FCC says telcos must support VoIP

Internet telephony providers have been recognised as “telecommunications carriers” in an FCC ruling that requires incumbent local exchange carriers to connect VoIP providers.

The ruling comes one year after Time Warner Cable petitioned the US telecoms watchdog when it found itself locked out of the market by local exchange carriers.

Time Warner purchased wholesale services from MCI and Sprint, to connect its VoIP service customers with the public switched telephone network (PSTN).

But Time complained that MCI has been unable to provide wholesale telecoms services in certain areas in South Carolina and that Sprint has been unable to provide wholesale services in certain areas in Nebraska. This is because the South Carolina Public Service Commission and the Nebraska Public Service Commission determined that “rural incumbent local exchange carriers (LECs) are not obligated to enter into interconnection agreements with competitive service providers to the extent that such competitors operate as wholesale service providers”.

The FCC ruled that this stance was a misinterpretation of its rules and said that interconnection requirements apply to both retail and wholesale telecom services.

FCC chairman Kevin Martin, said “the Commission must promote competition in every sector it oversees and create a level playing field among service providers.

“Our decision will enhance consumers’ choice for phone service by making clear that cable and other VoIP providers must be able to use local phone numbers and be allowed to put calls through to other phone networks,” he said.

Late last month, VoIP champion, Skype, also petitioned the FCC to apply an American legal precedent, known as the Carterfone decision, to wireless networks. It is suggested that if the firm is successful, the networks would be opened up, making it much easier to use Skype-like services over them.

Carterphone dates back to 1968 when federal regulators issued a landmark ruling that allowed Americans to own the telephones in their homes. In effect, it allows customers to attach their own devices to the phone network, provided they cause no damage. It is Skype’s contention that the law should be extended to allow its application to run on any device capable of accessing the network.

However, Carterphone, to date, has only applied to the wired phone network and cable TV networks. Skype wants regulation that would broaden Carterphone’s reach to wireless networks so that operators would allow any application on any attachable device to be used on their networks.

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