Missouri PSC Won’t Drop Comcast Complaint

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The Missouri Public Service Commission will continue its complaint proceeding against Comcast's telephone operation in the state, bolstered by a federal court ruling that affirmed that the utility regulators have the authority to decide whether digital-voice service is subject to state regulation.

The ruling, issued Jan. 18 by Judge Nanette Laughrey of U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri, came in response to a suit brought by Comcast last October, which asked the court to rule that the PSC does not have the legal authority to classify Comcast's digital-phone product as a telephone service.

But Laughrey rejected an injunction, stating that Congress intended to allow states to regulate some telecommunications services. Although a Federal Communications Commission rulemaking on the status of voice over Internet protocol is pending, the judge said previous FCC rulings on VoIP services have not declared that all such services are "information services," leaving open the possibility of state regulation of some products.

The Missouri utility regulators believe cable's digital voice is different from VoIP services such as Vonage’s because the cable-serviced calls have a fixed initiation point within the state, whereas Vonage calls can be initiated anywhere the hardware is located.

Missouri PSC general counsel Kevin Thomson applauded the ruling, stating that the judge applied the law correctly. The commission would not comment on the ruling, he added, citing the ongoing docket on the issue.

The commission launched a complaint proceeding in September 2006, alleging that Comcast IP Phone of Missouri and its other entities need a certificate of service authority to offer telephony service in the state.

With the ruling, the PSC is continuing with that complaint proceeding. It scheduled testimony from PSC staff March 16, with Comcast scheduled to rebut regulators' arguments May 4.

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