Thursday, August 4, 2005

FCC Imposes CALEA on VoIP Providers Offering PSTN Interconnection

Responding to a petition from the Department of Justice, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) , and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), the FCC ruled that certain types of VoIP services must accommodate law enforcement wiretaps. The action was described as "the first critical step to apply CALEA obligations to new technologies and services that are increasingly used as a substitute for conventional services."

The FCC reasoned that VoIP services which essentially replace conventional telecommunications services are subject to the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), which gives law enforcement agencies the authority to conduct court-ordered wiretaps.

The Order is limited to facilities-based broadband Internet access service providers and VoIP providers that offer services permitting users to receive calls from, and place calls to, the public switched telephone network. These VoIP providers are called interconnected VoIP providers.

The Commission found that the definition of "telecommunications carrier" in CALEA is broader than the definition of that term in the Communications Act and can encompass providers of services that are not classified as telecommunications services under the Communications Act. CALEA contains a provision that authorizes the Commission to deem an entity a telecommunications carrier if the Commission "finds that such service is a replacement for a substantial portion of the local telephone exchange."

Because broadband Internet and interconnected VoIP providers need a reasonable amount of time to come into compliance with all relevant CALEA requirements, the FCC established a deadline of 18 months from the effective date of this Order, by which time newly covered entities and providers of newly covered services must be in full compliance.

The FCC also adopted a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that will seek more information about whether certain classes or categories of facilities-based broadband Internet access providers -- notably small and rural providers and providers of broadband networks for educational and research institutions -- should be exempt from CALEA.

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