FCC hears from communications industry on VoIP

Fifty companies and organizations chime in on whether Internet telephony should be regulated. Many want a national Internet-phoning policy.

Fifty telecommunications interests, several of which support a national Internet-phoning policy, filed opinions this week with the Federal Communications Commission, which is investigating whether to overturn numerous state efforts to regulate this new form of telephone dialing.

Most of the companies and organizations in favor of a national VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol) policy want to

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avoid a patchwork of different statutes sewn together from laws being drafted by at least a dozen states, according to the opinions.

"It is clear that the commission must develop a national policy framework for VoIP...in order to avoid potentially diverse and inconsistent state determinations," BellSouth attorneys wrote in that company's opinion. Other major supporters of an FCC VoIP policy include phone company SBC Communications, and Motorola, a maker of communications chips and cell phones.

The filings highlight the ongoing battle between states and federal regulators about how to govern VoIP, a cheaper form of phoning, which uses the Internet instead of a standard phone company's privately owned network. States, including California, which support a state's right to impose its own regulations, fear a loss of revenue if VoIP providers don't have to pay the same fees that phone companies have been paying for decades. Federal regulators, however, are trying to coddle a new industry by not imposing financially constraining fees on these young companies.

The filings were made either in support of or against a petition from VoIP provider Vonage, which asked the FCC to pre-empt a decision by the state of Minnesota, and by extension all state overseers, to regulate Internet phone companies.

Many of those responding point out that a recent U.S. District Court decision in Minnesota, which permanently stalled that state's effort to regulate VoIP providers, makes the Vonage request moot. But the question is still a necessary one to answer.

"Questions relating to the regulation of IP voice services are pressing ones that the commission must address immediately," Qwest states in its response.

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