FCC Plans VoIP Hearing

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) plans a Dec. 1 forum in Washington to begin shaping a regulatory framework for voice over IP (VoIP) technology. The hearing will invite industry and government leaders to discuss how digital technologies are being used to provide “innovative and affordable voice services to consumers and stimulate economic growth.”

It will also explore regulatory classification issues and explore the best means to achieve health, safety and welfare policy objectives such as E911, universal service and homeland security.

Shortly after the forum, according to the FCC, the agency will initiate a Notice of Public Rule Making (NPRM) to inquire about the migration of voice services to IP-based networks and gather public comment on the appropriate regulatory environment for these services.

“As new digital technologies and Internet applications, such as VoIP, challenge the established technological, market and regulatory structures of our analog past, the FCC will continue to stay at the forefront of change,” FCC Chairman Michael J. Powell wrote in a letter responding to an inquiry from U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D.-OR).

The emergence of VoIP, which essentially uses the Internet to transmit local and long distance calls, has prompted some state and local authorities to begin taxing the service in the same way it has taxed traditional telephone service.

Last month, a federal judge approved a request by Edison, N.J.-based VoIP provider Vonage that the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission be restrained from requiring Vonage to register as a telephone provider to provide its IP telephony services to customers in the state. The ruling grants Vonage a permanent injunction.

“The FCC has been studying VoIP issues for several years, but things have greatly accelerated over the past year and, thus, so have the FCC’s actions to address the complex issues that arise,” Powell wrote to Wyden.

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