WASHINGTON—The current FCC-created dichotomy between the Baby Bells and other communications companies simply doesnt make sense, a diverse panel of communications executives told a conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on Monday.
The split, with one set of rules and restrictions for the phone companies and another set entirely for VOIP (voice over IP) and other broadband providers hurts competition and is bad for consumers, the group said.
"The federal requirements should be the same for everyone," said Eric Schwartz, BellSouth vice president for IP Communications. "The burden of regulation should fall equally on all participants," he said.
Verizons Director of Regulatory Policy, David Young, agreed.
"Broadband is the enabler of VOIP," he said. "We need a public policy framework that encourages investment."
Young proposed a unified approach to VOIP, including less regulation based on whether the provider is a traditional phone company, a cable company or other broadband carrier, or a third-party VOIP provider. "We need to remove legacy hurdles," he said.
Young also said that it was critical for the future of VOIP that all providers support a number of what he called "social policy objectives."
Young said that those policy objectives included universal and consistent support for E911, support for law enforcement and national security objectives and support for universal access.
Chris Murray, director of governmental affairs for Vonage, said he agreed, stressing that his company was already working on ways to connect the companys VOIP service to emergency service centers.
"There are over 6,400 emergency centers in the U.S.," Murray said in response to a reporters question, and he added that a consistent federal approach was vital.
Verizons Young pointed out that such a consistent national approach was really necessary for the success of independent VOIP providers in other ways as well.
One example Young mentioned was a decision by a partner of Bell Canada to prevent the use of Vonage on its network.
Verizon is concerned about such limitations because the company offers its own VOIP service, VoiceWing.
Young said that broadband providers that offer their own voice services should be able to prevent users from choosing whomever they want for their VOIP provider.
Verizons VoiceWing is available on that companys broadband network, and is also available on any broadband network.
Young noted that Verizon requires its users to provide the location where their phone calls will originate so that it can provide E911 service for its customers.
He said that Verizon wont sell the service without such information.
The issue of state control over the activities of VOIP providers goes beyond just the issues of making emergency calls.
Recently, for example, the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) agreed with BellSouth that states cannot require phone companies to provide "naked" or unbundled DSL.
When asked by a reporter how this would encourage the growth of VOIP, most of the panel said that it doesnt.
BellSouths Schwartz upheld his companys position that requiring customers to buy voice lines in addition to data lines would help in the growth of VOIP, a suggestion that was treated with derision by Vonage and Verizon representatives.
"Wed rather keep out customers, if only as broadband users," said Verizons Young. He wondered aloud why any company would force its VOIP customers to also buy a voice phone line or to leave as a customer entirely.
Young noted that Verizon sells unbundled DSL now, and plans to keep selling it.
"It doesnt help the growth of VOIP at all," said Vonages Murray.