Britt: We Back VoIP Rules

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Time Warner Cable supports quick adoption of regulations that will establish the rules of the road for providers of voice-over-Internet protocol service.

In Senate testimony last Tuesday, MSO chairman and CEO Glenn Britt called on lawmakers and regulators to agree on rules that would remove uncertainties that might cause VoIP providers to postpone deployment.

"As voice-over-IP services are introduced, there is a need for a regulatory structure that encourages and promotes investment in this new technology," Britt told the Senate Commerce Committee. "We think the time for doing that is now."

Britt wants to see quick action because his company is planning to roll out VoIP in all of its markets by year-end, establishing the MSO as a potent facilities-based voice competitor to the Baby Bells.

As a voice service over the Internet and IP-based networks, VoIP is perplexing to many lawmakers and regulators who aren't sure whether it's a telecommunications service or an information service.

The distinction is critical, because information service providers are unregulated by the Federal Communications Commission and not required to pay directly to subsidize phone service in expensive-to-serve rural America.

"I am very concerned about equality for rural consumers," said Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), who said it was "critically important" that VoIP providers contribute revenue to the multibillion-dollar subsidy program called universal service.

Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), who could become chairman of the Commerce Committee in 2005, has promised to introduce legislation that would force broadband and VoIP providers to pay into universal service. Dorgan, who had to exit the hearing early, was not present when Britt explained that when his MSO offers VoIP, it voluntarily pays into universal service fees, provides emergency 911 service, and assists law enforcement in tracking criminals using Internet-based voice services to plot their moves.

Britt said he would support making those efforts compulsory.

"We think we should retain requirements that pertain to these very important social policies," Britt said.