Powell Committed to Limited VoIP Regulation

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Washington -- Widespread consumer access to voice-over-Internet-protocol services should become a reality prior to the adoption of federal and state regulations that might actually hinder the rollout of the hottest new communication product in years, Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael Powell said Wednesday.

In a speech here, Powell explained that VoIP's promise was so profoundly important to consumers that government had to demonstrate an abundance of caution in reacting to calls that VoIP was no different from traditional phone service and merited comparable regulation.

"If the consumer stands to benefit significantly from Internet voice, we should let it blossom," Powell told the National Press Club audience, which included lobbyists from cable companies and a cross-section of telecommunications players with an interest in VoIP regulation.

"The burden should be placed squarely on government to demonstrate why regulation is needed, rather than on innovators to explain why it is not," he added.

Prior to his speech, Powell told reporters he expects the agency to release a notice of proposed rulemaking in February, kicking off a debate in which many states are expected to defend their turf as rate-and-service regulators of intrastate phone carriers.

Powell made it clear that he was not sympathetic to preserving a zone of authority for the states.

"It is a global network, not a local network," he said. "To regulate the Internet in the image of a familiar phone service is to destroy its inherent character and potential."

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