Powell Calls For 'Revolution' In Telecom Regulation

"For VoIP, I say give it liberty," said Powell, in a keynote speech at the VON show here. In a statement that drew spontaneous applause from the audience, Powell pledged to "step forward" with a motion to bring VoIP under clear federal jurisdiction, an action the commission has been widely criticized for not taking sooner.

Even though he gave no timetable for when he would put the idea of VoIP regulation to a vote, Powell made it clear that he intends to move sooner, not later.

"Like the founding fathers, we have to decide where we stand," said Powell, who is in favor of a light-handed regulatory touch on VoIP, centered at the federal level. While state regulators and other entrenched entities have so far successfully fought off attempts to legislate such a position, Powell said the time for debate about how to regulate VoIP, if at all, is quickly diminishing.

"We cannot avoid this question any longer," Powell said. "Bold action is needed."

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And that action needs to venture beyond just the question of how to regulate VoIP, Powell said. Solving the thorny issue of intercarrier compensation, he said, is even more critical since it directly addresses the viability of the underlying broadband networks that carry VoIP traffic.

"The most important thing the government needs to do is reform the intercarrier compensation [issue]," Powell said, calling the current setup of byzantine fee scales and rate arbitrage "ridiculous, arbitrary and indefensible." The fees carriers charge and pay for access to networks, he said, need to be brought to a rational, national structure, a task that will require cooperation and buy-in from a wide range of entrenched competitors, as well as state regulatory bodies.

"We need to have the courage to peel it apart, and put it together in a rational way," Powell said, again eliciting audience applause.

While Powell and the FCC have drawn criticism of late for a string of decisions that seem to favor the regional Bell operating companies, Powell said that the commission is still committed to providing competitive access to local loops, an issue that has kept the FCC up to its ears in endless litigation.

While the government ceded the phone system to the Bell monopoly a century ago, Powell said "I'm not going to be the guy who makes that deal again." On the ongoing line-sharing debate, which is now back in the FCC's hands, Powell said "even if it breaks us, we will finish by the end of the year."

In some areas, such as law enforcement rights, no service providers will ever be able to be completely free of regulation, Powell said. In terms of satisfying the desires of the FBI and the Justice Department to be able to "wiretap" VoIP communications, Powell said that "particularly in this world, there's going to have to be an answer as to how that works."

But that can be an argument separate from overall telecom regulation, Powell said, and something that can be solved with a "complete re-think" of what IP communications are, and how regulators and lawmakers can fashion a fair, consistent and comprehensible regulatory framework for the future. VoIP, he added, is a catalyst for that regulatory change.

"VoIP has ignited a fire under a stalled and stagnant industry," Powell said. "I support a different way [to regulate VoIP]. I say, revolution."

This story courtesy of Advanced IP Pipeline