New FCC Chief Not So VoIP-Friendly
By CAROLYN SCHUK
Kevin J. Martin, President Bush's appointee as Chair of the Federal
Communications Commission may not be as friendly to Voice over IP
service provider as Michael Powell, whom Martin replaces this week.
Martin, a 38-year-old attorney and FCC boardmember, clashed over
regulatory issues with Powell in the past, advocating, for example,
even greater government regulation in areas such as television
broadcast program content than his predecessor.
Unlike Powell, who espoused a 'hands-off' approach to government
regulation of the fledgling VoIP industry, Martin has said that all
providers using the public switched telephone network -- including
VoIP providers -- should contribute to the Universal Service Fund
(USF), an FCC-managed program to subsidize basic telephone services in
areas where the costs of offering such services are high, primarily
sparsely populated rural areas, and to provide telephone service
discounts to low-income consumers.
USF funds are not used for new technology or wider bandwidth, which
are needed for VoIP services. Instead, they finance only the most
basic twisted pair telephony. Critics suggest that if wireline
carriers were not subsidized they would be more likely to develop
alternative wireless services for their rural customers; something
they currently have no incentive to provide.
VoIP service providers do not directly contribute to the USF. And some
believe that requiring them to make such contributions, is in effect,
forcing new technology to subsidize old technology, or forcing new
providers to subsidize their legacy competition.
"We support the general principles behind the USF," said Ravi Sakaria,
CEO of VoIP service provider VoicePulse. "However, the bulk of USF
dollars go to traditional telecom infrastructure. It doesn't go in
fair share for broadband access. Because broadband is a requirement
for our services, we view this as funding competitive technology."
Martin made public his views on expanded USF contributions on at least
two separate occassions.
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[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: As to whether or not Martin, as a 'Bush
appointee' will be friendly to VOIP, my observations to date have been
that Bush or his appointments are usually not very friendly to most of
us, for various reasons. I don't know why the FCC in its governance of
VOIP should be any exception. PAT]