cr> “Interconnection” and the Internet


Sender: "Craig A. Johnson" <•••@••.•••>

On April 19, the FCC gave its tentative answer to whether Internet
telephony will soon be swept under new regulations which require
access charges and tariffing.  The answer is a qualified no, but the
wall protecting Internet voice as an "information service" has
scores of cracks, and may still crumble under the blows of a
regulatory hammer.

The issue was taken up indirectly in the FCC's Notice of Proposed
Rulemaking (NPRM) on "interconnection," or more formally,
"implementation of the local competition provisions in the
Telecommunications Act of 1996."

The NPRM is as interesting for what it does not say as for what it
does.  Generally, it poses a lot of questions, on which parties will
file comments, and on the basis of which the FCC will finalize rules
in August.  The agency sees the proceeding and the consequent rules
as establishing "the 'new regulatory paradigm' that is essential to
achieving Congress' policy goals."

Various aspects of the proceeding will directly impact Internet
access and pricing regimes.  In particular, two concerns stand out.

First, the FCC makes it clear that current access charges and
interconnection regulations are "enforceable until they are
superceded."  The agency seeks comment on "any aspect of this Notice
that may affect existing 'equal access and nondiscriminatory
interconnection restrictions and obligations (including receipt of

This means that Net telephone providers and users can breathe a
little more easily but should assume that issues concerning
access charges have yet to be taken up by the Commission, and will
emerge as an outcome of at least three proceedings.

Second, the Commission also asks for comment "on which carriers are
inlcuded under" the definition of "telecommunications carriers"
offered in the Telecommunications Act of 1996.  Critically, the
Commision asks:  "How does the provision of an information service
[as conventionally defined in the law and prior regulations], in
addition to an unrelated telecommunications service, affect the
status of a carrier as a "telecommunications carrier?"

This asks commenters to address the issue of whether
"information service providers," such as ISPs, who also provide
"telecommunications services," should be treated as
"telecommunications carriers" and therefore be subject to all the
requirements of common carriers, including the payment of  access
charges and the filing of tariffs.

In short the Commission is asking the Internet and computer
industries and user communities to wake up, and see that there is a
new world 'adawning in which old comfortable dualities such as
"information services" and "telecommunications services" may not be
easily parsed.  As Audrie Krause recently reminded this list, it is
high time for thinking seriously about politics and regulation.

Craig A. Johnson

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