New FCC Chief Not So VoIP-Friendly

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New FCC Chief Not So VoIP-Friendly



Kevin J. Martin, President Bush's appointee as Chair of the Federal Communications Commission may not be as friendly to Voice over IP service provider as Michael Powell, whom Martin replaces this week.

Martin, a 38-year-old attorney and FCC boardmember, clashed over regulatory issues with Powell in the past, advocating, for example, even greater government regulation in areas such as television broadcast program content than his predecessor.

Unlike Powell, who espoused a 'hands-off' approach to government regulation of the fledgling VoIP industry, Martin has said that all providers using the public switched telephone network -- including VoIP providers -- should contribute to the Universal Service Fund (USF), an FCC-managed program to subsidize basic telephone services in areas where the costs of offering such services are high, primarily sparsely populated rural areas, and to provide telephone service discounts to low-income consumers.

USF funds are not used for new technology or wider bandwidth, which are needed for VoIP services. Instead, they finance only the most basic twisted pair telephony. Critics suggest that if wireline carriers were not subsidized they would be more likely to develop alternative wireless services for their rural customers; something they currently have no incentive to provide.

VoIP service providers do not directly contribute to the USF. And some believe that requiring them to make such contributions, is in effect, forcing new technology to subsidize old technology, or forcing new providers to subsidize their legacy competition.

"We support the general principles behind the USF," said Ravi Sakaria, CEO of VoIP service provider VoicePulse. "However, the bulk of USF dollars go to traditional telecom infrastructure. It doesn't go in fair share for broadband access. Because broadband is a requirement for our services, we view this as funding competitive technology."

Martin made public his views on expanded USF contributions on at least two separate occassions.

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[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: As to whether or not Martin, as a 'Bush appointee' will be friendly to VOIP, my observations to date have been that Bush or his appointments are usually not very friendly to most of us, for various reasons. I don't know why the FCC in its governance of VOIP should be any exception. PAT]

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Jack Decker
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