VoIP Policy in the Coming Year

Mar 23, 2013

What to Expect from Your VoIP Provider

It seems so simple: you dial a phone number, the phone rings, and someone on the other end picks up. But simple phone calls are more steeped in regulations, legislation, and policy than you might imagine.

The FCC (Federal Communications Commission) has regulated traditional phone service since 1934. Regulations and restrictions are meant to protect customers from unfair business practices, but eventually regulations result in extra fees and taxes on the customer’s monthly phone bill. VoIP has been around since 1995, but since the Internet has far fewer restrictions than traditional phone service, VoIP is a cheaper phone service backed by a more fluid industry.

However, there are new proposed regulations of VoIP, as well as new Internet legislation going through the court systems. All of these changing policies and regulations may affect VoIP customers in one way or another.

The Proposed FCC Regulations of VoIP

Phone service regulations have become more complicated in recent years, as phone service providers also offer television service and Internet service, or Internet providers offer phone service or television service, and so on. The FCC regulates phone service providers with certain restrictions, and as VoIP becomes more prominent, the FCC wants to regulate VoIP in the same category as traditional phone service providers.

What Separates VoIP from Traditional Telecoms

Traditional phone service relies on the PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network), which is the federally run network that connects all landline-based phone calls. Traditional phone calls use analog data, which is relayed as electrical pulses. It is difficult to send analog data over a long distance without losing call quality, so there need to be lots of transfer points for an analog call along the way.

VoIP uses digital data, and it is easy to send digital data over long distances without stopping. VoIP only uses the PSTN if a VoIP caller is calling someone who does not have an Internet phone number. Users are able to use VoIP if there is a WiFi connection already in place, whereas traditional phone users would need to physically connect to a landline for service.

For these reasons, the FCC has largely left VoIP alone. However, as reported by Bloomberg BNA, the FCC is looking to add more regulations to VoIP in the near future because VoIP has become such a popular choice for so many landline phone service customers.

What are some of the FCC regulations on VoIP?

The FCC currently regulates “interconnected” VoIP providers, which are VoIP providers that allow users to make and receive calls from the PSTN. Nearly all of the VoIP providers on the market are interconnected VoIP providers. Here are some of the FCC regulations that interconnected VoIP providers already adhere to:

911 obligations, ensuring that all VoIP users have 911 emergency access.
All interconnected VoIP providers must comply with Local Number Portability (LNP) rules VoIP providers, as well as traditional providers, must post a phone number in one business day.
VoIP providers must contribute funds to help pay for the administration costs of the LN.
The FCC limits interconnected VoIP providers’ use of customer proprietary network information (CPNI), such as their customers’ telephone calling records.
The FCC requires that interconnected VoIP providers must contribute to the Universal Service Fund, which supports communication services in low-income areas.
Interconnected VoIP providers must comply with the Commission’s Telecommunications Relay Services (TRS) requirements, including contributing to the TRS Fund used to support telecommunications services to people with speech or hearing disabilities.
Interconnected VoIP providers must ensure that their services are available and usable by individuals with disabilities.

Again, these regulations are for interconnected VoIP providers, and these regulations are still less than that of traditional phone providers. However, new FCC changes to VoIP policy would encompass interconnected and non-interconnected VoIP providers alike.

If passed, the new VoIP regulations would include:

Guaranteed service during natural disasters
The obligation to carry other providers’ phone traffic
Anti-discrimination policies, ensuring that users in rural or low-income areas have access to VoIP service just as they would with traditional phone service
Georgia, Google, “Green” Street lamps, and VoIP WiFi Policies
VoIP uses the Internet to connect phone calls, which makes current changes in WiFi policies particularly important to VoIP users. On a legislative, innovative, and business level, WiFi service is opening up public communication in big ways in 2013.

Georgia and More WiFi in Rural Areas

In March of this year, the Georgia legislature defeated a bill that would have prevented state municipals from creating their own broadband Internet networks. The major telecoms had backed the bill to preserve their hold on Internet access. This victory in Georgia allows their state government to create more local Internet networks. This victory has larger implications for local, rural areas. Local Internet network access will help rural areas connect to the Internet if that rural area’s municipal government chooses to build its own Internet network instead of waiting for a standard Internet provider to build it.

Google’s “WiFi Cities”

This week Google announced that Olathe, Kansas will be Google’s latest fiber optic city. Last year Google used Kansas City, Kansas as a WiFi tester city. Fiber optics were added throughout the entire city for Internet access that is around 100 times faster than the average Internet speed used in the rest of the country. These changes are perfect for clear, reliable VoIP calls. Google is charging citizens for access to the quicker Internet, but Google has also strongly supported proposals for a free public nationwide WiFi network.

“Green” Street lamps and Improved WiFi

San Francisco began its new street lamp project this March. A few dozen street lamps were outfitted with “green” technology of LED lights, and each lamp has a WiFi router for public use. These are the first street lights in the country with WiFi capabilities, though the success of this project is sure to spur more WiFi street lamps throughout the country.

All of these WiFi changes, from local government WiFi to fiber optic cities, positively impact VoIP service. If local governments or corporations are able to create fiber optic cities with WiFi-enabled street lamps, not only will the price of Internet decrease, but VoIP–especially mobile VoIP–will have fewer location restrictions and faster service. Sometimes change is a very good thing.

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