NCTA Wants Broad VoIP Ruling


The cable industry is stepping up its campaign to be included in an upcoming Federal Communications Commission ruling that would bar state regulation of voice-over-Internet-protocol providers.

The FCC’s plan is to pre-empt, for legal and technical reasons, state regulation of VoIP providers like Vonage Holdings Corp. but not cable’s VoIP services. The ruling could come at the agency’s Nov. 9 public meeting.

Representatives of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association and Time Warner Inc. have visited FCC officials in recent days to argue that cable VoIP should receive the same pre-emption protections the agency has planned for Vonage.

As previously reported, the FCC is planning to limit pre-emption to a narrow class of VoIP providers that includes Vonage, partly because the agency wants its own rules established before a court decides that it can’t assert jurisdiction over VoIP services.

But cable and FCC sources have indicated that the five FCC commissioners appear willing to consider expanding the ruling to include cable VoIP, which could explain Time Warner’s and the NCTA’s recent lobbying efforts at the agency.

Cable might also be applying pressure now for a favorable ruling based on concerns that if Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) becomes president, he would name people to the FCC who would oppose granting the commission exclusive jurisdiction over VoIP services.

“Limiting the benefits of pre-emption to Vonage and other non-facilities-based VoIP providers would disadvantage the very companies that have invested more than $85 billion in the broadband networks that make VoIP,” the NCTA said in a letter that summarized an Oct. 25 meeting with Christopher Libertelli, FCC chairman Michael Powell’s top telecommunications-policy adviser.

Failure to include cable VoIP might actually encourage states to apply traditional forms of telephone regulation, the trade group added.

Unlike cable VoIP, Vonage uses the public Internet and offers a nomadic service, allowing a consumer to plug into any broadband connection to activate the service using the same phone number.

The NCTA said cable VoIP should not be exposed to state regulation on the basis that cable routes VoIP traffic over its own and third-party managed networks but Vonage does not.

“Basing pre-emption decisions on whether a particular VoIP service uses the public Internet or a managed IP network would unfairly favor certain business models,” the NCTA said.