Unfortunately, these free-market advocates, including Federal Communications Commission Chairmanand New Hampshire Sen. , overlook the fact that the Internet--and voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), in particular--is already subject to myriad government statutes and court decisions.
VoIP enables people to make phone calls through their computers over the Internet.
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Unlike companies that use the PSTN, providers of VoIP are not required to provide universal telephone service, or access for the hearing-impaired. VoIP companies do not have to pay the taxes and tariffs that provide these government services. Only companies that use the older telephone network are required to provide these services and thus pass on the costs of these government-mandated services to their customers.
So when the question of imposing tariffs or other regulations on VoIP is raised by the, the or even some , a sharp howl is heard from the Internet is a product of the free market and must remain free of government regulation if VoIP is to prosper.
The Internet originally was a high-speed telecommunications network among university scientists working on federal government research projects during the Cold War. The network enabled the scientists to freely exchange data, experiment results and notes.
While the scientists involved may have had a free flow of ideas among themselves, their work was classified. In addition, the research of these scientists was funded with federal grants derived from federal tax dollars, while the initial Internet that linked these various university scientists from around the country to each other was also funded with federal tax dollars.
Thus, from its infancy, the Internet has always been accompanied by some sort of government regulation.
The Internet has always been accompanied by some sort of government regulation.
Looking over the horizon, federal agencies such as the FBI, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Trade Commission and the U.S. Attorneys Office will require additional funding to enforce already existing laws to VoIP telephony. Where will that funding come from?
Financially strapped states like California are already exploring the, especially since revenue streams from taxing PSTN phone calls will diminish, as VoIP services expand without contributing to the public coffers. Thus, there is political and economic pressure to impose some sort of tax-tariff paradigm, either at the state level or the federal level.
The federal courts are split on the issue. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, on Oct. 6, 2003,as providing "telecommunications" services as defined in the Communications Act, when Internet access is involved. Thus, cable operators would be subject to FCC regulations that affect telecommunications companies.
Then on October 16, a federal district court judge in Minnesotaand declared that Vonage, a VoIP service provider, is an information service provider. The court noted "Congress's mandate that the Internet remain unfettered by regulation."
With these two inconsistent court decisions, a vitally important policy debate has been stopped in its tracks, at least until the Supreme Court reverses one of these decisions--or until Congress decides to act.
A vitally important policy debate has been stopped in its tracks, at least until the Supreme Court reverses one of these decisions or until Congress decides to act.
Even the FCC acknowledged in 1998 thatbetween an "informational service" and a "telecommunications service" may be outdated or archaic, given the development of the various services, service providers and technological advances related to the Internet.
Instead of clinging to the definitions of "informational" versus "telecommunications" set forth in the 1984 version of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, perhaps there should be a complete re-evaluation of these definitions.
If consumers and providers alike want the courts to stay out of the debate, then Congress has to consider a complete overhaul of the Communications Act of 1934. The courts, at the moment, are "stuck" with applying these possibly outdated definitions, as codified in the Communications Act, to rapidly changing technological paradigms.
By acknowledging these factual underpinnings, the debates concerning the regulation and development of the Internet might avoid ideological confrontations and instead possibly encourage rational, logical public policy.