FCC Rules on Internet Telephony

Tyler Durden camera_lumina at hotmail.com
Fri Feb 13 06:42:30 PST 2004

This came out on lightreading.com. Seems there's one tiny step backward for 
CALEA w.r.t Internet telephony. I guess it's obvious the FBI will eventually 
get it's way, but it's be interesting to see how it goes about it from here 


At its open meeting today, the FCC took a couple of baby steps toward 
providing regulatory clarity on Internet telephony.

The first big decision was a victory for VOIP proponents. The commission 
ruled that Pulver.com's Free World Dialup VOIP service is an information 
service, not a telecommunications service. The decision was based largely on 
the analysis that it doesn!/t fit the 1996 Telecom Act!/s definition of a 
telecommunications service.

!0There is no question that this doesn!/t constitute a telecommunications 
service,!1 said commissioner Kathleen Abernathy. !0It falls squarely outside 
that statutory definition.!1

That analysis was shared by commissioner Jonathan Adelstein: !0Pulver.com!/s 
service is largely unregulated today and, in my view, should stay that 

Commissioner Michael Copps dissented amid concerns that the FCC hadn!/t 
fully considered the implications, particularly for law enforcement, 
universal service, and public safety. !0I!/m afraid we!/re leaping before 
we!/re looking,!1 he said. !0This rush to reclassify will lead us down a 
road where we!/re compelled to engage in legal calisthenics and contortion 
of both CALEA and the 1996 Telecom Act to meet our statutory obligations. 
This is admittedly an important decision, but not so important that it 
cannot wait a little while longer while we conduct an expeditious review.!1

That review is coming. After the vote on Free World Dialup, the commission 
initiated a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on Internet telephony (see 
Although the commission is starting from the premise that VOIP should be 
subject to minimal regulation, it still has to clarify issues such as 
wiretaps and whether Internet telephony is an intrastate or interstate 

However, there are two reasons to believe that the FCC won!/t issue an Order 
on VOIP until late 2004 -- if then. First, the commission historically 
doesn!/t undertake major policy initiatives in a Presidential election year. 
Second, Internet telephony is such a complex issue with such far-reaching 
implications that it!/s difficult to see how it could be resolved to 
everyone!/s satisfaction, let alone in one fell swoop.

One thing is clear: The commission believes that federal regulators, not 
states, should set VOIP regulations. The NPRM is an opportunity to avoid a 
patchwork of rules across the country, Abernathy says. Nevertheless, 
completely preempting state authority likely would send Internet telephony 
to the courts, prolonging uncertainty.

!* Tim Kridel, Senior Editor, Heavy Reading


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