Martin Skips VoIP in First FCC Meeting

It was a slow day for the Internet at the Federal Communications Commission
(FCC). In the first post-Michael Powell FCC public meeting, not a single
IP-related issue was on new Chairman Kevin Martin’s agenda.

That, however, is very likely to change on May 19 when the FCC next meets.

In testimony before Congress earlier this week, Martin told lawmakers he
would draft proposed rules to require Voice over Internet Protocol companies
to provide emergency 911 calling with their services.

Although Martin’s congressional appearance was to present to the FCC’s $309
million budget, a House Appropriations subcommittee was far more interested
in VoIP emergency calling capabilities.

Stirred by a March report
that a Houston family was unable to complete a Vonage 911 call during a home
intrusion, some lawmakers are clamoring to make emergency calling services
mandatory for VoIP providers.

Texas sued Vonage over the incident, not for a lack of 911 services (it does
through a Web site registration process) but for not properly disclosing the
process in its advertising.

Chicago Republican Mark Kirk even suggested to Martin that the FCC do
something to “warn customers not to buy Vonage.”

Martin quickly showed his political savvy.

“I immediately asked our staff to develop a plan to address this issue,” he
told the lawmakers. Martin later told reporters he hoped the issue would be
on the FCC’s May agenda.

If it is on the May agenda, it will mark one of the few landmarks in the
FCC’s so far plodding review of IP-related issues that began almost a
year-and-a-half ago. Launched with
much fanfare in December of 2003, Powell predicted the process could be
completed within a year.

At the time, all of the FCC commissioners repeatedly said VoIP should be
treated with a light regulatory approach.

So far, the FCC has ruled VoIP services are interstate in nature and not
subject to state rules and regulations. That has not stopped some states
from attempting to regulate VoIP services under their mandate to protect
their citizens.

In its only other major VoIP ruling, the FCC said VoIP providers must make
their systems available for wiretapping purposes. It also fined a North
Carolina telecom for blocking VoIP calls.

In addition to 911 issues, the FCC has yet to determine if VoIP customers
are under any obligation to pay into the Universal Service Fund or what the
rates will be for VoIP providers interconnecting with the publicly switched
telephone network.

Adding to the regulatory uncertainty regarding VoIP is Congress’ supposed
rewrite of the 1996 Telecommunications Act.

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