IP Video Included in FCC Vonage Ruling

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The Federal Communications Commission declared in its Vonage Holdings Corp. pre-emption order that is it ready to push aside states that are considering regulation of video services using Internet protocol.

The FCC order -- released late last Friday but unavailable until Monday due to agency Web-site maintenance -- clearly stated that IP video was a service that the agency was prepared to shield from non-federal regulation.

That could be good news for Verizon Communications and SBC Communications Inc., which are planning to spend billions of dollars on broadband networks to compete with cable operators.

An SBC spokesman said last month that his company planned to deploy IP networks differently from the way cable video services are currently distributed.

Arguably, this could mean that at least SBC could offer video without complying with traditional cable rules, such as franchising, franchise fees and channel-capacity set-asides for broadcasters, public access and leased access.

The FCC's Vonage ruling could mean that the same benefits would flow to cable companies, assuming that they converted their distribution systems to all-IP-enabled services.

In the 30-page order, the FCC did not address the implications of its conclusion that “even video” would be an IP-enabled service covered by its pre-emption of state regulators.

Instead, the FCC said its pre-emption would cover a host of “basis characteristics,” including those that enable users “to originate and receive voice communications and access other features and capabilities, even video.”

Last Tuesday, the FCC ruled that voice over-IP service provided by Vonage, cable operators and phone companies was interstate in nature and beyond the jurisdiction of state regulators.

The FCC has a separate proceeding pending on the regulatory classification and obligations of VoIP providers and IP-enabled services.