FCC Proposes Huge Internet Changes

Tina Reilly
WASHINGTON, D.C. – In-between hearings on how to penalize the NFL, CBS, and Janet Jackson for the breast-baring shocker at the Super Bowl halftime show, The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is reviewing a stack of regulations that could transcend the Internet for future generations.

Among the issues reviewed by the FCC this week is how the Internet is delivered and used in homes and businesses in the coming decades. The proceedings among FCC commissioners also focused on encouraging the emergence of new technologies and resolving issues pertaining to Voice-over-Internet-Protocol (VoIP) regulations.

One FCC commissioner was quoted as saying that the telecommunications industry is at the "threshold of a profound transformation" as some of the largest telecom companies consider making the switchover from a traditional infrastructure to Internet-based service.

Typically, telephone communications travel a network of switches, but with VoIP, voice communications are delivered as packets of data over the Internet.

According to the New York Times, the FCC is currently writing regulations that would enable computer users to access the Internet through electric power lines. The game plan the FCC intends to go public with in the coming months would give utility companies a share of the same Internet market as cable and phone companies.

According to the FCC, simplifying the process of Internet access would also break through the so-called digital divide by making the Internet as equally accessible to rural communities as it is to geographical areas that are serviced by Internet Service Providers (ISPs). The rollout of such a plan could take as long as two years to mature, the FCC says.

In a separate set of proceedings, the Times reports, FCC lawmakers began reviewing rules and regulations involving VoIP, which stands to not only pose a formidable threat to telecommunications monopolies, but it could also radically change the way voice and data communications are used by the general public.

According to the FCC, pardoning VoIP technology from the same terms and regulations that traditional carriers are subject to could create a more consumer-friendly, lower-cost pricing environment among telecoms.

VoIP technology is expected to blossom into a $15 billion industry by 2007.

Maintaining its stand against the regulation and taxation of VoIP, FCC commissioners agreed unanimously that VoIP companies should not be treated on equal footing with telephone carriers. As an example, the FCC voted 4-1 on approving an application submitted by an emerging VoIP company. The FCC ruled that Pulver.com would not be held to the same regulations and charges as traditional phone services.

The Times reports that the vote on Pulver.com, a computer-to-computer dial-up service, will serve as a landmark decision that will to pave the wave for other VoIP companies.

"This represents a commitment of the commission of bringing tomorrow's technology today," FCC Chairman Michael Powell was quoted as saying by the Times.

The FCC commissioner that voted against the Pulver.com application was Michael J. Copps who voiced strong opposition to a non-regulatory environment on certain technologies.

The FCC is also considering a request from AT&T to be excused from paying fees to local carriers to connect calls between two landline phones that are partly routed through the Internet. AT&T has been a major proponent of deregulating VoIP technology.