Monday, March 7, 2005

VON Keynote: Powell Delivers His Swan Song

FCC Chairman Michael K. Powell chose the VON Spring conference in San Jose to deliver his swan song to the networking industry. For all the regulatory issues that crossed his desk in the eight years he served at the FCC, Powell said "VOIP most clearly stands for what I have long sought to achieve... with VoIP we've given the world something to talk about." VoIP is no longer something whispered about in technology conferences but has entered the mainstream of consumer electronics. Powell argued that it might not have been so if entrenched monopolies and state regulators had gotten their way in Washington. Using the argument "if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck" the regulators would have subjected the young technology to the same regulations as plain old telephone service. Under Powell, the FCC defined IP-to-IP connections as "information services" and then preempted state regulators from asserting jurisdiction over VoIP.

However, Powell said he is not naïve. Dangers still lurk that could kill off the wave of innovation now sweeping the industry. For example, broadband providers will be tempted to filter or manipulate the bits of competing services to their advantage. Powell cited the case of the Madison River Telephone Company, which Vonage accused of blocking ports used for its VoIP service. In a remarkable regulatory feat, the FCC launched an investigation and reached a consent decree in only 3 weeks. Powell said he is very proud of that decision, but acknowledged that many other critical decisions remain on developing an new IP regulatory framework, network access charges, intercarrier compensation, universal service, etc.

His final advice -- VoIP won't be a rock star for ever -- the industry must work with the government to ensure that the promise of the revolution is actually delivered. Powell expects to step down at the end of next week.


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