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Internet phones peachy in Georgia?

State regulators order local phone provider BellSouth to let customers buy broadband services alone, which some claim is a win for the people using Internet telephone providers.

The Georgia Public Service Commission has ordered local phone provider BellSouth to let customers buy broadband services alone, which some claim is a win for the growing number of people using Internet telephone providers.

Before the Georgia regulator's ruling, anyone buying digital subscriber line (DSL) broadband service from BellSouth was required to pay for a telephone line, whether they wanted it or not. Internet phone providers claimed that the added cost was a deterrent for anyone wishing to subscribe to a voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) plan, a cheaper form of dialing that uses the Internet rather than a privately owned telephone network.

"The ruling gives people more options," said a spokeswoman for Vonage, one of several VoIP providers that have been doing business in Georgia.

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BellSouth's chief financial officer, Ron Dykes, on Wednesday dismissed the ruling as nothing but "one more brick on the regulatory confusion file." During a conference call with analysts to discuss the company's latest financial results, he said that "in the worst case, it's probably not an economic penalty." The company is now investigating its legal options, he added.

The ruling, coming by way of a 3-2 vote by the Georgia commission, will likely have a ripple effect in the 12 other states in which BellSouth operates and also enforces its "bundling" requirement on broadband users, the Vonage spokeswoman said. BellSouth is also fighting a similar effort by the public utilities commissions in Florida and Louisiana.

The Georgia ruling is part of a regulatory winning streak that VoIP providers have been on this year. Their most recent victory before this was in Minnesota, where a federal judge said the state cannot force VoIP providers to follow the same rules and regulations as regular telephone providers.