New FCC VoIP Regulations and Your VoIP Customer Experience

by Jennifer Cuellar

Emerging from the haze of telephone wires, dial up tones, and chat rooms, the FCC is unsure of its place in the new Internet phone world. VoIP has become increasingly popular in the last few years. Nearly all phone providers offer some form of VoIP service these days, and as copper landlines go extinct, it is unclear if the old FCC phone regulations will soon die off, too.

The FCC, or the Federal Communications Commission, has been around since 1937 and currently regulates all forms of media, such as television, radio, and telecommunications.

These regulations are largely meant to stop monopolies, such as Ma Bell which overtook the market and owned 80% of all phone services in the 1980s.  

State law regulations currently ensure that all traditional telecom providers meet standards like quick dial tone, a reliable call connection, and resiliency during weather disasters. IP providers currently do not have to follow these regulations.

Part of the issue is that the FCC currently regulates telecommunication providers under three separate categories: (1) wireless carriers, (2) cable carriers, and (3) phone service carriers.  However, in recent years these three separate types of providers have blended into each other as phone service providers now offer video, cable providers over voice, and wireless providers offer data.   

As the lines become blurred between providers, and nearly all providers are moving to the open Internet, the FCC’s role in the changes remains unclear.

VoIP providers are split on the FCC and the possibility of expanded regulations. Larger companies who have been regulated in the past, such as AT&T and Verizon, are vehemently against the FCC laying down further regulations. Smaller rival VoIP providers tend to support regulations.

The main issue is that the FCC regulates telecommunication carriers. VoIP providers are currently not seen as telecommunication carriers, so they are not regulated and do not have to meet FCC standards. Several of the larger VoIP providers want it to stay this way. They fear that regulations would hinder growth and stifle creativity in the IP market.   

There are some FCC regulations already in place, such as the requirement for 911 capacities, outage reporting, and phone access for the disabled. The question is whether or not the FCC will expand these regulations.  

Some regulations are more popular than others.  For instance, if the rules for traditional phone service is transferred to IP service, then VoIP providers must provide service to all Americans regardless of race, color, religion, or sex. While all VoIP providers already follow such guidelines, it is still in accordance with popular opinion that all companies should have to comply with these regulations by law. VoIP providers must also respect other VoIP provider’s phone traffic, customer complaints must be addressed, and VoIP providers need to guarantee phone reliability during natural disasters.

This could mean a lot of changes for VoIP users.  Further regulations could mean more services and guarantees for users.  However, some critics worry that these regulations could put some service providers at risk such that they won’t be able to compete with bigger companies. Ultimately, however, customers should keep in mind the idea that these regulations are meant to protect consumer interest and to assure that all customers will have access to good, affordable service regardless of extenuating factors.

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