I think that individuals using this over their broadband links is one thing, but for-profit companies wishing to invest into this industry don't have a strong case for avoiding regulation of some kind.
  • by LordNimon (85072) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @07:31PM (#5310733)
    What difference does it make if the communication between two points on the internet is voice data? How is that different from any other kind of data? What if I record my voice into an MP3, and email that file to my mom? Should that be regulated too? What if I write a program that emails MP3s between two people back-and-forth? It would be half-duplex voice communications, but I could hold a conversation with someone that way. Where do you draw the line?
  • But what about non-vocal ones like IRC?

    Or sending an email with a Wav?

    Or for that matter is VoIP covering MSN/ICQ/AOL/YAHOO IMs?
  • by DavidinAla (639952) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @07:34PM (#5310754)
    The better question is why should ANY of them be regulated? The rationale for regulating them in the old days was that it was a monopoloy service. If pretty much anybody can compete -- using the Internet as the infrustructure -- why SHOULD there be any regulation of the service?

    The existing phone companies like regulation because it shields them from further competition. There's no reason for them to be protected by the competition brought by new technology (which is going to lower the price of communication for consumers).

    David
  • Is this necessary? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by molrak (541582) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @07:36PM (#5310761) Homepage
    "Once the regulatory uncertainty is removed, I strongly believe investors will once again look at the VoIP industry as the hot space to invest in and encourage innovation in."


    Is there any reason to believe the VoIP will flourish with regulation, let alone reason to believe that it will flourish without it? The telephone industry is an institution in the US. (Try living for a month without phone access). It seems to me that for VoIP to work en masse, it will have to be somewhat backward compatible with the current system.

    In short, I can see how VoIP would be cool if it worked completely free of the current phone networks, but I don't see it as practicle. In regards to this issue, I can see why it could argue that it should be regulation free, but on the other hand, I just don't foresee a market large enough to justify regulation for it. If I'm missing something, please feel free to enlighten me.
  • by argoff (142580) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @07:39PM (#5310777)
    When it comes to anything other than basic crime or perhaps national defense, I just don't trust the govt anymore to secure my rights. I honestly trust technological solutions alot more than political ones. e.g. Implementing technology that makes it impossible for them to regulate voice calls without shutting down the internet. This is the way the future simply has to go, and I think our efforts and money would simply be better spent there.
  • by AirLace (86148) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @07:45PM (#5310803)
    If broadband Internet Telephony which doesn't touch the public switched telephone network (PSTN) is ruled as "Telecommunications", it could be very problematic for Linux distributions like RedHat, which ship software like GnomeMeeting, especially as they can be used to provide a cryptographic telecommunications system in conjunction with ssh tunneling or CIPE. Until distributors exclude such software from their distributions, software like RedHat 8.0 and Debian GNU/Linux 3.0 would be illegal in the United States.
  • by dfranks (180507) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @07:46PM (#5310805) Homepage
    There is the issue of universal phone access. If a large segment of the market flees the existing carriers, it will become even more uneconomical to provide service to everyone in the US. The univeral access fees would have to be increased, putting the telcos at a further price disadvantage. I don't shed any tears for the telcos, but we should apply these special tax/surcharges without regard to the transport being used (land line, cell, voip, sat phone, whatever).
    A good compromise would be to levy the universal access fees on any dialable phone number (e.g. Vonage) but leave pure IP based service free (it would be difficult to inpossible to regulate anyway), and not impose any additional regulation on voip carriers.
  • by Azureflare (645778) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @07:49PM (#5310817)
    Disclaimer: I am not an expert on these things, so this is my perspective/opinion

    I feel that if VoIP is regulated, this brings into play a very interesting question. Is the internet, which can be used for almost anything besides transferring actual physical objects (wouldn't that be cool!), something that can be split into different segments? To target one function of the internet, VoIP, is to invite regulation of other services. Take streaming video for example. Should that be regulated like TV? The same goes for internet radio. Where is the line drawn? This is what needs to be established. The internet is so much more complex than simple telephony, that it is impossible to only regulate one aspect of it, without taking into account the other aspects. The internet is not like airwaves; it is not like telephone lines. Why does regulation exist? Does it exist to give profit to a little clique of individuals? Or does it exist to bring order to a limited resource? The internet is by design, a non-limited resource. Theoretically, it could hold a very large volume of traffic, and deal with it fine. There is no reason, to regulate something which does not need regulating. People want it. Companies have to step up, and give them what they want. The government has no role in this aspect. If it puts the telephone companies out of business, so be it! Just like the RIAA, and the railroad companies, they will cling to their vestiges of power and control as long as they can, and this only halts technological advance and innovation. We must be on the cutting edge, or we will be left biting the dust by other countries.

  • by clevelandguru (612010) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @07:49PM (#5310819)
    As long as there is no telephone number is used in providing the service, it shouldn't be considered a Telecom service.
  • No connection (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Forgotten (225254) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @07:53PM (#5310842)
    But do you really want VoIP telephony to remain unconnected to the POTS network? The existing telephone network is a tremendously useful infrastructure. People who dream about global networks seem to often miss the fact that we already have one. And I'm sorry, but a significant part of that tremendous public good comes from the fact that it's been regulated - particularly when you consider countries outside North America, and particularly poor ones.

    Trying to keep Internet telephony away from POTS is like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Imagine if you were asking for cell phones or marine radio phones or satphones to remain unconnected from landlines. Is there then any real point in having them? Without regulation you end up with little fiefdoms, islands of communication. "Well I met my spouse because we both had Nokias, ya see". I actually think we've only barely avoided this in the cellphone standards wars to date.

    I want communication to be ubiquitous, and I want less separation of modes, not more. The history of telephony deregulation in the US and Canada is not an inspiring one. Part of the reason Internet communication has so far eluded these calls is that it's been so damn useless no one really cared. As it becomes something that affects people's lives, you're damn right democratic representation will get involved. You see the same force at work in the increasing calls for spam legislation. What is that but email regulation?
  • Privacy (Score:4, Insightful)

    by kahei (466208) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @07:53PM (#5310844) Homepage

    If voice over IP is regulated like analog phone, it should also have similar privacy provisions to analog phone. And if those provisions were to spread to other IP traffic (on which your right to keep secrets and not be spammed is minimal), that would be a very good thing indeed.

    Of course, it might not pan out that way; I wouldn't be surprised if in fact the protection of phone calls wound up being eroded to the point emails are at now (i.e. anyone with a security interest can read you, anyone with a commercial interest can spam you).

    One day the current regulatory glitch will end, and when this happens I'd much rather have everything be run like phone calls are run now than like emails are run now.

  • Re:Too bad (Score:3, Insightful)

    by sulli (195030) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @07:58PM (#5310863) Journal
    There are tons of petitions [petitiononline.com] on a wide array of subjects. The problem is that nobody pays any attention to them.
  • This is important (Score:2, Insightful)

    by sbwoodside (134679) <sbwoodside@yahoo.com> on Saturday February 15, 2003 @09:40PM (#5311310) Homepage
    This is really, really important in order to prevent barriers from preventing widespread adoption of VoIP. The major telcos are highly threatened by VoIP because it effectively eliminates their revenue from long-distance calling. The idea of this initiative is to make sure that VoIP calls are treated like any other data on the internet. The telcos would love to be able to prevent you from using VoIP and somehow be able to charge money for it.

    I think that slashdotters know that eventually, the technology will win the war. So, it is better to get the right technology into the right hands now.

    simon
  • What's the point? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by matman (71405) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @10:11PM (#5311505)
    Aside from avoiding long distance charges and facilitating better sound quality, what's the point of voice over IP for consumers? We have a huge infrastructure in place for the faciltiation of voice over a switched telephone network that works fairly well and comes at a fairly low cost. I can reach a remote village in central
    America, over the phone, but in many of those places, you'd be hard pressed to get electricity for a computer, let alone an ISP.

    For carriers, there's an advantage of a unified infrastructure; any service can be provided over the same network. In that sense, the regulation issues arise; what services should be regulated, how, and why?

    If the same network is being used for telephone, radio, TV, etc, what regulations apply? Frankly, does anything really need to change from a regulatory perspective? Today we have a shared network for these services (the electromagnetic spectrum); in the future, we may have a time division multiplexed packet switched network over which those services travel.

    Even today, regulations of the telephone network impact data communications - you use the telephone network to connect to the Internet. You use the cable network to connect to the Internet (depending on your access method).

    Why do we have regulation of these services anyway? What are the regulations that are imposed on telephone carriers?
  • by geekee (591277) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @10:42PM (#5311699)
    Slashdot has no problem with the govt. regulating MS, but when they want to regulate something slashdot users like, suddenly regulation is evil. If the govt. is allowed to regulate standard telephony, they must do the same for VoIP. Otherwise, VoIP software companies and ISPs have an unfair advantage over telephone companies. I propose deregulating telephony, rather than regulating VoIP.
  • If the government read your comment and took it to heart they would just go ahead and tax all internet use and commerce.

    Logically it makes no sense whatsoever to not tax VoIP while taxing normal phone calls. If you argue that it shouldn't matter what kind of data is carried, everything will end up taxed.

    In reality, there is no good argument for no taxation of VoIP. The only solution is to accept that standardized or at least major provider-provided VoIP is going to end up taxed like other phone calls, or all internet access will be taxed, or both.

    If you really want to argue that VoIP shouldn't be taxed you have to prove that it is substantially different from normal voice communications, which of course is not at all true. The whole point of internet telephony is to provide users with a comfortable and consistent interface, IE, the telephone. Since both will use a lookup database of some sort to resolve numbers to lines (maybe we'll be using numbers, maybe it'll be tied to an email address or some single signon mechanism) and both types of data are carried over a packet switching network, I really don't think there's any strong argument to be made that they are substantially different. If there is one to be made, it is the lack of a need for a PBX to 'animate' these devices; They have no more and no less need for support when compared to any other IP device.

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