cr> Re: ACTA petition to FCC on Internet telephone


Craig A. Johnson

The following comments are a partial response to both Andy Oram and Rick 
Crawford on the Internet telephone issue, and CPSR's possible stance.

Crawford posted his reply on cpsr-nii, and it is reproduced below, 
followed by my comments.



Sender:  Rick Crawford  <•••@••.•••> 
Date:  24 Mar 96 

Rick Crawford wrote:

> Thanks to Andy Oram for taking the initiative on this, but I still
> have concerns about CPSR's basic position -- pro, con, or neither.

I agree, but the issue really is what the "pro" and "con" refer to.
>   > The following notes are the rough basis for a potential comment to the
>   > FCC on the ACTA Internet Phone Petition.
>   ...
>   > A large number of organizations are working hard to make the Internet
>   > more than a text-only medium.  Many people see the availability of
>   > graphics, audio, and video as key to the broadening of digital
>   > networks as valuable media for education and other social goals.
> I think the mere availability of these other modes is 95% irrelevant
> to social goals.  Remember that TV, too, was touted as ushering in
> a new golden age of universal education.  I think the *key* factors
> have to do with *equity* -- who will benefit *more*, and *sooner*?
> Will this tend to reduce the "knowledge gap", or exacerbate it?
> What does it portend for the disparity in power relations?

Well, digital and audio streaming on the Net is certainly here to 
stay, no matter what anyone does.  While concepts such as the 
"knowledge gap" are valuable for rhetorical purposes, they lend very 
little to a discussion on concrete policy, due to their high level of 
> In America in 1996, we still don't have full penetration of basic
> telephone service (POTS).  It seems to me that by the time internet
> voice telephony (*and* necessary hardware peripherals) comes down
> in price sufficiently to benefit the Have-nots, the Haves already
> will have been exploiting the technology for years.

This may well be true, but we are not just talking about home 
consumption here.  Hospitals, schools, libraries, community centers, 
etc., may well benefit from voice-over-the-Net (VON) technologies.

> Personally, I'd love to have a zippy new audio-conf mode for my own
> professional collaborations.  But before CPSR takes a position on this,
> I think there is a burden of proof to show why the trajectory of this
> new technology will be different from that of other "toys for the rich",
> as Freeman Dyson calls them.

This is laudable, but the FCC is most likely going to regulate VON
down the road anyway.  It will not do so in the context of the sloppy
petition by ACTA, but the petition should serve as a signal to people
that the Commission will regulate the  Internet.  It has already
indicated its intent and statutory authority to do so in the context
of the Order and Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on the
formation of the Joint Board for "universal service." 

>   > Regulation of the Internet
>   > 
>   > We do not argue that the FCC has no jurisdiction over the Internet.
>   > This area is already an important part of the world's information
>   > infrastructure and is likely to become a major arena for competing
>   > offerings among telecommunications companies.  Therefore, the FCC may
>   > well find itself issuing orders that affect use of the Internet.
>   > The important criterion for establishing rules is to preserve the
>   > viability and robustness of the medium.
> I have a problem with this reasoning.  We know what's good for
> General Motors is not necessarily what's good for America.
> To put our trust in any technical medium seems to be a matter of
> faith and hope, in the face of much contrary evidence.
> If there is any single criterion for regulation, it ought to be
> some metric tied to economic equity and social justice.  I have
> no objection if the FCC wants to apply a moderate packet-tax
> to all digital data, so long as the proceeds are earmarked for
> projects that will reduce the gap between the info-rich and the
> info-poor.

First, if a "packet-tax" is instituted, it will only indirectly have
reducing the "gap" as a goal.  The Commission may well decide to get
rid of the Common Carrier Line Charge (CCLC) which long distance
companies pay to local exchange carriers for costs associated with
interconnection, equal access, etc.  OTOH, a Commission official
told me that this may result in hiking the Subscriber Line Charge
(SLC) which consumers pay at the household level to defray costs to
the local exchange carriers (LECs) of the "universal service" fund,
which is supposed to help close the "gap" you talk about.

The whole situation is in flux, and it is likely that down the road a 
ways there will be a metered Internet, but that probably will not 
arrive for some time.

If the FCC places "Internet access" under the "universal service" 
umbrella, which it has suggested, the SLC will go partly to pay for 
access to high-cost, rural, and remote areas, as well as schools, 
hospitals, and libraries.

We should oppose hikes in the SLC, but until the Commission more 
clearly signifies its intent, this will be hard to do.  Someone needs 
to devise an argument regarding universal service funding that does 
not adversely impact consumers and the "info-poor."

> If CPSR is to take any position on the ACTA petition, perhaps it should
> be more like a "double or nothing" gambit, e.g., it's fine to establish
> a tariff on internet voice traffic, so long as the proceeds -- AND THE
> genuine public goods for America's info-poor, not merely for "maintenance"
> of the network (arguably a euphemism for private profit, and R&D of new
> toys for the rich while ignoring the needs of the poor).

No, it is not fine to establish a tariff on VON.  Why send a signal
which tells the Commission:  Fine, go ahead and throw your rule book
out the window.  Currently, the Net is considered an "enhanced" or
information service, and is exempt from paying access charges.  If
we are going to argue that it should be paying these charges, we are
really opening up Pandora's box.  AT&T, MCI, and Sprint see no
reason for the FCC to regulate what they consider "software."  In
this instance they may just be correct, despite the fact that they 
want to cash in on it.

But, if the FCC puts the Net in the universal service tent, it at 
least can mandate "fair" pricing for Net access, including voice.  

The issue will run its course as a matter of various FCC proceedings such 
as that of universal service and "interconnection."  An 
"interconnection" NPRM will be issued in April, and it may well 
include the VON problem.  It is too early to tell.


Visit The Cyber-Rights Library,  accessible via FTP or WWW at:

You are encouraged to forward and cross-post list traffic,
pursuant to any contained copyright & redistribution restrictions.