Free Phone Sex Over VoIP?

Tina Reilly
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The future of phone sex over the Internet could possibly be in the hands of congress in the coming year as lawmakers argue over whether Internet telephony should be taxed the same way as traditional telephone services.

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology bundles with high-speed Internet connections to transmit phone calls and is becoming increasingly popular as phone carriers like AT&T, Verizon, BellSouth Corp., Time Warner Cable, and Vonage are tapping into the power of the Internet for the bulk of their calling services.

The ball is presently in the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) hands as it ruminates over whether Internet calls should contribute tax dollars to social and emergency services in the same way that telephone carriers do.

During the FCC's first-ever forum on VoIP, FCC Chairman Michael K. Powell stated that he believed firmly that IP-based services should "evolve in a regulation-free zone," and that those lawmakers in a position to impose taxation on Internet telephony should approach the subject with "a sense of regulatory humility - mindful that it is entrepreneurs, not governments, who came up with the idea of making high-quality, inexpensive phone calls over the Internet."

Another issue on the table is whether Internet telephony should be subject to monitoring by the government and law enforcement, which is currently legal with landline phones, particularly under the shield of the Patriot Act.

"To be sure, health, safety and welfare concerns may give rise to uniquely state interests and it might be proper for them to play a role in these areas," stated Powell. "Economic regulation, however, is entirely another matter and we should approach that area of regulation with significant skepticism.

The nagging question of how to tax the Internet and its services has been a scourge on congress in recent months, and many lawmakers have debated furiously over whether to impose taxation on advanced technologies such as broadband.

While certain laws have placed a moratorium on Internet taxation as it relates to broadband and telephony, many states are seeing dollar signs as VoIP begins to establish itself as an essential part of popular culture.

Representatives from some of the major telephone carriers feel that VoIP should be regulated in the same way as the traditional telephone industry and that without some form of governmental regulation, consumers cannot be protected by law enforcement and national security.

At present, the general sentiment from the FCC is that Internet-based telephone service should be immune to the same regulations as typical phone carriers, but where to proceed from there remains murky.

"The long-awaited convergence of voice, data, and video onto Internet-based networks is on the verge of turning the pipe dreams of just a few years ago into new commercial reality," stated Commissioner Michael J. Copps. "We are dramatically changing the way we communicate in this country, and around the globe, and we are challenged to adjust our policies and rules not only to accommodate, but to facilitate, this process of change."

According to reports, the FCC has not yet issued a ruling, but it has put a task force together to review the issue. The FCC-appointed Internet Policy Working Group will assist the FCC in evaluating policy issues that arise as telecommunications services move to Internet-based platforms.

"It's time for us to take the lead in getting the regulatory structure right from the start," stated FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein. "We should provide clarity and guidance for all who are entering or thinking to enter this space, as well as for consumers interested in using VoIP services. We need to anticipate where the technology is headed and make sure we account for the public interest."