RealTime IT News

Another Try For Telecom Reform

U.S. Rep. Cliff Stearns (R.-Fla.) has introduced a bill that would define all IP-based communications as interstate services, the first attempt at telecom reform in the 109th Congress.

The Stearns legislation (H.R. 214) creates a new definition of services covering all IP-based technologies that would be under the exclusive regulatory control of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Under current FCC rules, incumbent telephone companies are considered "telecommunication providers," while cable companies are classified as "information services." Each follows a separate set of rules although both groups are increasingly offering the same services, including IP-based Internet telephony.

The FCC is also in the process of reviewing the regulatory status of IP-based services, most recently ruling that Voice Over IP is an interstate service and not subject to state and local regulations and tariffs.

"Although the FCC decision in November to declare VoIP services interstate in nature, and thus subject to the Commission's authority, represented a step in the right direction, legislation still is needed to change the current regulatory scheme to allow these technologies to flourish," Stearns said in a statement. "The existing Web of complex regulations discourages investments and innovations in these products and services."

Under the proposed legislation, the same regulations would apply to all Internet platforms over which IP-based services are offered. The bill requires the FCC to establish complete regulatory parity among cable operators, traditional telecommunications carriers, and all providers of IP-based services.

Stearns added in his statement, "This legislation offers regulatory certainty for these services, which will encourage investments in these technologies and their deployment."

The bill is similar to the Advanced Internet Communications Services Act, introduced last summer by Stearns and Rep. Rick Boucher (D.-Va.). Both Stearns and Boucher said at the time the legislation stood little chance of passage in the 108th Congress, but they hoped the bill would set the definitions for a major overhaul of the 1996 Communications Act in this year's Congress.