In the world of communications, the regulatory agency FCC is heavily involved in administering the networks we have used for communication. They have been responsible for regulating various aspects of copper PSTN networks since 1934. They play a vital role in maintaining various aspects of the market and also serve purposes related to security. Though broadband is one market sustained by the FCC, VoIP, more or less, falls into a grey area.
A report was recently released from the media source Bloomberg BNA, who specializes in professional reporting on matters related to legal practices for a variety of industries, in regards to the future of VoIP. The industry is divided down the middle, with companies like AT&T pushing for less regulation in the industry as a whole by petitioning the FCC for deregulation. AT&T claims that the arrangements between private IP networks that exist around the country, and further across the globe, are “nothing new,” per a statement made by AT&T in their petition.
On the other hand, smaller companies, like those represented by COMPTEL, a trade organization located in Washington, debate that ILECs already have the responsibility to negotiate connections in good faith. They argue that regardless of the medium used for connection it should be regulated the same. A statement was made by COMPTEL that in order to transition to an all IP based network, maintaining the same regulations subjected upon PSTNs is necessary to ensure that sturdy framework is present for such a network.
The FCC fits the government agency stereotype in the sense that regulations are not current and do not fully reflect the entire spectrum of technologies available today. Communication networks formerly required heavy intervention by a government agency simply because of the nature of the infrastructure. As a whole, the entire PSTN network across the United States is disparate, composed of several LECs and IXCs which need to cooperate (basically, share their network) or else certain areas of the country would be blacked out for communication. Regulation has been a necessary evil to prevent companies from price gouging service contracts which would inevitably drive away consumers.
This matter however, is not an apples-to-apples comparison. Comparing the technologies of the two networks is like comparing a calculator to an iPad – VoIP features far more capabilities than copper networks. Regulation in this matter is tricky. In reality, implementing regulation will help standardize pricing which will help the consumer in the long run. This will allow smaller providers to access these networks at reasonable rates.
Seeing as how AT&T and Verizon have the largest networks in the US, a push for less regulation could allow them drive up prices for providers who would rent lines. When the nation is completely retrofitted with IP lines, this should lower operation costs for these companies which should be reflected in pricing models. Perhaps the best way to address this matter would insist major providers to buy into an agreement which would cap usage charges for resellers and other customers. In the meantime, the VoIP market is growing with minimal regulation. It’s important to prepare but what’s not broken does not need fixed.