Powell sees VOIP consensus building

The U.S. is beginning to rally around VOIP (voice over Internet Protocol), outgoing U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Michael Powell said Tuesday at a conference in San Jose, California.

In a speech he called his "swan song" after almost eight years at the commission, Powell said he is seeing momentum gather around his efforts to help the emerging technology thrive.

"The policy battle over the last two years has been to (establish) a very simple premise: that ... Internet voice is not your grandma's phone service, that it is genuinely something new and not just a new way of doing something old," Powell said at the Spring VON (Voice on the Net) trade show. He has pushed for VOIP to come primarily under federal jurisdiction instead of many different state rules and opposed rate regulations like those used for traditional telecommunications.

"A general consensus has begun to emerge that (VOIP) should not be economically regulated, that it should be regulated as a federal service and that it does hold enormous promise for consumers around the world and a competitive and more productive economy," he told an appreciative crowd in a packed hall. VOIP has helped give consumers access to simple and inexpensive phone services that they can tailor to their own needs, Powell said.

Crowing about the agency's rapid crackdown last week on a rural carrier's blocking of Vonage Holdings's VOIP service, Powell said there is a looming danger of such moves.

The FCC announced last week that Madison River Communications will pay it US$15,000 in a settlement over network port blocking that prevented some Madison customers from making Vonage calls.

"I have to tell you, this is a remarkable regulatory feat. Why? It was brought to us about three and a half weeks ago," Powell said.

Broadband network owners have the motive and the means to filter or block users' packets, Powell said, so the FCC needs to keep vigilant to uphold what he called four Internet freedoms: A user's freedom to access their legal content of choice, use their applications of choice, attach devices of their choice to their Internet connections and get clear information about service plans.

Spring VON continues through Thursday.

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