A Little BIT of Change

Congress recently took another step toward overhauling federal telecommunications law to include provisions that account for technologies like broadband Internet transmission services (BITS) and voice over Internet Protocol. The U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce committee released a staff working draft and is now calling for comments from interested parties. Definately worth a read.

Clearly the reaction to this draft will be drawn out over a period of weeks and months, but the draft raises some initial questions (at least for me).

It seems fairly clear that the bill’s definition of VoIP services and VoIP providers is meant to capture instances where a service offering (like Vonage) will replace basic telephone service. The draft defines VoIP services as:

  1. “… a packet-switched voice communications service that:
    • is offered with or without a fee to the public, or to such classes of users as to be effectively available directly to the public, regardless of the facilities used; and
    • enables a subscriber to send or receive voice communications in TCP/IP protocol or a successor protocol over a broadband Internet transmission service to or from any subscriber with a telephone number under the North American Numbering Plan or such other identification method as designated by the Commission;
  2. may include integrated, enhanced features, functions, and capabilities; and
  3. does not include a cable service or a broadband video service…”

The question becomes, how does this definition affect VoIP over IM offerings like Google Talk or Skype? With Skype Out, you can use a VoIP soft phone to make a call to a traditional telephone, one that has a number under traditional classification systems. Would these providers need to comply with the 911 and Universal Service Fund requirements as other “telephone replacement” VoIP offerings? I don’t think anyone would confuse Google Talk (or even Skype under the majority of usage scenarios) as a replacement for traditional telephone services.

Since the notion of VoIP over IM is relatively new, I wonder if this draft (as timely as it is) isn’t already behind the technology curve a bit.