FCC at VON: Hugs all around

Regulators assure VoIP community that network blocking will not be tolerated.

Events over the past few weeks have made many participants at this week's Voice on the Net conference nervous. But regulators at the Federal Communications Commission are offering assurances that the long arm of the U.S. government will not embrace network favoritism.

A key moment came when the FCC slapped a $15,000 fine on Madison River Communication, a Mebane, N.C., telco that has become firma non grata among VON attendees for blocking VoIP providers from accessing its network. VoIP, which lets people make voice calls over an Internet pipe, is seen as a competitive threat to incumbent phone companies.

During a town-hall-style meeting at the conference Monday night with two FCC policy makers, many in the audience demanded assurances that the commission was on their side to prevent network discrimination.

"I don't think the FCC has moved as quickly on anything," replied Robert Pepper, chief of policy development.

That message met with general acceptance. There seemed to be a good rapport between Pepper and his regulatory cohort Jeffrey Carlisle on the one hand, and the audience of techies, lawyers and venture capitalists on the other. Pepper and Carlisle were very engaged, and said that gatherings such as VON were important sounding boards for crafting VoIP regulations--or not crafting them, given the FCC's hands-off approach.

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