FCC seeks power over VOIP

Federal Communications Commission officials want to regulate voice-over-IP services, FCC chairman Michael Powell said.

In an Oct. 19 speech in Boston, Powell praised voice-over-IP innovators and argued his case for federal oversight of the technology. He said some oppose a different approach to regulation, saying that voice over IP "is just a different way to make a phone call."

The fact that it is indeed different, using IP technology to transmit voice conversations the same way that it transports data packets, is exactly the point, Powell said.

"It's wrong, just plain wrong, to not recognize the potential of [voice over IP] or to see it through the lens of the old telephone network regulatory model," he said. Voice over IP "is a data application, and as such, has all the hallmarks of the Internet itself."

VoIP is rapidly spreading through the federal government, particularly at the Defense Department. Telecommunications consultant Frank Dzubeck, president and chief executive officer of Communications Network Architects Inc., said FCC regulations would help lower the costs of voice communications.

"Everybody understands that eventually voice costs will go to zero," he said. "The route to get there should be gradual so that everybody gets there. If somebody rushes there and puts everybody else out of business, then [that company] could raise the rates."

Powell plans to ask FCC members to determine if exclusive federal jurisdiction is appropriate. He has not proposed specific regulations.

"Like the Internet, the change is cosmic," he said of voice-over-IP technology. "It obliterates the importance of time and distance. There is no need to organize the regulatory regime around per minute prices and costs as we have done with common carriers."

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