VoIP and the US Government

The US government has begun regulating VoIP technology. VoIP stands for Voice over Internet Protocol. VoIP is the technology where voice is transferred into data then is carried over the Internet by Packet Switching technology. Packet Switching has become the standard means of telecommunications. A Packet is a unit of information, and the packets are then routed over the Internet. This is in contrast with circuit switching. The early telephone system is a perfect example of circuit switching network. The circuit is an electrical current, reminiscent of the early switchboard operators who would “connect” the callers.

VoIP works with a broadband or high speed Internet connection and allows you to place phone calls over the Internet rather than with telephone lines. There are variations between different VoIP service providers. Some only allow communication between two computers that are running the same service, while others will allow you to call any phone from your VoIP service provider.

VoIP has many advantages, simply because it is cost effective and Packet Switching uses less bandwidth then Circuit Switching which in turn saves money. Since the inception of VoIP, it was clear that because VoIP utilizes Packet Switching and not Circuit, VoIP was in a new category all by itself. Hundreds of years have passed, dedicated to passing and establishing certain laws regarding Circuit Networks and telecommunications, yet VoIP has gracefully slipped beneath all of the established rules and regulations.

It is due to this fact that VoIP is more cost efficient. VoIP is not held to the same tax rules and regulations that apply to PSTN networks. Though we can expect further legal matters to address this issue. Furthermore, VoIP service providers have been concerned about regulations for IP communications being left to each state’s interpretation. This could prove to be an unsightly battle in the future. VoIP technology is booming and by the year 2008, it is expected that most companies will be using VoIP for their business needs. Many VoIP service providers are in favor of Federal Regulations to accelerate the rapid growth of VoIP and provide stability for customers nationwide. Currently, the FCC has begun regulations with VoIP, yet we can be sure that in the next few years, we will see rapid advancements in the race to regulate this phenomenal technology.

The FCC has initiated two major moves of concern to all VoIP technological advances everywhere. The first concerns CALEA and the other is in regards to Enhanced 911.

CALEA stands for Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act. CALEA would enable law enforcement to issue taps on VoIP data the same as they do with PSTN. This is an interesting area, because VoIP technology has now opened the door, through CALEA, to monitor other forms of Packet Switching networks. If VoIP service providers can be called upon for tap and trace procedures, and if it doesn’t matter if the communications were PC to PC, then that would extend to Instant Messaging services, gamers, and the like. When it comes to the area of the FBI, CALEA, and tapping VoIP there are some major issues to consider. First, the government rulings have been established for decades regarding Circuit Switched technology, by transferring these rules to VoIP (packet switch) we are redefining the nature of VoIP.

The second issue that the FCC has established new regulations is in regards to Enhanced 911. This stems from the fact that when VoIP first went mainstream, there was no way for users to contact 911. This lead to many problems and the FCC has declared that if subscribers don’t sign a waiver stating that they understand their VoIP services will not connect to 911 like PSTN networks, they will have to be cut off. Currently, the new Enhanced 911 service does have its imperfections, and we can expect to see more growth in this area as VoIP service providers redefine telecommunications.

The impact of these rulings lies in the fact that the US government is trying to enforce rules upon VoIP technology as if it were PSTN. The truth of the matter is VoIP is very different from PSTN, and what the implications of this kind of ruling may lead to in the future is unchartered water.

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