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FCC urged to make call on VoIP rule

Congressman Tauzin wants the FCC to hurry up and decide whether long-distance calls via the Internet are subject to local-access charges.

An influential congressman on Thursday urged federal regulators to come to a quick decision about whether people making long-distance calls over Internet Protocol networks should pay connection fees to local telephone companies.

In a letter sent to the Federal Communications Commission, Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., asked members to make their decision by Feb. 5. At present, FCC rules allow local carriers to charge traditional phone companies access fees to use their networks for long-distance calls.

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The Federal Communications Commission has been mulling the question of access fees for long-distance Net phone calls for 15 months, ever since AT&T filed a petition about the issue. In the petition, AT&T said access charges should only apply to calls that use traditional circuit-switched telephone networks--not to those that use IP networks.

Tauzin argues that the regulatory muddle means that laws are not keeping pace with the technological changes at AT&T and at other major phone service providers that use IP to increase capacity for telephone calls, Internet sessions or videos on demand.

"I am extremely concerned (about) the commission's continued failure to clarify the rules governing traffic over AT&T's IP backbone," Tauzin wrote.

AT&T uses its IP network to transport a large amount of long-distance calls and typically pays about $9 billion a year in access charges, according to the company.

Without clear regulations, carriers argue that they can't commit the capital they need to expand voice over IP, or VoIP, networks.

An FCC representative had no immediate comment when reached on Thursday.

The importance of the debate was underscored on Thursday, when Verizon Communications, the largest U.S. telephone company, disclosed plans to shift half of its long-distance call traffic from its older circuit-switched networks to its newer IP network by late 2005.