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VoIP players team up against regulation

Several tech giants, including Texas Instruments, Microsoft and AT&T, announce initiatives to ensure a hands-off regulatory approach to the Internet phone market.

Several technology giants announced initiatives Monday to ensure a hands-off regulatory approach to the Internet phone market.

The Voice Over Internet Coalition is among the first regulatory advocacy groups for the voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) industry, which has managed so far without much professional lobbying help to avoid being subject to the thicket of state and federal telephone rules.

But the Federal Communications Commission has begun drafting a VoIP policy, and more than 25 states have some kind of VoIP regulations either in place or being drawn up.

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As more phone conversations begin to flow through unregulated VoIP networks instead of the heavily taxed public switched telephone network, state governments stand to lose billions of dollars. Because Net telephony is not regulated, companies offering the service aren't subject to the vast tangle of taxes and regulations that govern the E911 emergency service and guarantee wiretapping access for police.

"With the right policy balance, Americans can enjoy lower prices, innovative new services and advanced communication features," a source familiar with the coalition's plans said.

As expected, the coalition Monday said it wanted to "resist the erection of regulatory barriers that could stall VoIP."

Members of the coalition are AT&T, which plans to launch a VoIP telephone service in 100 markets, and current VoIP service providers ITXC, Level 3 Communications and MCI. Others include chipmaker Texas Instruments, and Microsoft, which plans to support videoconferencing, cheap Internet voice calls and complex message-management functions on its Microsoft Real Time Communications Server 2003.