Friday, May 15, 2009

FCC Acts to Protect VoIP Customers from Providers Going out of Business

Recognizing that consumers increasingly use interconnected Voice over Internet Protocol (“VoIP”) service as a replacement for traditional voice service and that consumers’ expectations for this type of service trend toward their expectations for other telephone services, the FCC acted on May 13th to protect VoIP consumers from the abrupt discontinuance, reduction, or impairment of their service without notice.

Specifically, the FCC Order applies to VoIP service providers the discontinuance obligations that now apply to nondominant telecommunications carriers. As a result, before an interconnected VoIP provider may discontinue service, it must comply with the FCC’s streamlined discontinuance requirements. These include requirements to
  • provide written notice to all affected customers,
  • notify relevant state authorities (including the state commission), and
  • file an application for authorization of the planned discontinuance with the FCC.
These rules will now apply to fixed VoIP services, such as voice services offered by cable television companies, and to nomadic VoIP providers, such as Vonage.

A VoIP provider's service discontinuance application will be automatically granted by the FCC on the 31st day after the FCC releases public notice of the application, unless the FCC notifies the applicant otherwise. “Thus we believe,” concluded the FCC, “that interconnected VoIP providers will be faced with discontinuance requirements that are no more burdensome than the reduced requirements that already apply to competitive carriers, and that their customers will be afforded a reasonable time to make alternative service arrangements in the event of a discontinuance, reduction, or impairment of service.”

Although the FCC continues to resist classifying VoIP service as a telecommunications or information service, this order adds yet another telecommunications-type requirement on VoIP providers, which must already
  • contribute to the federal universal service program,
  • provide access to E-911 and the relay service for the deaf,
  • participate in local number portability (which enables customers to retain their telephone number when they switch providers), and
  • provide law enforcement access to wiretaps.
PULP believes the New York PSC should require VoIP providers to begin contributing to the state universal service program as well. See The Time Is Now - New York Should Begin Requiring VoIP Providers to Support State Universal Service. The Targeted Accessibility Fund supports several New York state universal service functions, including a matching component to the federal Lifeline discount rate program for low income customers.

Lou Manuta

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