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VoIP to get a voice in Washington

Microsoft, Texas Instruments, AT&T and other Net-phoning interests are set to launch Monday an advocacy group for voice over Internet Protocol.

Several technology giants will announce new initiatives Monday to ensure a hands-off regulatory approach to the Internet phone market, a source familiar with the plans said Friday.

The Voice Over Internet Coalition is among the first regulatory advocacy groups for the VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol) 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," said a source familiar with the coalition's plans.

The coalition is expected to reveal on Monday its "policy principles and advocacy plans for allowing VoIP innovation to flourish," the source said.

Members of the collation are AT&T, which plans to launch a VoIP telephone service in 100 markets, and current VoIP service providers ITXC Corporation, Level 3 Communications and MCI. Others are 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.