House passes Internet access bill
- By Jennifer Jones
- May 18, 2000
The U.S. House of Representatives this week passed Internet-access legislation
that has drawn the ire of voice over IP (VOIP) vendors and supporters.
Specifically, the House, by voice vote, passed H.R. 1291, the Internet Access
Charge Prohibition Act of 1999, which lawmakers originally crafted as a
bill to throw bipartisan support behind a ban on Internet access taxation.
But a recent amendment to the bill would leave room for the Federal Communications
Commission to levy access charges for VOIP applications.
The legislation still must pass the Senate, where its critics have vowed
a more stringent fight, sources said.
The amendment introduced by Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and adopted by the
House Commerce Committee, states that the legislation should not preclude
the FCC "from imposing access charges on the providers of Internet telephone
services, irrespective of the type of customer premises equipment used in
connection with such services."
That exception to the bill — which basically bans other Internet access
surcharges — has riled some VOIP supporters.
"I believe the telephony industry should pay something, but not charges
based on Old World rules," said Jeff Pulver, CEO of Pulver.com, which publishes
The Pulver Report on emerging Internet technology.
A spokesman for Upton said the congressman inserted the amendment to keep
the bill moving. Upton's intent was to move VOIP off the table, because
those applications are not yet as mainstream as others on the Internet,
the spokesman said.
"People who are able to use voice over the Internet for telephony purposes
right now are mostly in higher income categories. It is not such a wide-reaching
thing at this point," he said.
But Pulver said he is looking to rally Internet providers around the notion
that a charge on VOIP applications would open a Pandora's box of issues
should the bill try to regulate one type of data set and not another.
Many have speculated that the bill language might well pass the House but
would have a harder time getting through the Senate, Pulver said.