Issues

Voice Over IP

Defining the Issue

Background

Cisco’s Position

Additional Resources

Defining the Issue

As VoIP technology matures, government agencies increasingly regulate VoIP services in the same way as traditional phone service, imposing comparable regulations on VoIP providers. The majority of regulators are reviewing their position on social requirements such as emergency services and numbering resources that should be allocated to VoIP services. In some countries, economic regulations similar to taxes imposed on circuit-switched service providers are also under consideration.

Background

As VoIP services experience a tremendous growth rate in both consumer and business markets, government agencies globally increasingly regulate them in the same manner as traditional phone services.

For example, in the United States, interconnected VoIP providers are required to support enhanced 911 (E911) emergency services that provide caller identification and location information to the call-answering center; lawful intercept, which allows law enforcement agencies access for court-approved electronic surveillance; and 711 functionality for the disabled, which allows hard-of-hearing or speech-impaired users to call others through the phone network using keyboards.

VoIP operators have also been required by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to support local number portability, allowing subscribers to switch carriers and retain the same phone number; and to make financial contributions such as regulatory fees and universal service fees, which ensure a baseline level of voice service to every U.S. resident.

In the European Union, VoIP regulation is left to each member state’s national telecommunications regulator, though there are now moves to harmonize this at an EU level. Key issues that are on the agenda of EU regulators include requirements to provide emergency call access and number portability between traditional PSTN and VoIP services.

In some countries with state-operated circuit-based phone systems, VoIP may be illegal or heavily taxed.

Cisco’s Position

Cisco supports the principles of open, accessible, market-driven Internet services, including VoIP:

  • VoIP should be recognized as an Internet application and information service and not subject to financial regulations that would impede its deployment.
  • Due to the inherent differences between the IP networks used by VoIP applications and traditional circuit-switched networks, regulation should not be applied without substantial public policy justification.
  • VoIP has the potential to reduce costs and improve access to communications services on a global basis, especially in developing countries. Because VoIP would drive broadband penetration and enable universal broadband access, unnecessary regulatory burdens and undue financial constraints could slow the continuing development of both VoIP and broadband.
  • In general, VoIP service should be treated as an interstate service under the jurisdiction of national governments, which will enable its growth without unnecessary regulation.
  • Where regulation exists for a universal service charge, this may be applied to VoIP services that interconnect with the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN), but should be done in a technologically neutral fashion.
  • Some areas of VoIP—such as emergency services, lawful intercept, and access for the disabled—may be appropriate for limited regulation, providing the technological differences between VoIP and circuit-switched services are recognized.
  • Such limited regulations must be restricted to voice services and not be imposed on other IP services, such as e-mail, instant messaging, video, and web applications.

Additional Resource:

The U.S. FCC