Over the past few months, the FCC has gotten progressively more involved with regulating VoIP services and providers.
As this has occurred, many providers have opened debates that question the validity of regulation based on how service is defined. Chief among these is AT&T.
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Earlier this year, AT&T claimed to have not fit the requirements needed to be considered a telecommunications carrier. The provider instead clung to the state-based American Legislative Exchange Council's (ALEC) model-which they helped create-that defines Internet as an "informative service" as opposed to a telecommunications service. As a result, AT&T was able to continue on unchecked, and free of regulation.
In addition to this, the provider submitted a petition calling for the FCC to close down Public Switched Telephone Networks (PSTN)-claiming that the service is too old and must be transitioned to Voice over IP based solutions. Yet despite this claim, the company still employs PSTN. That being said, why would AT&T want to close down something they still use?
The answer: to remove unwanted regulations and obligations. AT&T has already been able to remove regulations in various states. Now, the provider looks to get rid of regulations and obligations altogether-i.e. providing service in a territory (carrier of last resort) or price examination. However, in doing so, many individuals have begun to bring attention to the provider and their shadowy practices.
After submitting the petition mentioned above, many have begun to make public inquiries regarding AT&T's business practices as well as their failure to provide substantial information pertaining to materials and services.
With a number of fact sheets that suggest AT&T's intent, it's starting to seem as if the provider is on a collision course with regulation, specifically the FCC. The FCC has received a lot of feedback on AT&T's petition-most of it being negative. With so harsh a backlash is it possible that the FCC would go so far as to extend their regulatory powers?
Former FCC Chairman, Richard Wiley, thinks just that. Wiley stated, "Congress is likely to make small tweaks to the Communications Act, despite calls for a major rewrite of the statute." While some may feel an overhaul is needed, the last redraft of the act took nearly 10 years to complete. Therefore, changes and tweaks might be better suited for the present.
For others, federal regulation may make you cringe, but in this instance it seems necessary-at the very least to some degree. Users should concern themselves with the reducing amount of provider obligations. Despite AT&T's dubious activity, deregulation is not one sided. Instead, there are various pros and cons with deregulating VoIP phone service; however, as companies like AT&T and Verizon further manipulate Internet freedoms, regulation becomes increasingly necessary. Though the FCC may be concerned with the affect harsher regulations may have on the industry, they should also move to better secure user rights.
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