The Federal Communications Commission has ruled that VoIP service providers will have to report major service outages to the FCC, but, in a loophole that benefits only major broadband internet service providers who also offer IP phone service, cable and DSL providers will not be required to report broader outages of the actual Internet connectivity crucial to VoIP service.
The ruling is an effort to bring VoIP services in line with the outage reporting required of legacy circuit-switched voice services.
The FCC estimates that nearly a third of broadband-enabled homes depend on “interconnected” VoIP providers, which it defines as companies that offer voice services over broadband connections to and from the public switched telephone network (PSTN) and require the use a VoIP adapter or IP phone on the customer premises. Services such as Skype and Google Voice do not depend on VoIP adaptors and are exempt from the ruling.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski had originally proposed that providers of internet connectivity services (such as Comcast and AT&T) be required to report general internet outages, but The National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA), which represents the major US cable and telecommunications providers, lobbied to limit reporting requirements to VoIP service.
Commissioner Robert McDowell, an FCC member originally appointed in 2006 by then President George Bush and reappointed by President Barack Obama in 2009, led the effort to water down the reporting requirement, arguing that the scope of the reporting should pertain only to outages that affect emergency 911 services and that the FCC has little jurisdiction over internet services. After Genachowski agreed to narrow their scope, the commission voted unanimously to adopt the new reporting requirements
AT&T, which provides both broadband internet and VoIP services, welcomed the decision. “We are pleased that the Commission was willing to work with us to focus on rules that give the agency visibility into outages that affect 911 service for Voice over IP subscribers,” said Bob Quinn, AT&T Senior Vice President of Federal Regulatory and Chief Privacy Officer. “We look forward to continuing to work with the FCC to ensure that its regulations are narrowly tailored to achieve their stated goal of protecting consumers.”
But VoIP providers relying on external internet service providers are disappointed that internet outages are exempt from the reporting rules.
“We are fine with outage reporting rules that protect the consumer,” said Ravi Sakaria, CEO of VoicePulse, a major independent VoIP service provider. “But if the FCC’s goal is to equalize the requirements between PSTN and IP voice services, this ruling doesn’t do it”
“It’s a paradigm shift, the transport layer is being separated from the application layer,” said Sakaria of Wednesday’s ruling. “To an interconnected VoIP provider, internet service is as vital as copper is to a PSTN carrier. But the FCC has never separated phone service from the copper wiring on which it’s delivered.”
Consumer advocacy groups are also not convinced. Public Knowledge, a Washington, D.C.-based group that advocates on behalf of consumers in copyright, telecommunications and internet law, welcomed the ruling, but expressed disappointment it did not go far enough.
“We are disappointed that this data, as with other reported outage information, will not be made public,” said Harold Field, legal director of Public Knowledge, on the group’s web site. “As we said in our comments filed with the Open Technology Initiative last fall, the reporting burden will be minimal on VoIP providers.”
The new rules have not been published by the FCC, but a press release and statements from Genachowski, McDowell and other commissioners, are available on the FCC on web site.