The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has long been a regulator of telecommunications. However, under the declaration that they made in 2004, that VoIP should be considered an information service rather than a telecommunications service, the FCC has little rights to the regulation of VoIP service.
This hasn’t stopped them in the past. In 2005, the FCC ruled that VoIP providers should be forced to have Enhanced 911 capabilities, and in 2007, the FCC ruled that consumers should be allowed to port their PSTN number to VoIP. The FCC appears prepared to continue this trend, and implement new regulatory policies within the near future.
This was further the consensus when, within the past week, both FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski and Republican Commissioner Robert McDowell announced that they will be leaving the FCC in the next few months. McDowell’s long-term position against internet regulation and control has been a hindrance to the FCC’s ability to regulate VoIP, and his departure has many people speculating that regulations will quickly be implemented.
Inevitably, those who fill the shoes of both Genachowski and McDowell will be burdened with a lot of decisions, as well as pressure. As the PSTN continues to be overshadowed by VoIP services, it becomes more evident that the FCC will eventually be in charge of regulating VoIP, as well as the Internet as a whole.
The telecommunications industry still stands divided on whether the FCC should regulate VoIP services. AT&T is requesting that VoIP networks be “subject to minimal regulation only at the federal level”. The National Telecommunications Cooperative Association (NTCA) is requesting that the FCC make a rule. They want it to be made to “examine means of promoting and sustaining the ongoing evolution of the public switched telephone network… to an IP-based infrastructure through targeted regulatory relief and the establishment of tailored near-term economic incentives.”