Panel Predicts Few VoIP Regulations

WASHINGTON — Underscoring the call for a light regulatory approach to emerging Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technologies, key advisors to Congress and the Federal Communications Commission said Wednesday the primary Capital Hill concerns about Internet telephone businesses built on VoIP are related to law enforcement and emergency services.


Speaking on a panel at the COMNET Conference and Expo, Republican and
Democratic legal counsels for the U.S. Senate, House of Representatives and
the FCC were unanimous in their opinion that the rules governing VoIP
deployment should not be based on traditional telecom regulatory models.


“I don’t believe anyone would say we should take this new technology and jam
it into an old construct,” said Lisa Zaina, senior legal advisor to
Democratic FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein.


Nevertheless, VoIP is not likely to be entirely regulation free, according
to the panel.


The Department of Justice has already urged the FCC to require VoIP
providers to comply with the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement
Act (CALEA), which mandates telephone companies make their systems wiretap
friendly. There are also concerns about the location accuracy of 911 calls.


CALEA, though, applies to only those entities classified by the FCC as
telecommunications carriers. VoIP providers contend they are information
services, although they are promising to work with law enforcement
officials.


“The law enforcement aspect is important,” Greg Rothschild, minority counsel
to the House Energy and Commerce Committee said. “There seems to be a
disconnect between the Department of Justice and the FCC on this issue.”


The FCC began proceedings in December to determine what, if any, telecom
taxes and rules should apply to VoIP technology.
The proceedings are expected to take at least a year.


In addition, the FCC is expected to rule as early as February on several
claims already on file that VoIP services should be exempt from federal,
state and local fees normally charged on telephone calls.


Long distance carrier AT&T , for instance, is challenging the
fees it must pay for delivering calls traveling mostly over the Internet to
traditional local carriers. Free World Dialup, whose calls are routed
entirely over the Internet, is seeking a total exemption from FCC imposed
fees since its traffic never touches the legacy Bell infrastructure system.


As the major telecoms and cable companies join start-up VoIP ventures in
moving voice traffic over the Internet, the regulatory issue becomes
critical for cash-starved states that raise hundreds of millions in revenues
by taxing traditional telephone services.


Two weeks ago, Sen. John Sununu said he would draft a bill to keep Internet
telephony beyond the reach of state and federal regulations that govern
traditional telecoms, but two panelists Wednesday said VoIP legislation
would be difficult to get through Congress.


Bill Bailey, senior legal counsel for the Senate Commerce and Science
Committee, said Congress is reluctant to get involved in VoIP regulatory
issues, but added it might in an “oversight way.”


Greg Rothschild, minority counsel to the House Energy and Commerce
Committee, agreed with Bailey. “It would be really difficult to move through
Congress because there is so much money involved,” he said.

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