SAN JOSE, Calif.—Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael Powell delivered his swan song at the Voice over Net trade show here on Tuesday by encouraging industry to continue to make its collective voice heard.
Powells eight-year tenure at the FCC will end later this month, and the speech here represented his last public talk in an industry he helped champion. Attendees here said they respected Powell, appointed as the commissions chairman by a conservative President Bush in 2001, for the line he walked between letting the free market guide policy and stepping in to protect consumers.
In addition to the indecency fines Powell levied against broadcasters, he was also known for his “four freedoms,” which he said should guide regulatory policy: the ability to freely access legal content, the freedom to access any application, the freedom to attach personal devices to the network, and the freedom to receive a detailed description of service-plan information. All four freedoms coalesced within VOIP (voice over IP).
“My nearly eight years at the FCC is coming to a close, but I can think of no place other than VON to deliver my swan song,” Powell said. “VOIP is so clearly the standard for what I fought so hard to achieve.”
Consumers have benefited by the low cost of voice-over-IP services in the United States, trimming substantial amounts off of consumers long-distance bills. That said, Powell noted that one of the more interesting and lucrative services is Microsofts Xbox Live, a monthly service that allows Xbox console users to game—and talk—over the Internet.
Those cost savings also have had an impact overseas. Mahesh Chithrappa, a manager for networking and communications at software developer Tata Elxsi Ltd. in Bangalore, India, said his company uses VOIP for conference calls and is looking at a more general VOIP system.
“The success [of VOIP] came home to me walking in an electronics store a short time ago,” Powell said. “As I was walking, I came to the end of the aisle and looked up. I saw shelves of Wi-Fi and home-networking equipment, and I nodded.
“I saw kiosks with DSL, cable modem service and even power-line equipment. I saw consumers poring over TiVo and iPods and even hi-def television sets. Then I saw a most remarkable new shelf close by, with boxes of a new phone service—VOIP—and I had to smile.”
-and-Take?”> Like others in the FCC, Powell said he was especially proud of the action taken in the case of Madison River Communications, the ISP that in February allegedly began blocking ports used for VOIP traffic.
Following complaints by Vonage Holdings Corp. and another ISP, the FCC began investigating on Feb. 11 to see whether Madison Rivers actions violated provisions of the Communications Act of 1934. Madison River did not admit wrongdoing, but it made a “voluntary” payment of $15,000 to the U.S. Treasury and agreed to stop blocking the ports used in VOIP just a few weeks later.
“For those of you not used to regulation, three weeks was light speed,” Powell said.
Not surprisingly, representatives of the VOIP industry favored the man who had championed their business.
“He was very open about his support for VOIP,” said Andre Poliszuk, director of marketing and business development in systems at Consultronics Ltd., a Canadian manufacturer of DSL test equipment in Concord, Ontario. “We are debating the same things in Canada, and regulators there dont have the same viewpoint [on VOIP].”
Other attendees said Powell and others in the FCC have fostered an era of give-and-take among industry members, including a “town hall” meeting Monday night where consumers, regulators, industry executives and investors had a chance to question and interact with FCC regulators. Powell said he hoped the VOIP industry would continue the dialogue.
“You are the teachers. You are the leaders,” Powell said. “You need to show public policy the way.”
That dialogue moved the industry forward, according to Michael Finegan, a senior WAN solutions specialist at Sprint Corp. in San Francisco.
“What I really hope to see in a new replacement is one as favorable to the community,” Finegan said. He added that he appreciated Powells support of the VOIP industry. Without government support, he said, young industries can die.