That class of operators includes Vonage Holdings, which asked the FCC for just such a designation in May, plus Verizon Communications, AT&T and dozens of other commercial Internet providers, according to those familiar with the FCC's thinking.
"This landmark order recognizes a revolution has occurred," FCC Chairman Michael Powell said at a meeting in Washington, D.C. The FCC's decision was a general one, was widely anticipated, and answers just one of dozens of questions about how regulators will ultimately treat Internet phone services, typically referred to as voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP.
The decision came just after a last-minute attempt by two Southern California cities to tax Internet phone calls, a potentially nightmarish problem for Net phone providers that surfaced just as federal utility regulators were expected to make things easier for them. The cities, Burbank and El Monte, have asked dozens of Internet phone service providers to collect a monthly fee of about $1.40 from each subscriber who claims his or her "place of primary use" is within their cities. The tax would be similar to what traditional phone providers pay.
Another development came in the form of an adapter made by Siemens that extends Internet access to cordless phones and is now loaded with Skype Net phone software, allowing the same phone to. The coupling of Internet and traditional telephony in a single phone is hard to find now, but it could become more common in years to come if, as expected, more calls flow over the Internet.