Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Update on Congress hearing

Congress mulls new Net phone rules | CNET

The Boucher-Stearns proposal, introduced late Tuesday afternoon at a press conference in Washington, is not exactly laissez-faire. It would potentially increase the amount that customers pay for certain VoIP services by importing a handful of controversial taxes and regulations from the analog world. (Neither the states nor the FCC, however, would be able to directly set prices or rates for VoIP service.)

Under the bill, Boucher said, the FCC would have the option to regulate three key areas for VoIP companies that link with traditional phone networks. The three areas are enhanced 911, universal service, and access charges. Universal service fees come from taxes levied on telecommunications providers that are redirected to cover discounted phone service for rural and low-income subscribers, as well as school and library Internet connections. Access fees are paid by subscribers and long-distance carriers for the use of local phone networks while making long-distance calls.


Adam Thierer, director of telecommunications policy at the Cato Institute said he favored the Boucher-Stearns approach of restricting state governments from regulating VoIP, but that he remained "concerned about all the carve-outs" giving the FCC authority to import 20th century access charges and universal service requirements.

"The problems is you've left a lot of room open for regulatory wiggling," Thierer said. "As long as the universal service door is open, regulators will drive a truck through it...If ever there was a chance to push the envelope and change the way we think about telecommunications regulation, it's now."

Rep. Charles Pickering, R-Miss., and Sen. John Sununu, R-N.H, also have introduced bills related to VoIP. The Boucher-Stearns bill is numbered HR4757.

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