Wednesday, August 25, 2004 - The Progress & Freedom Foundation Blog

Jeff Pulver's Worries

Jeff Pulver says he is "worried" about the future of VoIP regulation after leaving the Aspen Summit.

I hope it wasn't anything I said. I trust it was not because I tend to see eye-to-eye with Jeff on this.

I believe his worries about VoIP regulation are certainly warranted, and the reasons for this did become apparent at the Summit. The concerns start with the current legal and regulatory taxonomy into which VoIP does not fit. The Commission is left with an unsatisfactory either/or proposition for VoIP classification -- what Randy May properly derides as the "metaphysics of VoIP."-- to classify it as either an "telecommunications service" or an "information service." The former classification means heavy regulation; the latter virtually none.

Two factors create pressure for VoIP to be shoehorned into the "telecommunications service" category. First, the FBI and national security apparatus emphatically assert the need to be able to wiretap VoIP under the Communications Assistance to Law Enforcement Act (CALEA). The leads them to advocate for VoIP (and cable modem service) be classified as "telecommunications." Second, the universal service ethos of the telecommunications world relies on a vast system of price distortions -- taxes, access charges and the like -- that cannot tolerate the regulatory escape from these distortions that VoIP threatens. Thus, the legacy regulatory world by its own internal logic has to try to drag VoIP into its grip.

So, Jeff should be worried. Long-term answers are to solve the outdated regulatory categorizations that do not adequately describe the reality of modern communications and rewrite CALEA for the Internet age. In the meantime, Jeff can at least rely on the good sense of Chairman Powell and Commissioner Abernathy, both of whom we heard from at Aspen and neither of whom wants to regulate VoIP.

posted by Ray Gifford @ 11:53 PM | General