VoIP Addressed At CES

Tina Reilly
LAS VEGAS, Nevada – Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Michael Powell addressed the issue of Voice-over Internet Protocol (VoIP) to the crowd at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas Friday, which he stated was “crucial to the economy’s future.”

The main thrust of Powell’s keynote was the FCC’s role in the promotion of VoIP as one of the most innovative forms of high-speed voice communication over the Internet. He also warned that it should not be treated as just another form of telephony, otherwise the U.S. runs the risk of running VoIP operators out of the country.

Powell also conveyed the FCC’s firm stand in keeping VoIP technology from being excessively regulated by states and government like all other types of phone services, Reuters reported.

VoIP technology provides voice communications over the Internet, which so far has remained either a free or low-cost option for local and long distance phone consumers, and as it grows in popularity it could potentially pose a serious monetary threat to traditional carriers.

The advent of VoIP has created a great deal of confusion and bickering between regulators because of its blurry status as a telephone service, and yet its firm and undeniable origin as a service of the Internet.

Powell stated that the FCC is fully committed at this early juncture to doing more to protect the innovation behind VoIP in the coming year as the technology trickles into the mainstream

Early VoIP providers like Vonage and Skype, both of which are privately owned, Reuters reported, have experienced rapid growth in the early stages of VoIP’s offering to the general public. Although Vonage has had to battle the state of Minnesota from being slapped with costly telephone regulations.

At present, the government protects the Internet and its use as being free from taxes and regulations. Although, all that could change, according to Powell, if protections are not put in place at an early stage in the technology’s development.

Powell pledged to the attendees of CES that the FCC expects to contribute a great deal of public and government awareness to the expansion of high-speed communications over the Internet and the absolute necessity that VoIP technology not be over regulated, which would create a “hostile” environment for providers and consumers of VoIP.

"I think it is the most dramatic and meaningful stimulus to our economic productivity and growth," Powell was quoted by Reuters as saying. "I think it is the most promising development for job creation."

Meanwhile, the Department of Justice (DOJ) is putting pressure on the FCC to allow law enforcement to wiretap VoIP communication, in the same way that regular landline phone lines can be randomly tapped under 9/11 anti-terrorist laws upheld by Homeland Security.

According to the DOJ, VoIP has the potential to leave law enforcement “shortchanged” in cases of combating terrorists, spies, and criminals that typically utilize leading edge technology to communicate.

The FCC is scheduled to issue federal policy recommendations sometime this year.