After more than twenty years, VoIP’s unclassified status may be coming to an end. Last month, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision in Charter Advanced Services LLC v. Lange in which it considered whether an interconnected VoIP service offered by Charter can be regulated like a telecommunications service by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (“MPUC”). The court recognized that the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) has repeatedly failed to resolve the issue of VoIP service regulatory classification. However, the Eight Circuit upheld the district court’s finding that Charter’s VoIP service is an information service that is federally preempted from state regulation based on its interpretation of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (the “Act”) and FCC orders.
At its July 2017 Open Meeting, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”) designed to strengthen and expand consumer protections against “slamming” and “cramming.” Slamming is the unauthorized change of a consumer’s preferred service provider, while cramming is the placement of unauthorized charges on a consumer’s telephone bill. As we reported in our Open Meeting preview, slamming and cramming represent a major source of consumer frustration and a common focus of recent FCC enforcement actions. The NPRM is the agency’s first attempt in five years to strengthen the rules around slamming and cramming – and is the first attempt to specifically define cramming in its rules. Moreover, the agency asks whether these rules should apply to wireless carriers (especially prepaid wireless) and to VoIP providers, potentially expanding the reach of the rules significantly. Wireless carriers and interconnected VoIP providers should therefore pay close attention to the potential compliance obligations and marketing restrictions proposed in the NPRM.
The Wireline Competition Bureau of the FCC issued a Public Notice on February 4, 2016 announcing that beginning February 18, 2016 the Bureau will accept applications from interconnected VoIP providers to obtain telephone numbers directly from the North American Numbering Plan Administrator (NANPA). Interconnected VoIP providers can submit applications for numbers electronically using the Commission’s Electronic Comment Filing System (ECFS).
On November 19, 2015, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC or Commission) adopted a Fourth Report and Order (R&O) and Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), expanding its hearing aid compatibility (HAC) rules to cover additional modes of voice communications access, including Wi-Fi calling and VoIP applications. In the NPRM, the FCC seeks comment on a joint industry proposal (Joint Proposal) to move to 100 percent wireless handset HAC compliance within eight years. Comments are due by January 14, 2016 and replies are due by January 29, 2016.
Our post about the unique enforcement posture of interconnected VoIP quickly became the most popular post on the Telecom Law Monitor. One person asked if we could elaborate on the differences in regulatory treatment between traditional telecom services, interconnected VoIP and non-interconnected VoIP (like Skype). In response, we prepared a chart comparing applicability of the major telecom obligations to both types of VoIP.