Recently I have been asked if VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) would be allowed in the government business to replace email. Will the VoIP Symmetry Rule encourage more internet calls? And if it will, why or what for? Here is my thinking on this.
In the United States the government has regulated telecommunication companies for over 100 years. Now it seems the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) wants to regulate VoIP like they do the phone companies. The Federal Trade Commission seems to believe that all Internet calls should include a fee to the consumer for using the services. This seems to be the opposite of regulation. The government should not interfere with the private sector and attempt to regulate something they don’t know anything about. Let’s hope they don’t get too far.
What is even more worrying to me is the fact that the Federal Trade Commission seems to be completely unaware of the problems with their proposed new rules for VoIP. Even worse is the fact that the FTC will not enforce their rules, they just want them passed so they can make more money. If the Federal Trade Commission was aware of the problems with their proposed rules for VoIP, why didn’t they tell consumers, telecom professionals and leaders in the industry? How could the FTC not have any idea how bad the problems are with VoIP?
The answer is simple; they are too busy making money to worry about fixing the problem. That is exactly why the Federal Trade Commission failed to address the issues with the VoIP rules in 2021. At that time they were about to undergo a merger with AT&T which would guarantee approval of the merger. They had ample time to fix the problems with VoIP. Why didn’t they?
It really makes no sense to me. How can the FTC allow ISPs to charge fees for using the internet if it competes with free web-based applications such as Skype? How can the FTC allow ISPs to charge for blocking VoIP? How can the FTC force mobile operators to provide a platform for VoIP at a cost? These are questions that only those in Washington know the answers and they are too busy writing law books to worry about them.
I am even more worried about the future of VoIP. What if the FCC gets it wrong and the rules for VoIP are implemented and the rest of the world then turns around and blocks VoIP. What then? Will the VoIP providers have no alternative but to adopt the rules from the governments that currently control the airwaves? What then? Will we once again have to deal with ISP call rules that prevent us from making cheap internet calls?
The VoIP market is already in trouble. Innovation in the VoIP space has stalled. Vendors are pushing for the federal government to step in and create some incentives for VoIP deployment. Will the VoIP Symmetry rule encourage the ISPs to use their influence to create a competitive market for VoIP services? Will the VoIP marketer be able to write the rules for the market and then call the shots once they have them? Will we once again have to play the government off against the marketer?
It’s hard to say and it may be good policy, but I think we need to be very careful how we decide the direction of the Internet future. The Federal Trade Commission can come up with creative rules that will appeal to the ISPs and their audience, but the final say should be left to the market forces. Without competition, it is impossible to foster innovation. But what if the VoIP marketer or ISP goes too far in imposing a VoIP Symmetry rule that kills the goose that lays golden with the eggs? Will the VoIP marketer still have a place in the new broadband world or will they be forced to start over with a new plan that doesn’t care about them and that will probably not be as good as their competitors?