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Speak Up On FCC VoIP Regulation 127

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 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 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 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 Herby Werby ( 645641 ) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @07:30PM (#5310731)
    is the essence of this matter, imo. In the sense that the Net is a necessary part of any nation's infrastructure I think that the provision of Net services should be regulated and in the absence of competetive provision should be provided by government. The downside is that once the government gets its fingers in it's hard to keep them out. What we really need here is regulatory support without any regulatory repression. Rock and a hard place anyone?
  • by Duds ( 100634 ) <> on Saturday February 15, 2003 @07:35PM (#5310756) Homepage Journal
    And equally how do you regulate me in the UK calling you?

    Even better. AOL routes all it's UK customers through the US to avoid tax. Does this screw them? What if the UK comes up with contradicting regs?

    The global nature of the internet is a problem here.

    Having said that, how do they do it with PSTN internationally?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 15, 2003 @07:47PM (#5310808)
    Okay... so I read the petition, and afaict they're trying to find loopholes. They point out some areas where their services is slighly different from what is defined in the Telecom Act. They just didn't seem to make any strong arguments.

    However, and this is much more important, they never explained (not in the petition nor in the submission) -why- their service should be unregulated.
    Here are some questions for
    Why was the Telecom Act written? What does it say that is harmful to consumers? Why should we help your company fight it, and what does your company win if your service is unregulated, and what does it lose if it gets regulated? What does it mean for your customers?

    You claim there will be innovation in the VoIP field once it gets unregulated... why is that? What regulations are so harmful?

    So, yeah, I have lots of questions here. I don't expect to get them all answered. But I have a feeling we're not getting the whole story here.
  • Too bad (Score:3, Interesting)

    by eniu!uine ( 317250 ) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @07:50PM (#5310823)
    we can't get petitions like this for issues I'm more educated about(i.e. DMCA). I like the idea of point and click democracy.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 15, 2003 @08:31PM (#5311007)
    I agree with the original poster.

    Clearly, regular telephone service must be of very high quality. Regulation seems to be a reasonable way to guarentee the highest quality phone service and to manage the local telco monopolies from spinning out of control.

    And that's why VOIP, when connected to the NA phone network and when allocated traditional phone numbers should be regulated the same way. Simply put, I have an expectation of service. In an emergency, my phone HAS to work. Post-failure lawsuits are not a satisfactory regulatory option.

    On the other hand, a personal telephone system, aka "Intercom System", need not be regulated, regardless of the number of people on that system. Just as long as there is a clear understanding that these disconnected systems are not held to the same standards as a real telephone.

    In other words, if I dial 911 on a telephone, I expect response. If I dial 911 on some unregulated telephone system, I should KNOW that it isn't a real telephone system.

    I have a VOIP phone at work. It sucks. Poor quality, poor stability.
  • Re:No connection (Score:4, Interesting)

    by kien ( 571074 ) <[gro.fsf.rebmem] [ta] [neik]> on Saturday February 15, 2003 @08:59PM (#5311151) Journal
    Forgotten, I wonder if you work for a telecom company...because I do. And I totally understand every word of your post because my job's at stake too. I just wanted to state that first.

    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.

    That is extremely insightful; it's something that we should keep in mind.

    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.

    I can neither refute nor support this statement (I'm not that familiar with international telecom deployment), but it does make me wonder if perhaps you're confusing the government-regulated monopoly over telecommunications until 1984 with regulation in general when it comes to how we deployed this existing network? If I'm wrong, sorry but even if I'm right it raises the following question: would we have been able to run a copper line to every house in the United States (sorry folks, no snobbery, I can only talk about what I know) without a government-supported/regulated mandate?

    If you want to REALLY dig into this can of worms, let's assume that AT&T WAS necessary for copper-to-the-home and while we're in hypothetical mode, let's say that AT&T hadn't been barred from data communications by governmental regulations. Would the internet have taken off like it did (empirical question...but keep in mind that we used dialup for a LOONG time before broadband hit the scene)?

    That's just some background to hold in your /swap. Now VOIP hits this scene at a time when the holders of the last-mile are at fierce odds with the holders of the backbone, and none of them can seem to get along when it comes to wireless (again, I'm talking US here).

    I percieve a danger in your raising this question right now, jeff. I think you might be raising code and content layer questions while the underlying physical layer is still highly volatile. I agree that VOIP should be unregulated, but I fear that you're putting the cart before the horse in the USA.

    The state of the telecom industry in the USA is simply the culmination of a comedy of errors. I see VOIP becoming viable in Europe before it takes hold in the US...much like wireless service.

    I applaud your efforts, Jeff...I just hope that you're not too far ahead of your time when it comes to the US and the FCC. :)

  • by Newer Guy ( 520108 ) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @10:18PM (#5311554)
    The FCC must really think this is important to assign it a docket number this quickly. They assigned one in less then two weeks! Usually, it takes 4-6 months for them to do that!
    They've also suspended their ex-parte rules insofar as comments are concerned to make it easier to file them. Be assured that I shall file comments.
  • by Natalie's Hot Grits ( 241348 ) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @10:31PM (#5311634) Homepage
    your missing the point of why telecommunications was origionally, and still is, regulated.

    It was regulated because the landlines had to be laid. The government granted monopolies to the companies laying cable, in exchange for their willingness to sell wholesale time on these cables. This created a government mandated monopoly that still allowed fair competition.

    VoIP doesn't depend on these granted monopolised cables any more than the regular internet does (which is already regulated by the FCC because most ISP's still have to use these regulated copper and fiber cables owned by the telco). Regulating VoIP with yet another layer of restriction would be double restriction. There is already plenty of _healthy_ competition between ISPs. for these reasons, a second layer of regulation is not needed.

    The only reason anybody would want to regulate VoIP the same as landline telephones is so the bells can stay in business. But in the end, we shouldn't be passing laws to keep failing, obsolete, inefficient, and humanity damaging business models afloat.
  • by Mark (ph'x) ( 619499 ) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @10:36PM (#5311666)
    Not quite so [] evidently. This ENUM ( system, would give your internet connection a 'phone number'.. which would be most useful for voip.

    Im sure your government will find some way to lock it down to 'protect your freedom'. After all if it works kinda like a dynamic DNS, it will make it easier to track p2p sharers. people that do illegal shit online... 'Unpatriotic' postings.... 'dissidents' 'people that say bad things about gwb'... oh i mean 'TERRORISTS!'

    1) Grab IP address.
    2) do an to get 'phone number'
    3) look up in reverse directory

    Cool... no need to subpoena ISP's. Heh, this is actually kinda scary...

    Sure am glad I dont have 'US Freedom' no matter how hard bush tries to force it on the rest of the world...
  • International use? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by grahamsz ( 150076 ) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @11:35PM (#5312002) Homepage Journal
    The problem with regulation is that it doesn't apply internationally very well.

    Currently I have a vonage digitalvoice (which absolutely rocks btw) but I took the voice router out of the USA and plugged it into my network in scotland.

    This means that I've got a US number, yet it rings in the UK. I've got unlimited calls to the USA for $40/mo.

    In fact, vonage is sooo price competitive that at some times of day they beat my local telephone company for uk calls!

    Regulation might make this sort of thing difficult in the future and that'd be a real shame. I look forward to the day when I can have a few different VoIP providers in different geographical locations and route my calls to the one that provides the best price.

  • by bzipitidoo ( 647217 ) <> on Saturday February 15, 2003 @11:43PM (#5312045) Journal
    Someone said the telcos were efficient. They are not. I moved to CA recently and tried to get POTS (plain old telephone service). Had a phone book handed to me, but that was the end of the easiness. I couldn't find an address for them in their own phone book. On SBC's website, I went thru a 5 page form. Near the end, there were 4 numbers to choose from and a warning I might not get any of those. So I didn't write my choice down. The web site also informed me that the earliest I could be hooked up was 6 DAYS. When done, there was no feedback that they got my order.

    10 days later, no phone service, so I borrowed a phone to call them. Took about 15 minutes to get thru the menu maze and the hold time. They wanted my phone number to look me up. I was told I should've remembered the number from the web site. (Why didn't the web site say so?) I growled at them until they tried to look me up by address. Couldn't find anything. Very unhappy about the prospect of another 6 day wait, I suggested I could just sign up again. They said I shouldn't because if I was in their system, why, I'd get billed twice. Ok, I know the quality of help from support lines and such can be abysmal. Perhaps if I'd called back I would've got someone more competent.

    Back to square one. You can get a cell phone the day you walk into a store, but I don't want one. Instead, I tried to hunt down the telco's competition. There were a few other local phone providers but none of them did residences. Finally hit on VoIP. (I'd gotten cable modem set up in a mere 2 days.) Took less than 10 minutes to sign up and start using it. But, I never successfully received a call, so I cancelled that part of the service. Would be nice if friends and family could call, but I can live with the arrangement I've got and hope reception of calls is put in working order soon.

    It can be fun messing with officious people who want your phone number. So far, I haven't been refused any service.

    Officious person, pointing to line on a form: "You forgot to fill in your phone number"
    Me: "No, I didn't forget"
    Officious person: "We have to have a phone number."
    (At this point I could say "no you don't" or "why?" if I feel like playing some more, but I usually skip it because who wants to hang around in a dreary bureaucratic setting all day?)
    Me: "I don't have one"
    Officious person: "uh, well can you give us some other number like your work number?"
    Me: "Ok, 555-5555"
    Officious person: "um, no, we can't use that number. Is there some number we can reach you just in case there's some problem?"
    Yeah, right! Liars. They just want to harass me with telemarketing. About then I turn to the exit and this finally convinces the form police that they don't need a number after all.

    I suppose I could've saved time by putting down, oh, Gray Davis's phone number, which I doubt they'd recognize. It's amusing watching the expressions on their faces. First is a weary pained look because I'm "one of those". I'm making their life more difficult by refusing to give out the number I must surely have, because everyone has a phone, right? Then amazement that I actually might not have a number, just like I told them. Then it's a mix of contempt and pity because they're thinking I might be a dirt poor deadbeat who doesn't pay phone bills (maybe I'm homeless!), and finally bafflement because I don't look the part.

  • Double Taxation? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by BitterOak ( 537666 ) on Sunday February 16, 2003 @12:27AM (#5312240)
    Most people connect to the Internet through a phone line or cable modem in the first place, both services of which are already taxed. So taxing voIP in addition would be a form of double taxation. Your modem makes a phone call to your ISP, and then you use the Net to call someone by voIP. Do both calls get taxed?

  • by green1 ( 322787 ) on Sunday February 16, 2003 @12:30AM (#5312248)
    I can't say how this works for your telco, however in the telco I work for (a reasonably large canadian telco) it is not actually the telco's choice, but is actually the way the CRTC (canadian equivlant to the FCC) regulates it. you see when you get your local phone service from a CLEC (competitive local exchange carrier) your phone line is physically disconnected from our equipment and hooked up the the CLEC's equipment within the phone exchange, on top of that (as per CRTC regulation) we are not allowed to touch that phone line without permission from the CLEC (we can't disconnect it, we can't move it, we can't put other equipment in line with it (ie. ADSL) the phone line is leased to the CLEC and we can't touch it. so now if you want ADSL the only company that can LEGALLY give you that service is your local provider (or someone who is re-selling that service, (in the case you mentioned Yahoo! is just re-selling SBC DSL service)) in our case, as far as I know, none of our CLECs currently offer ADSL, however I know one of them has been thinking about it, and we may see it soon.

    This does pose other problems as well, for example if you order service from a CLEC, and then move out of your house we can't legally provide the next occupant of the house service untill the CLEC decides to release the line (which they are often pretty slow at doing) (ok, legally we can provide service, however we would have to run a brand new line to the house. even though there is a line that we maintain that isn't in use... or in english it's a big mess)
  • by @madeus ( 24818 ) <> on Sunday February 16, 2003 @01:58AM (#5312592)
    This is a very good point.

    I'm included to think that commercial provision to companies and end users of such a service should require regulation to protect consumers against fraudulent and inexcusably poor quality providers (who will be both individuals and other companies).

    This could even be part of a larger consumer rights act governing the way companies do business on line, with specific clauses and amendments for particular industries such as telecoms regulation (though such an act would have be be at Federal level in the USA and at European Union level Europe in order for it be effective and not suffer from regional loopholes).

    (While of course I appreciate the internet is global much online business is conducted within national or eurozone boundaries which is why it would be worth investing time in such a bill.)

    However...I'd like to think (and this is possibly just wishful thinking :-) that my dedicated VoIP phone of the future will be able to talk to the internet, my computer, PDA or mobile and obtain a list of allowed callers and only let certain numbers though (and give other users voicemail). While this is possible at present with Caller ID and PC software I hope it will be standard in "the world of tomorrow!".

    *Really* neat features would be:

    - Ability to check for black listed caller ID's in real time (ala MAPS/ORBS (only without Alan Brown :)).

    - Ability to take a number, connect to something like the W3C's vision of a Semantic Web and search and find a match for the the number - and so obtain the nature - of the business calling.

    This way you could only let certain types of companies through, while blocking others - i.e. always block banks and credit card companies, apart from my own bank and credit card company and always block companies like double glazing firms (unless I've said I'm expecting a call back from a particular company).

    If the caller was of "unknown" origin I'd like to be able to leave a brief recorded message telling them that if this is not an unsolicited call from a commercial entity to say 'leave a message' to leave a message on voicemail and I'll call you back (and warning them that if this was a commercial unsolicited call I'd prosecute the company who left the message).

"Well, it don't make the sun shine, but at least it don't deepen the shit." -- Straiter Empy, in _Riddley_Walker_ by Russell Hoban