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Can you say VoIP? If not yet, you probably will soon. VoIP — Voice-over-Internet-Protocol — is the migration of voice telephony to the Internet, and it’s one of the hottest tickets in telecommunications today. VoIP can take many different forms, but all of them share a reliance on the packet-switching characteristics of the Internet, rather than the circuit-switching characteristic of the public-switched telephone network (or PSTN.) VoIP services are expected to reduce the cost of communications, stimulate the development of a wealth of individualized services and applications (such as voice integrated with real-time video), and encourage further deployment of broadband services. The features and cost-savings associated with VoIP are such that telephone industry executives have predicted that VoIP will supplant the PSTN in 20 years. However, there are a number of major issues which must be resolved before VoIP can become ubiquitous. These include the protection of universal telephone service, the delivery of 911 services (when a VoIP caller needing help could be anywhere in the country), the provision of wiretap access to law enforcement authorities, access for the disabled, and financial support for the preservation of the PSTN which serves as VoIP’s host (i.e., the access charges which long distance carriers pay to local exchange companies for the costs of originating and terminating calls). These and other issues are generating much controversy in telecom circles. They also are teed up for resolution by the Federal Communications Commission — the same governmental body currently grappling with Janet Jackson’s right breast revelation to the Super Bowl viewing audience. In addition, media consolidation and efforts to implement competition in local exchange telephone service are on the horizon. In the case of VoIP, the FCC recently determined that a particular variant of Internet telephony provided by a company known simply as “pulver.com” is not a telecommunications service at all, but rather a form of information service. Thus classified, pulver.com’s service is not subject to rate and entry/exit regulation as common carriage under Title II of the Communications Act, or payment of carrier access charges due local exchange companies for originating and/or terminating calls. This, obviously, has potentially broad implications. In an effort to come to grips with the policy issues presented by VoIP, the FCC has initiated new, omnibus rulemaking. This, together with other related matters before the agency, is expected to serve as the vehicle for clarifying national policy with respect to VoIP. In the process, the agency will lay the groundwork for the revolutionary changes that will be brought about by marriage of the Internet with telephony. As FCC Chairman Michael Powell recently stated in a CNBC interview, IP-based voice communication is “a lifestyle-changing, new, fantastic technology” and “the most vibrant innovation to come into the American economy, the global economy in decades — in centuries, even.” Duane Morris Washington, D.C. partner Ken Keane collaborated on this column. Eric Sinrod is a partner in the San Francisco office of Duane Morris ( www.duanemorris.com), where he focuses on litigation matters of various types, including information technology disputes. His Web site is www.sinrodlaw.com, and he can be reached at [email protected] . To receive a weekly e-mail link to these columns, please send him an e-mail with “Subscribe” in the subject line.

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