In addition to providing new challenges to customers who might need to reach an emergency center, the growth of VOIP also worries advocates of rural Internet access.
According to Ed Cameron, director of the USDAs advanced services division for rural utilities, the growth of VOIP has also led to the shrinking of the Universal Service Fund. This is a fund paid for by taxes on phone lines provided by the Bells.
As VOIP grows and causes the number of traditional phone lines to shrink, the fund also shrinks.
Cameron said that the shrinking Universal Service Fund is going to make it harder to bring broadband access to users outside what he calls "clusters," which are concentrations of users such as youd find in towns and cities.
The problem, Cameron said, also goes back to the FCCs seeing a difference between information services and telecommunication services.
"Voice is an application on the network," Cameron said, pointing out that this is the case regardless of what sort of network it might be using at the time.
Cameron noted that getting broadband to rural areas was already difficult because of the low density of users, but he said that the expense of wiring for broadband in those areas was something that the Universal Service Fund should cover, assuming that there was enough money.
He noted that already the traditional phone companies were objecting to paying to support VOIP over broadband, saying that they were, in effect, funding their own competition.
Cameron said it would help a lot if all voice carriers, including VOIP carriers, were required to contribute to the Universal Service Fund.
He said he sees the day when there will be a new type of digital divide he calls "the VOIPers and the VOIPless."
He said that unless money is found to bring broadband to rural areas, they will remain VOIPless.
He noted that hed be less worried if existing technologies would deliver on the promise of broadband in remote areas.
He said that Broadband over Powerline wasnt able to deliver on its promise, that fixed broadband wireless didnt seem to be moving, and that satellite Internet access was simply impractical for VOIP.
The organizer of the event, communications attorney Julie Rones, said that representatives of the cable companies had been invited to participate in the panel, but declined due to an existing conflict at a national cable convention also being held this week.