Written by attorney Jonathan Soukias Marashlian

Regulation of Interconnected Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP) Services / VoIP Telephony

What is “Interconnected" VoIP?

The Federal Communications Commission (“FCC") has defined “interconnected VoIP service" as those Voice over Internet Protocol (“VoIP") services that:

1) enable real-time, two-way voice communications; 2) require a broadband connection; 3) require IP-compatible customer equipment; and 4) permit subscribers to receive calls from and initiate calls over the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN).

VoIP services that include all four of these features qualify as “interconnected" VoIP and are therefore subject to the selected telecommunications regulations. Services that do not qualify as “interconnected" under the FCC’s definition are not subject to direct regulation, but nonetheless may be subject to contractual provisions in carrier agreements.

Are all interconnected VoIP Providers subject to FCC regulation?

Yes, over the past several years the FCC has extended some basic telecommunications regulations to all providers of interconnected VoIP services. For example, the FCC has ruled that all interconnected VoIP Service Providers must fully comply with the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (“CALEA"), meet the FCC’s disability access and Telephone Relay Service (“TRS") requirements, enable 911 services (“E911"), ensure the protection of Customer Proprietary Network Information (“CPNI") and, most importantly, contribute to the Federal Universal Service Fund (“USF"). Interconnected VoIP Service Providers are also subject to other traditional telecommunications regulations placed on local carriers, such as number portability and interconnection duties. Many of these regulatory responsibilities require interconnected VoIP Service Providers to file periodic forms with the FCC, such as Form 499-A and 499-Q, as well as ensure that internal policies are consistent with federal rules.

Are all interconnected VoIP Providers subject to other regulation?

While the jurisdictional regulatory boundaries are still unsettled, State Regulatory Commissions have also begun to impose intrastate regulations interconnected VoIP services. For instance, several Public Utilities Commissions have imposed state E911 and USF contribution requirements on local VoIP service providers.

Interconnected VoIP service providers may also be subject to international regulations if they provision calls to or from select countries. For example, interconnected VoIP companies providing service to Canadian customers may be required to register with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (“CRTC"). Analysis of the applicability of international regulations must be done on a case-by-case and network specific basis.

What steps can an interconnected VoIP provider take to become FCC complaint?

Before providing service to customers, interconnected VoIP Service Providers must first register with the FCC in order to ensure that they are eligible USF contributing carriers. Service providers must also ensure that before they provision telecommunications to customers their interconnected VoIP service is fully compliant with CALEA, provides disability access, protects CPNI, and enables E911 access. Other federal regulatory requirements may also apply depending on the nature of the IP-enabled service offered.

interconnected VoIP providers may also be subject to additional state, local, and international regulations, depending on the calling jurisdiction and nature of the VoIP service provided.

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