12.10.2003 -- Barely one week after holding a special Forum on the subject, FCC chairman Michael Powell took time during his remarks on the UCSD campus to focus on voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). “If every American tomorrow had VoIP for 30 bucks a month, what’s the telephone for?” Powell asked. “We have to start thinking of the telephone like just another application over the Internet. It’s inevitable, and there’s no stopping it.
Peter Cowhey, leader of Calit²’s policy layer at UCSD, raised the issue of VoIP’s ramifications for regulators, and Powell made clear that he does not consider the Internet equivalent to the regulated phone industry. “My view is that you can come at the problem from two directions,” said Powell. “You can turn the Internet into a telephone and argue down to where broadband lives, or start on a blank slate and regulate up as necessary. I’m a huge believer that the latter is the only reasonable thing to do. It is not a telephone; it is a new network; it is new technology; it is new applications and consumers. I don’t want to treat it like the 100-year-old common- carrier model right off the bat.”
“That doesn’t mean I won’t be convinced that there are important public policy concerns that have to be regulated on top of VoIP,” he continued. “But the burden should be on the government to prove that need, not on entrepreneurs to prove that it is not necessary.” Powell said that certain critical issues would have to be addressed in regulation of VoIP, such as 911 and universal service. “But that list is small – maybe four of five critical problems that have to be addressed,” he concluded.
Powell also made clear that new technology can play the role that regulation played in the telephone through Universal Service – “to give consumers ubiquity, portability and service,” he said. “That’s the goal, and if that’s achieved you don’t need a government program. Every American should get access to the digital revolution.”
Powell’s remarks came just two days before AT&T announced that it will aggressively expandi its voice over Internet protocol services in 2004, with a new focus on consumers.
On Dec. 1, all FCC Commissioners participated in a VoIP hearing in Washington D.C. that was open to the public. The goal: to gather information concerning advancements, innovations, and regulatory issues related to VoIP services.