VoIP Coalition Gains Clout

An existing Voice over Internet Protocol advocacy group Monday announced several powerful new members to help educate consumers and sway regulators.

In a conference call with reporters, Microsoft and Intel-sponsored Voice Over Net (VON) said AT&T and Texas Instruments have joined its ranks. The addition to the Washington-based coalition comes as policy-makers debate whether rules developed for traditional telecoms should apply to the new technology. AT&T is readying a large scale VoIP rollout this year, while TI recently forged an alliance with VoIP pioneer Vonage.

Other new members include Callipso, Convedia, CTS Management, iBasis, Intrado, ITXC, and Point One. Dave Svanda, a former Michigan public service commissioner, has also joined the group to offer a unique perspective on the issues and serve as a spokesman.

Unsurprisingly, VON representatives are against new regulation, either by the Federal Communications Commission, or individual states.

“The VoIP community must speak with a common voice to ensure unfounded fears don’t prevent consumers from enjoying VoIP’s full range of services,” said John Boidock, a TI vice president.

To date, the FCC has signaled that VoIP should be as regulation-free as possible. But there are many issues that still need to be resolved and there is concern about the impact of state regulators establishing different and opposing standards, either from each other and the federal government.

Three stand out. First, federal law enforcement agencies worry about their ability to quickly and easily wiretap VoIP calls as part of their investigations into terrorist or organized crime activities.

Second, the location accuracy of 911 calls made over VoIP. Because the route packet traffic takes over the Internet or private backbone, it may be more difficult to trace.

Finally, there is the Universal Service Fund. Paid for by traditional telecoms, which pass the charge onto customers, the fees subsidize phone service for low-income individuals, schools and libraries.

Tom Evslin, CEO of international VoIP service provider ITXC, acknowledges the “social goals” of the fund, but objects to the grafting of existing rules onto VoIP.

VoIP providers are already working to find technological fixes to these problems that in some ways will improve upon existing systems Evslin said. He stressed that it should remain on a voluntary basis however.

“VoIP providers are not asking for a free ride, just to be able to complete without being saddled with inappropriate regulation. We want the FCC to declare that all VoIP is an information service so there will be no state-to-state differences.”

Over the next six to 12 months a several regulatory boards, including the FCC, will gather information about VoIP before making key rulings. A reinforced VON said it will be there to offer its input.

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