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.

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