SBC, FCC Joust Over VoIP Tariff

by Colin C. Haley

The regional telecom responds to comments made by FCC Chairman Michael Powell.

SBC is defending a proposal to charge VoIP providers for a more efficient method of completing calls to its customers after the plan drew fire from FCC Chairman Powell.

At issue is the regional carrier's proposed True IP to PSTN (TIPTop) offering, which would allow VoIP providers to connect IP traffic to circuit-switched network through a specially designed interface.

The program was outlined in a filing with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Wednesday and would be optional. The charges that VoIP providers would pay haven't been set.

FCC Chairman Michael Powell, who favors minimum regulations and fees for VoIP, weighed in Friday.

"Should we conclude that this tariff is being used to justify the imposition of traditional tariffed access charges on VoIP providers or to discriminate against SBC's competitors, the commission will take appropriate action including, but not limited to, initiating an investigation of SBC's interstate tariff and any other tariff that proposes similar terms," Powell said in a statement.

He added that the FCC already has three issues before it related to the charges applicable to VoIP services, including a large intercarrier compensation proceeding.

In response, SBC said the program isn't at odds with Powell's aims.

"It is a voluntary offering ... and would in no way prejudge or prejudice the FCC's resolution of its pending intercarrier payment proceedings," James C. Smith, an SBC senior vice president said in a statement.

San Antonio, Texas-based SBC said BellSouth has had a similar program in place since May 2003. SBC also believes that VoIP providers will find TIPTop attractive. In fact, more than 20 VoIP providers have contacted SBC about it, spokesman Michael F. Balmoris said.

Others are taking a wait-and-see approach, however.

"We haven't really been able to react to the SBC news, because no one has seen the actual tariff yet," Brooke Schulz, a Vonage spokeswoman, said. "Our only real concern is that this proposal will block competitors from utilizing tandem interconnection, or make it so tandem interconnection is not palatable."

Tandem connections are used by local exchange carriers to interconnect with each other, Schulz said. Vonage currently goes through a competitive local exchange carrier to tap into Baby Bell networks.

This article was originally published on Monday Nov 29th 2004