Powell Farewell Highlights VoIP Realities

by Michael Singer

On his way out the door, FCC chairman warns 'rock star' VoIP providers about the day-to-day demands.

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Outgoing Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Michael Powell offered sobering advice to an IT industry eager to rollout Voice over IP services.

"You will not be a rock star forever," Powell said during his keynote at the Voice on the Net tradeshow here today. "Be prepared for that day and identify how things can turn south in a moment."

Powell's so-called swan song was catered to a packed hall of service providers, regulators and related companies looking to capitalize on a burgeoning IP telephony industry.

Analysts with JupiterResearch estimate VoIP services will grow to 12.1 million households by 2009, representing about 10 percent of all U.S. households. Additionally, 17 percent of all U.S. broadband households will use a VoIP telephony service in 2009, up from 1 percent by the end of 2004.

But despite VoIP's growing acceptance in the mainstream marketplace, Powell said VoIP providers would need to continue to work with regulators on issues like how to improve 911 emergency calls, broader access, universal service and ubiquity.

Michael K. Powell
Michael K. Powell
Source: FCC.gov

"You don't want to be on the front page of a newspaper because a house burns down, and a grandmother dies and it's because her VoIP service doesn't work," he said.

Often accused by consumer groups of serving the Bells' interests, Powell said he was proud of his legacy and the aggressive nature he took with the industry to protect and foster VoIP.

A case in point was Madison River, who admitted no guilt in port-blocking complaints brought by Vonage, but agreed to a $15,000 fine and promised to drop the practice.

"This is a remarkable regulatory feat in that the initial complaint was brought to us a little more than three weeks ago," Powell said to a round of audience applause.

Powell said he was encouraged by a growing number of VoIP-related equipment being sold at popular electronics stores alongside his two favorite innovations, TiVo and the iPod.

The FCC chairman also discussed the agency's new relationship with the venture capital community. Powell said he was encouraged in the last six months in his meetings in New York and California with fund mangers who were excited by the promise that VoIP might bring.

"I see optimism and excitement. They were lined wall to wall around the table," Powell said. "This was not true two years ago when VCs complained that it was too confusing."

When asked by the audience about VoIP providers being charged the same access rates as legacy phone companies, Powell said VoIP providers would need to continue to "keep squawking" and "be noisy." He characterized the compensation issues as riddled with inconsistent and arbitrary statutes.

"We have an item on the floor for consideration that may provide some clarity in compensation for VoIP, but I'm not at liberty to discuss it.

Powell also called on his as yet unnamed replacement to continue focusing on his theme of establishing Internet freedoms: freedom to view content; freedom to run any application; freedom to attach a personal device; and the right to view a service policy.

"The revolution is not an academic one," Powell said. "I'm looking at the generation that is behind me and I pity the policy maker that stands on some arcane legal theory to prevent innovation.

The minute that you do, there will be some 16- to 18-year-old who will come up with a more disruptive way of doing things."

This article was originally published on Wednesday Mar 9th 2005