[August 26, 2005]

The Day the VoIP Call Died: FCC's VoIP 911 Deadline

By RICH TEHRANI
TMCnet Technology Analysis Columnist
 
It seems amazing to me that as an industry we are facing a situation where our nose is being cut off to spite our face. Worse yet, it is out of our control as the FCC is forcing VoIP providers to shut off service to those customer who have not acknowledged they understand the E911 limitations of VoIP service.

 
While it obviously makes sense to ensure VoIP 911 service is as good as it is in the PSTN world, the FCC has chosen an unnecessarily short window of compliance which was supposed to be this Monday.
 
This deadline was extended 30 days as I wrote this article which is great of the FCC, but it still requires providers to cut off service to people who do not acknowledge the E911 limitations of their VoIP service. Apparently there is a bit of wiggle room if companies don’t comply immediately but I can’t imagine it ever being desirable to turn off a person’s VoIP service.
 
While the cellular industry was given years to get their 911 service to the point where it is today, VoIP providers were given a short, blunt window and unlike the cellular world, VoIP providers need to cut customers off at some point.
 
The question I keep thinking about is why? VoIP is the best thing to happen to consumers in the telecom world since Caller-ID or touch-tone dialing. Consumers get better service at lower rates. At the same time IP telephony providers break the monopoly stranglehold that was typically associated with incumbent telcos. Voice over IP gives consumers real choice with better service and lower cost.
 
Why put unbelievably strict regulations on an entire industry with such short windows? Is there something about VoIP that upsets the FCC? Is there something they have against this burgeoning market?
 
I was harsh on Michael Powell in the past because during his tenure there was not as much broadband competition as I thought the country needed. Every time I saw the US slip down more on the list of countries with the most broadband connections, I got sick. I still do. But I must say that Powell repeatedly mentioned how great VoIP is for consumers and I got the feeling that he really meant it.
 
This is just one of the reasons I am looking forward to what he has to say about all of this at Michael Powell’s keynote at Internet Telephony Conference & Expo this October.
 
Why doesn’t Kevin Martin make these statements? He obviously isn’t obligated to but under his watch VoIP is transforming the world’s communications systems. Who can argue that companies like Skype, Vonage, Yahoo!, AOL and Google won’t accelerate the adoption rates beyond even today’s levels?
 
Is Kevin Martin a friend of the VoIP industry? I am not sure. I keep hoping for him to heap lavish praise on our market and say “Internet Telephony Service Providers, I salute you!!!” Instead there is deafening silence and short windows of compliance with noncompliance penalties going to customers of VoIP service. Imagine what happens when VoIP service is cut off and someone dies. Who is responsible for such a tragedy? I don’t know. Is it the provider’s fault? The FCC?
 
As we move forward and it becomes clear that VoIP is integral to virtually everyone who communicates electronically, I hope the FCC under Chairman Martin starts to discuss VoIP more openly and mentions how good it is for consumers, corporations and anyone who wants to communicate by voice. VoIP is a transformational technology and its currently mushrooming impact would have been inconceivable just a few years ago. Tens of millions of people use VoIP services worldwide right now and that number will only grow over time. Let’s hope the FCC realized that VoIP is a technology that is good for consumers and nurtures it and allows it to grow without unnecessary burden.
 
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Rich Tehrani is President and Editor in Chief at TMC.
 
 

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