Pennsylvania holds off on Net phone rules

The state's utility commissioners decide not to introduce regulations for Net phone calling for now, but say it looks like they have a right to do so if they want.

Ben Charny
Ben Charny Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Ben Charny
covers Net telephony and the cellular industry.
2 min read
Pennsylvania has given Net phone services a reprieve from regulation for now.

The state's public utility commissioners voted Thursday to hold back from imposing regulations on so-called voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services. Pennsylvania joins Florida and Colorado in deciding not to introduce rules.

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"We do hope that Pennsylvania's decision will influence the other states to take a similar wait-and-see approach," said Brooke Schulz, a vice president at VoIP service provider Vonage.

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About 20 other states, including California and New York, are still considering what position to take on jurisdiction and regulation. While the Federal Communications Commission is working out its own stance, many states believe they have a regulatory role when it comes to Internet phone providers. Some states fear that as more calls are made via an unregulated Internet connection, rather than over regulated phone lines, they will see a drop in revenue from a tax on traditional phone calls used to support public services.

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The Pennsylvania decision closed a yearlong investigation, after which the commissioners concluded they didn't know enough about VoIP technology to create a policy.

"This commission should not leap into a regulatory scheme until the full impact on this technology is understood," Pennsylvania Commissioner Glen R. Thomas wrote in the unanimously approved resolution.

Another factor in the decision to hold off on regulations for now is that the utility regulators want to wait and see what the FCC will do to regulate Net phone calls. The FCC isn't expected to make that decision for months.

However, the state officials did conclude that the commission may well have the right to oversee VoIP providers, should it want to.

"Having reviewed the comments and reply comments, it appears as if the Commission might have grounds under which it could assert jurisdiction and regulation," Thomas wrote in the Pennsylvania PUC resolution.

Vonage's Schulz said: "As it stands, there are more states that have opted to look before they leap than those who have moved toward regulation--keeping those more-aggressive states in the minority."