In launching an examination of IP-enabled communications, the Federal Communications Commission outlined various ways to classify the latest technology to converse remotely. Depending how the various forms of VOIP offerings on the market are classified, there could be a broad range of regulations applied to the services.
Today, the VOIP umbrella includes computer-to-computer calls that travel over the public Internet, like Pulver.com Inc.s Free World Dialup; calls between computers and phones, such as those delivered by Vonage Inc.; and more traditional phone-to-phone calls that travel over dedicated networks that are upgraded for IP transmissions.
Recognizing the historic implications of his decision to propose federal rules for Internet-enabled technologies, FCC Chairman Michael Powell said the opportunities presented by IP are greater than its challenges.
"This [proposal] in many ways is the curtain going up on a new era in telecommunications," Powell said. "This is digital migration in spades."
In its review, the FCC will ask whether regulations should be applied to an IP-enabled voice service if it connects with the public switched telephone network. Or, instead, if the service should be regulated if it is used as a substitute for traditional telephony. The commission will also determine how providers should pay each other to access each others networks.
The majority of the commissioners have expressed skepticism about imposing the load of common-carrier regulations on new IP services, but at the same time, they voiced a commitment to address the social obligations of telephone service providers, particularly universal service, 911 and access for people with disabilities.