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Telephony, Regulation, and VoIP

A new article by Ken Camp, published at Realtime VoIP, discusses telephony regulations, describing some existing regulatory issues surrounding telecommunications and how they might impact VoIP services. The following is an introduction to this article:

Bringing new technologies such as VoIP into service presents a wide range of technical challenges. Given the highly regulated environment of telecommunications, VoIP presents a set of regulatory challenges. For the most part, these challenges present hurdles to VoIP service providers who want to deliver commercial services to consumers and businesses and don't directly impact business VoIP deployment. The intent of this article is to provide a brief glimpse into VoIP regulations and considerations for business users. Businesses that embrace managed VoIP services might want to review some of these regulatory issues, such as E-911 services, with the managed VoIP service provider.

Note: For readers truly interested in the depth and complexity of global telecommunications regulation, The Practical Handbook for Telecommunications Regulators is an excellent resource.

In the United States, regulation began in 1866 with the signing of the Post Roads Act, which gave the U.S. Postmaster General control over the telegraph industry. Today, in the U.S., the interstate telecommunication industry is regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which was formed with the Communications Act of 1934. Individual states' public utility commissions (PUCs) regulate communications within their jurisdictions. The FCC also regulates the use of wireless radio frequencies through a system of spectrum allocation and licensing.

Historically, the telecommunication industry around the world has been regulated by governments and international organizations, although some telecom regulations are being revamped and even removed to promote healthy competition. In the deregulated environment, many competitive telecom carriers appeared offering new and unique services.

The Internet, conversely, has historically been a highly unregulated environment. Requirements placed on traditional telecom providers often do not apply in the Internet services environment. This reality has placed the traditional telecommunications carriers and the emerging IP services providers, including the broadband cable companies, on opposing sides of regulatory battles.

IP-based service providers want to remain as unregulated as possible in order to explore every opportunity to create revenue streams. Traditional phone companies want VoIP providers to be treated just like phone companies-subjected to all the same rules and regulations. This difference in direction is further exacerbated by the fact that traditional telecommunications companies are also Internet providers and backbone carriers, so they also campaign for loosening of regulations that serve their interests in that regard. Regulation is a very complex issue.

By Ken Camp, Speaker, Author and Consultant

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