VOIP Port Blocking Draws Congressional Interest

Two congressional aides tell VON show attendees that lawmakers in Washington want to look deeper into the issue of "port blocking" since the FCC fined a North Carolina telco for the practice.

SAN JOSE, Calif.—Congress will likely look deeper into the problem of "port blocking" since the Federal Communications Commission ruled last week that Madison River Communications could not resort to this practice to prevent customers from using voice-over-IP applications.

That was the view of two congressional analysts who discussed legislative initiatives in the U.S. relating to VOIP services Monday at the VON Conference & Expo here.

New reports about the FCC decision raised "a blip on the radar screen" for U.S. Sen. John Sununu of New Hampshire, said Mike OReilly, a legislative assistant to Sununu.

"My boss did notice it and I wanted to make sure he is aware of it," OReilly said. Any follow up would involve learning more about how this particular incident happened to determine whether any further congressional action is needed beyond the FCCs ruling, he said.

Among the potential follow-up questions is how did the initial port-blocking action take place, OReilly said. Any further inquiry will likely focus on whether the port blocking was a "competitive decision or bad employee decision," OReilly said.

In his VON keynote speech Monday, Vonage Holdings Corp. CEO Jeffrey Citron called on attendees to write to Congress to protest port blocking as a form of censorship. "Tell them to stop the insanity," Citron said. If this form of censorship is allowed to continue, he asked, "Where does it stop?"

/zimages/4/28571.gifClick here to read more about the FCC ruling against Madison River Communications.

He noted that the FCC acted within weeks after Vonage filed its complaint against Madison River Communications to impose a $15,000 fine and order an end to the port blocking. But he also urged continued vigilance, claiming that the states of New York, California and Ohio indicated they would appeal the FCC decision.

He also urged Congress to pass legislation to ensure the "complete neutrality" of wire-line and wireless telephone companies to enable VOIP customers to freely access any telephone network in the country.

The best move by Vonage and the FCC was to make both the complaint and the ruling public, noted Jason Mahler, chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo of California. This helped serve notice that there may be a problem that requires legislative or regulatory attention, he said.

However, Mahler also observed that Madison River executives recently expressed ignorance of the FCCs action, even though a news report of the ruling appeared on the front page of the Washington Post last week.

Vonage lodged a complaint with the FCC earlier this year after the VOIP service provider verified customer complaints that their VOIP communication ports were being blocked.

Mahler and OReilly indicated Congress will also likely consider legislation clarifying standards for digital television and supporting the implementation of VOIP.

Mahler suggested that the recent proposed megamergers of SBC Communications Inc. with AT&T Corp. and Verizon Communications with MCI Inc. may have "thrown a wrench" into the congressional agenda for communication legislation for this year.

Congress may find itself distracted by attention paid to the competitive issues raised by these mergers. But both Mahler and OReilly said that they expected that Congress would act this year on legislation aimed at supporting consumer adoption of digital television.

OReilly suggested the VOIP is less likely to be a legislative priority for Congress because relatively few members have focused on it as an important public policy issue.

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John Pallatto

John Pallatto

John Pallatto has been editor in chief of QuinStreet Inc.'s eWEEK.com since October 2012. He has more than 40 years of experience as a professional journalist working at a daily newspaper and...