back to article Y'know what? VoIP can also be free from pesky regulation – US judges

The US Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has decided that a phone service over the internet is no longer a phone service but an "information service" – freeing it from regulatory oversight. That means, in the eyes of the court, voice-over-IP (VoIP) is not considered a public utility, and thus it is not subject to price …

  1. expreg

    Implications aside, I'm not sure I can disagree. VoIP is basically just another application of the internet, like the web and email. Even if it's actively replacing POTS/ISDN in some areas, it's still a different technology. If the web counts as an information service, why not VoIP? The P2P nature of the calls themselves? Is BitTorrent not an information service?

    Any experienced telephony El Reggians with an opinion?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      CCIE Opinion for those who care

      VoIP is not a public utility, nor can it be from a technological perspective, for several reasons:

      1. You don't have voice service without an internet connection.

      2. You don't have service-level guarantees beyond your provider, i.e. no QoS = best effort.

      3. The barriers to entry for new VoIP providers are exceedingly low, even for those with no physical presence on the Internet.

      4. VoIP isn't a clear cut set of services, since there are many flavors and not all have PSTN connectivity included or even available.

      None of this provides a legal basis, of course. There's plenty of ambiguous and odious laws and regulations that could apply to nearly any analog or digital form of communication and reclassify them as Voice for the purposes of the courts. But no one with any understanding of the interworkings of what most people mean with VoIP (i.e. G.711 bearer traffic over UDP and SIP signalling over TCP) would ever attempt to state that it constitutes a public utility as the average person would expect.

      1. expreg

        Re: CCIE Opinion for those who care

        Thank you!

      2. Another User

        Re: CCIE Opinion for those who care

        Not really true. German Telekom for example is replacing all its POTS technology with VoIP.

        End customers get a box (combined modem, switch router, hot spot) where they can attach their phone to. Customers do not get internet access unless they book it.

        Difference for customers is that this box needs power, whereas a phone is powered over the phone wire. QoS is handled by provider. Obvious disadvantage is that you cannot call emergency services if there is a power outage. So this looks like a phone service and behaves like a phone service. Also wiretapping rules do apply etc.

        1. Joe W

          Re: CCIE Opinion for those who care

          (Telekom DTAG description)

          My point exactly. Without that box you have no phone line... I would also argue that in the article, the internet service and the VoIP are two different things - if it applies there it should apply to DTAG as well. And phone provides are all moving that way, it's way cheaper...

        2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: CCIE Opinion for those who care

          "Obvious disadvantage is that you cannot call emergency services if there is a power outage. So this looks like a phone service and behaves like a phone service."

          Given that limitation I'd have said it doesn't behave like a phone service.

          1. Dal90

            Re: CCIE Opinion for those who care

            >Given that limitation I'd have said it doesn't behave like a phone service.

            Given that definition, POTS hasn't been a phone service for most people in the U.S. since some point between 1989 and 1999.

            If you live in an area > 3 wireline miles (more or less) from the Central Office, or live in an area where it is cheaper to maintain fiber than copper, you are served by a Neighborhood Concentrator.

            36 to 48 hours after the Concentrator loses power, its small battery bank gives out and you no longer have dial tone on your copper line. Unlike the minority of customers whose copper goes all the way back to the Central Office where a generator is chugging away keeping its battery bank charged.

            Now the Concentrators are far superior to the cable company repeaters that have no backup power supply, but in areas subject to things like hurricanes and ice storms 48 hours is not enough to guarantee the level of service everyone had before 1980 or so.

            The most reliable combination is if you have fiber to your building, then you only need to power the fiber switch at your premises. Folks relying on say a cable ISP with a voip-to-pots convertor can power that converter all they like but with no power to the cable repeaters it isn't going to connect to anyone.

        3. LDS Silver badge

          "you cannot call emergency services if there is a power outage"

          Add a small UPS, and it will keep on working - the other endpoint should already have it. That should become part of the standard install, though. They may rely on the fact most people have also a mobile phone for emergencies, but that's not true always.

          Anyway, here too often if you want to switch your landline from the ex-state monopolist you can only get a VoIP service - none of the other telcos is interested in adding their own devices to support POTS phones to the existing infrastructure, thereby if it is allowed to follow different rules, it could become an unfair competitive advantage.

          Thankfully, for now Europe has a far broader view of antitrust issue than US - where it become fixated with "consumer prices" only, a comfortable way to avoid to go after big lobbies and thereby get their money.

          1. nagyeger

            Re: "you cannot call emergency services if there is a power outage"

            "Add a small UPS, and it will keep on working - the other endpoint should already have it. That should become part of the standard install, though."

            It should but they don't, not even round here where power cuts are commonplace.

            FYI, there are loads of CCTV type sealed lead-acid battery-backed up 12v power supplies out there, some of which are complete with a nice box and low voltage cut-out to stop you under-voltaging the cells. Cost is around 30quid. Add a low-drop 12v regulator (or a step-down DC-DC converter if you need 5v) just in case your ISP's box doesn't want 14v with ripple, and Bob is the brother of one of your parents, as they say.

            I now get at least 8 hours's internet/phone compared to around 1 hour if the thing was going up to mains freq and back to 12v again.

            1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

              Re: "you cannot call emergency services if there is a power outage"

              But if you have to supply this to 10Million customers, deal with updates (3 year life?), take back old units for recycling etc - it can be a lot cheaper to spend a $M on lobbying for it not to count as a phone service.

            2. LDS Silver badge

              "sealed lead-acid battery-backed up 12v power supplies out there"

              It's what a couple of my UPSes use internally, and my alarm system as well. They are very easy to replace. They just made a device bulkier and heavier. For people not well versed into building their stuff, a commercial UPS is easier to install and safer (they usually protect from spikes and surges as well) - it will also alert them when the battery needs to be replaced.

              1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

                Re: "sealed lead-acid battery-backed up 12v power supplies out there"

                But this is where regulation plays an important part, ie any safety-of-life stuff. A bit like the Capita/Gas story where we decided that having stuff on the end of a piped in flammable/explosive gas being certified and installed by competant tradespeople is a good thing. Even if competence may not extend to the entity managing parts of that process.

                Hence regulatory approaches to providing 'phone' services. And that's been more onerous around the critical functions, like being able to make emergency calls. And also extends into other 'lifeline' medical, alerting or alarm services. Some of those are less regulated, but still a concern even if it's to avoid reputational damage when one of your customers has an avoidable death. Or like the Santa Clara fire story, customers don't understand the limitations of the service.

                If phone services stay regulated, then capabilities can be defined, and sanctions applied to breaches. So a phone line must be capable of making an emergency call, and responders must have a clear indication where the caller is, and be able to hear them. So then UPS requirements can be defined to cover power loss, codecs for speech quality, and any signalling to give a location. Plus there's some new-tech functionality that's possible, ie using something like Ethernet's 'Dying Gasp' to signal faults on critical lines. And there can also be issues with integrating Emergency Broadcast Networks to warn of impending events like tsunamis, earthquakes etc.

                That may mean costs, ie installing LTE with UPS capability, then maintaining it. With POTS, batteries and charging are centralised and phones can be line powered. But this is also where regulatory gamesmanship can come in. So in the UK and other countries, access to copper phone lines is possible via LLU. Jumper the copper across to a competitor and they take responsibility. It's also possible to unbundle xDSL given it's usually a simple notch filter that allows the 'voice' part to be extracted.

                But.. that also limits capacity on an xDSL line because some of the copper's bandwidth is reserved, plus there's potential to interfere with non-DSL services running along copper cables. Going to an all-packet network means making sure all that stuff still works. Some countries regulate this, eg in Ireland, Eircomm's wholesale DSL service includes a priority channel intended for VoIP/voice with defined interconnects.

                In practice, that can be a little clunky, and customers not understand the implications. So business wants MLPS/IP trunks so they can save money on their phone lines. But then we have to explain that they really should keep 1 POTS line per site with an ATA connected to their call mangler and emergency calls routed to that ATA. It was depressing the number of times I spoke with customers who wanted to hang everything in remote offices off an xDSL line.. Including their mobile gateways, because mobile reception was poor. Best way to resolve that one was explaining potential director's liability, and their insurance wouldn't generally cover negligence.

                Downside is good'ol capitalism. Ignore regulatory stuff, and you can make more money. Send the customer a sticker saying 'This won't work in a power cut, good luck!' is cheaper than supplying a UPS. And if voice is unregulated, you can also save on the stickers. Or, it can mean not paying USO charges that are meant to subsidise rural services. Or, if regulations permit LLU for copper, switching to fibre means dodging that regulation, and preventing competitors from accessing your customers.

          2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: "you cannot call emergency services if there is a power outage"

            "Add a small UPS, and it will keep on working"

            That assumes the street boxes also have a decent UPS (hint, they don't). POTS street boxes generally don't need power, but they are becoming rarer nowadays. I suspect there will be some fast knee jerk regulations put in place the first time there is a major disaster and someone notices that the modern phone system is not as resilient as it's expected to be.

            1. LDS Silver badge

              Re: "you cannot call emergency services if there is a power outage"

              With passive fibre networks, you only need UPS where the transmitting/receiving equipments are. So you don't need an UPS at each street box. Also. AFAIK a lot of telco equipment is powered by 48V DC on their own lines, they are not attached to the local AC power, so if your local supply is disrupted, the telco equipment may still be powered.

        4. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: CCIE Opinion for those who care

          Over here on the left-pond the cable co have to supply expensive battery backup VOIP adapters to ensure the 911 requirements. One also got fined $$$$ because they didn't update the records and sent an ambulance to the customer's old address (because they didn't know where the physical box was)

          This ruling means that telcos don't need to worry about any of that - 911 service becomes no more important than facebook

    2. Jamie Jones Silver badge

      I'm not experienced in such matters, but from what I see, you both make sense.

      The problem is, though, that with the lack of net neutrality, companies can now do what the hell they like, such as hobbling access to save their phone service, or - as in the article - push customers to their own VoIP service.

      That stinks.

      1. bombastic bob Silver badge
        Unhappy

        FYI - in the USA, doing 'anti-competitive' things like "hobbling access to save their phone service", would get you indicted/punished under various anti-Trust and similar laws.

        given that, a lack of what you perceive "net neutrality" to be isn't going to make a difference. These things will STILL be illegal. we don't need overlapping laws that have unwanted consequences to fix an incorrectly perceived problem that's already covered by EXISTING law.

        1. Jamie Jones Silver badge

          Bob, that's bollocks. That's EXACTLY what the whole net neutrality issue is about... anti-competative? you mean like cartels to control monopolies on cabled areas, and then when the customer can go no where else, throttle netflix et al. indiscriminately?

          1. Terry 6 Silver badge

            Yup Jamie Jones, got it in one.

            Where I live (London) UK the streets were cabled by a small company given the local franchise - Cable London. Competing with BT as the only other ( national ) carrier. But Cable London got vacuumed up by ( I think this is the order) Cable and Wireless, who were vacuumed up by NTL who were vacuumed up by Virgin Media who were vacuumed up by a faintly anonymous bunch (Global something or other - that the subscribers have probably never even heard of). And if there wasn't regulation it would eventually be one company. Didn't the USA have something similar with Bell? Unregulated market capitalism just means the biggest fish takes control of the whole pond. Can Bob, I wonder, really imagine Amazon letting anyone else sell anything if they had their way? And once they had monopoly we'd all be serfs and share croppers, buying at the company store.

            1. martinusher Silver badge

              But at least it worked

              > Didn't the USA have something similar with Bell?

              A regulated monopoly like the Bell System or the Post Office doesn't necessarily mean that you end up with the cheapest service but you at least get a service that works. In the US a lot of POTS (wired) phone service has been replaced by VoIP service using the same feed as Internet and TV. The quality of phone connections has dropped through the floor as a result -- phone service used to be rock solid reliable, now its hit and miss with indifferent voice quality, broken connections, erratic call forwarding and so on. Domestic services is basically unusable except for telemarketers (and even then they invariably fail to make an usable connection).

              The only reason for the breakup of the monopoly is that well connected people saw money being made and wanted a piece -- a big piece. They sold the gullible public on choice, competition, low price and so on -- but what we've ended up with is little choice, poor service and excessive costs.

              (This isn't the only industry where deregulation promised consumer benefits but ended up screwing them. You'd have to be pretty naive to think that the outcome would be any different.)

            2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

              "who were vacuumed up by NTL who were vacuumed up by Virgin Media who were vacuumed up by a faintly anonymous bunch (Global something or other - that the subscribers have probably never even heard of)."

              Just as an FYI, NTL:Telewest bought the Virgin Media branding and then traded as Virgin Media while still being legally registered as NTL:Telewest. It was NTL:Telewest that sold out to Liberty Global.

              You also missed the bit where Telewest "bought" NTL. (The reality was the opposite, but the legal fiction was created due to the Telewest contract with UKTV channels, which would be null and void in the event of Telewest begin bought out)

          2. Dimmer

            If what did what the say the will do

            Jones, you are sort of right.

            What we want IS net neutrality. What they put in place was their version so the big guys could control it via the government. Please read the rules document if you can still find on the net. Content providers were explicitly EXCLUDED from protection, by name, and excuse of “we don’t know enough about the market” to make rules. If the government were here to help, they would allow us the same info that 911 gets so we could block these fake caller ID marketing calls. The politicians were bought and paid for by the “phone” companies that make a **** load of money allowing the burning your time and cell min and they get away with it because they control it via the government.

        2. John Smith 19 Gold badge
          Unhappy

          "fix an incorrectly perceived problem that's already covered by EXISTING law."

          IOW The law enforcers should enforce the existing laws properly.

          Don't expect anything useful from "Sweet" Pai.

    3. Warm Braw Silver badge

      I think that's just the flip side of "but over the Internet" patents: if the service to the end user is essentially the same, the specific technology should not be an isssue. Regulation of the phone service survived the demise of Strowger exchanges and the introduction of fibre trunk connections; adding some packet-switching is a fairly trivial difference by comparison. If you're selling it as a phone service, it's a phone service.

      1. Joe W

        By that argument my phone would fall under that - many carriers actually use VoIP (which is then converted to a phone signal on the endpoints), or cellphones which can use VoLTE....

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          "By that argument my phone would fall under that - many carriers actually use VoIP (which is then converted to a phone signal on the endpoints), or cellphones which can use VoLTE...."

          Additionally, the prime argument for declaring it a information service appears to be the "transformation" of the customers "information". I wonder if they think a telephone has hollow wires and the sound just travels down them and out the other end? Or maybe the customer "information" (what they say) might be "transformed" into electrical signals before it transits the network?

      2. RegGuy1

        If you're selling it as a phone service, it's a phone service.

        If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, I think you've dialed a farm.

      3. P. Lee Silver badge

        Perhaps rather than bicker of tech, we should be asking why we regulated the telecommunications services and then ask if the reasoning still applies in the new scenario.

        If you want to talk about quality guarantees, yes, the internet opens you up to (D)DOS over which the VoIP provider has no control, but if we are talking, "critical communications service pricing" then that is different.

        As per usual, Cloud also fouls things up. What we really want is to be able to configure packet filters, preferably at the ISP-end, so I can block volumetric attacks if I so choose. If all my controls have shifted to the API layer, that is going to be computationally expensive to do and will require expensive colo/IaaS.

    4. Another User

      Should be considered implementation detail

      There is not only VoIP. There exists VoLTE and WiFi calling which is supported by Android mobiles (and iPhones). Important is if you can call or get called by someone using a POTS telephone.

      If so the this should be considered a phone service.

      It should be up to the provider to change the underlying technology if it is cheaper to operate. Still the operator should be bound by the existing regulations (public utility, wiretapping etc.)

      1. Daniel von Asmuth Bronze badge

        Re: Should be considered implementation detail

        If VoiP is no longer a telephone service, dus that mean that governments no longer have legal means to intercept or copy VoIP calls of pedophiles, drug lords or terrorists?

    5. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

      "If the web counts as an information service"

      Because web sites provide information that they have generated. Telecommunications services move my information from point A to B. Pretty clear distinction.

  2. Ole Juul Silver badge

    Time slots vs packets.

    POTS has been using multiplexing since the 1960s. I'm not convinced that that's significantly different from packet switching as it applies to this case.

    1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

      Re: Tedium vs Best Efforts

      It can be very different.

      So classical voice was time division multiplexed, ie TDM in a digital voice network. So a 64kbps basic rate channel giving a nice, high quality voice call that can be switched end-end. Very deterministic, very reliable.

      Then came packet networks like the Internet. There's a bunch of different codecs that compress a voice call down to 8kbps or less and spit out packets as a UDP stream. But UDP is connectionless and has no error checking or retransmission built in. If voice packets get dropped, that's down to the application to figure out and manage.

      So the advantage is you can cram a LOT more VoIP traffic down a SIP trunk than you could a traditional ISDN PRI, especially if you ignore boring old stuff like Erlang. Downside is that can mean calls dropping, poor voice quality etc, especially if any part of the call path is congested.

      This can of course be a bad thing, especially if calls are urgent. Like 112/999/911 calls. In those situations, you really want a reliable, dependable and traceable call.. Which is where regulations come in, eg E911, QoS/CoS and powered devices. Some countries regulate this for safety-of-life reasons, and this is a good thing. But there can also be other regulatory rules around 'voice' services, ie contributions to Universal Service, which VoIP operators want to avoid. It's also where Net Neutrality conflicts if it insists every service remains best efforts.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Aren't all telephone services passing information ?

    Shouldn't that mean that they're all free of regulations now ?

    1. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Devil

      "Shouldn't that mean that they're all free of regulations now "

      I wouldn't mind THAT happening at ALL! With cell phone coverage nearly everwhere, there's sufficient competition for POTS to warrant more de-regulation. The only reason for regulating it before was that a single company typically served up an area, so it's a kind of monopoly in that sense. What you'd end up seeing is more cell phone carriers providing 'primary service' to residential and business customers, in lieu of physical phone lines, and the local phone companies busy trying to get their business back through more competitive options. Or I'd like to think so. [sometimes it's a crap shoot, but odds seem to be that you usually roll a 7 at the right time]

      OK maybe SOME regulations need to remain, to keep land lines from being 'not fixed' for extended periods of time, like happened to me, 3 weeks without land-line nor intarwebs, due to a storm etc. (techs were just BUSY). THAT SUCKED. And it had happened a few times before, too. Turned out one of the splice boxes had a pinched wire in it, and it was MY wire, and it corroded to the point it just freaking broke. Naturally, it was the one my pathetic DSL is on. But I digress...

      in any case if phone companies were required to hire consultants to get service calls completed with, let's say, 3 days, it might make things nicer, and possibly not cost more (since it is a rare occurrence). But a nice 'quid pro quo' would be the other de-regulation. So there ya go.

      1. DougS Silver badge

        If phone service was unregulated

        Then people in rural areas would lose access to it. I don't know where you live, but there are a LOT of rural areas with no cell service (don't believe those maps that show LTE coverage basically everywhere east of the Mississippi, but even they show many gaps in the western US)

        Without the regulations that forced phone companies to provide phone service to rural customers they'd let the lines fall into disrepair and those people would lose their only link with the outside world. I suppose you believe that it would be fair if phone companies said "well, it costs us a lot more to provide service to on this ranch in western Texas, so if you want to maintain phone service it'll cost you $250 a month instead of $25 a month". After all, that's the free market at work!

        Hell, while you're at it deregulate electric and free the electric companies from the regulations that forced them to bring electricity to the rural United States. If they want electricity they can set up a wind turbine or solar panels...sorry, I mean a Trump approved dirty coal burning generator!

        1. swm Bronze badge

          Re: If phone service was unregulated

          The original Bell System made a deal with the government to supply phone service to everyone at a reasonable price (including someone requiring lots of telephone poles to reach their residence). In exchange they were granted the right to be a monopoly. The Bell System really did provide good telephone service for everyone but refused to allow anything other than Bell System telephones to be attached to their network (they owned the telephones).

          Then there was the Carter phone case where an attorney wanted to attach a French telephone to the network (they said that it would breach the integrity of the switched network). Carter won the case but then, for digital, you had to use a DAA to access the phone network unless you were using one of their datasets. They really did not understand the possibilities of digital.

          Then Judge Green stepped in and ruled that the Bell System was a monopoly and split them up. After that technology using phone lines blossomed but I am not sure that remote users were protected as much. It has been an exciting roller coaster ride.

          1. Brian Miller

            Re: If phone service was unregulated

            The original Bell System made a deal with the government to supply phone service to everyone at a reasonable price (including someone requiring lots of telephone poles to reach their residence).

            Um, no. As someone who grew up with a "party" line, phone service in rural areas was based on how much you, the individual, were willing to pay. Thus, unless you had serious money, if you had phone service, you got a "party" line, which was a single line shared by multiple people.

            And yes, if you lived down a road with no existing service, you had to pay for poles and lines on your own. So the only reasonable thing to do was to wait for someone else to pay, and then pay for your connection. Yes, the utilities still owned all the equipment, even though you paid for all of it.

        2. Preston Munchensonton

          Re: If phone service was unregulated

          "Without the regulations that forced phone companies to provide phone service to rural customers they'd let the lines fall into disrepair and those people would lose their only link with the outside world. I suppose you believe that it would be fair if phone companies said "well, it costs us a lot more to provide service to on this ranch in western Texas, so if you want to maintain phone service it'll cost you $250 a month instead of $25 a month". After all, that's the free market at work!"

          So, start your own telco and offer that service at a loss. Obviously, it's so valuable that people aren't willing to pay $250/month.

          Don't use terms like "free market" if you get them so easily confused with "central planning".

        3. Eddy Ito Silver badge

          Re: If phone service was unregulated

          Without the regulations that forced phone companies to provide phone service to rural customers they'd let the lines fall into disrepair and those people would lose their only link with the outside world. I suppose you believe that it would be fair if phone companies said "well, it costs us a lot more to provide service to on this ranch in western Texas, so if you want to maintain phone service it'll cost you $250 a month instead of $25 a month". After all, that's the free market at work!

          You might want to check your phone bill. Look for the part that says "Universal Connectivity Charge". You see, it still costs $250 a month to maintain that equipment running to G. W. Bush's ranch, it's just that we all get to pay for it to save W a few bucks. Good thing we're forcing those companies to take an extra 17.9% of everyone's bill to provide phone service to rural customers like W.

  4. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    "Very pleased with ruling"

    I'm sure you are.

    Oh, look who now has a cushy director opportunity at Charter !

  5. Lee D Silver badge

    I agree, for most people VoIP is basically optional.

    But we would need a ruling saying that if you're replacing or ONLY offering to supply a line to a household via VoIP... then it becomes their only method of communication not by choice and you're a utility provider.

    Soon, though, the whole thing will be moot... one of "internet connectivity" and "phone access" has to be classed as a utility or you're going into a world of pain where everyone has to do everything like taxes, etc. online/by the phone and neither of them will have any kind of guarantee of availability, let alone actual service levels.

    The days of needing a copper wire to dial emergency services are probably over, yes, but there's still a need for something else.

    1. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Meh

      then it becomes their only method of communication not by choice

      cell phones. nearly everybody owns one. or more than one.

      just sayin'.

      1. Ole Juul Silver badge

        Re: then it becomes their only method of communication not by choice

        The problem with cell phones is that there are a significant number of places where they don't work, and it is precisely those areas where either landline of VOIP becomes the primary voice service.

        just sayin'.

      2. Spanners Silver badge
        Alien

        Re: then it becomes their only method of communication not by choice

        ...cell phones...

        In this part of the developed world, they haven't generally been called that for a long time!

    2. Chris G Silver badge

      @ Lee D You are right, in fact so much of how life is lived, including paying utility bils general purchasing, education, paying taxes is all done via the internet. Effectively it is and should be considered as a utility, tecnical nitpicking over how a communication is delivered aside, the internet in much of the world affects more aspects of an individual life than any other single utility.

      If deregulation means it becomes difficult for people to carry out basic aspects of their lives because the means of communication they need is too expensive or quality is poor then it needs to be regulated to minimum standards and price controls.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "Effectively it is and should be considered as a utility, tecnical nitpicking over how a communication is delivered aside, the internet in much of the world affects more aspects of an individual life than any other single utility."

        It's not technical nitpicking. What you're calling for is nationalization of Internet services, not the market-based cooperation of lots of ISPs.

        Nothing about the Internet is a utility. Utilities are government-run monopolies. Who honestly wants that?!?

  6. Terry 6 Silver badge

    Logic and politics

    At some point in time the USA decided that important utilities had to be protected. Phones being one such. It's the role that this service played that was being protected, not the technology. I much doubt that the legislators knew or cared the first thing about the technology. The internet has come along in a different time; one in which "free market" deregulation rules.

    In logical terms VoIP serves the same role as POTS- i.e. letting someone here speak to someone not here. But maybe with other functions, though that could have been said since at least the invention of Fax.

    In political terms it's a way to wriggle the service for speaking to someone away from being a protected service into a fully free market service.

  7. anthonyhegedus Silver badge

    Emergency service

    I would have thought that most calls to emergency services are over mobile now anyway. But this 'power failure' argument doesn't wash. Most people have a cordless phone at home, which, guess what, has a base station that isn't battery-powered, and will not work in the event of a power cut.

    At what stage does a communication service become a public utility though? Some people make most of their calls over whatsapp or similar apps. Some emergency services accept communications by means other than the PSTN. At what stage does a PSTN itself stop being a public utility? When it's all VoIP? or when people stop using it, because other technologies are better quality and more reliable?

    Let's face it, we already get better quality from mobile-to-mobile calls with the widespread use (in the UK at least) of higher bandwidth codecs. You can't get that sort of quality on regular fixed-line phones.

    I would say that if a service is designed to route the majority of its voice comms through what is currently called the PSTN, then it's as much of a public utility as any other voice provider, irrespective of the endpoint technology used.

    1. DavCrav Silver badge

      Re: Emergency service

      "But this 'power failure' argument doesn't wash. Most people have a cordless phone at home, which, guess what, has a base station that isn't battery-powered, and will not work in the event of a power cut."

      I have a cordless phone, yes. I also have a cheap corded one in a box upstairs. In case of, you know, a power cut.

      1. anthonyhegedus Silver badge

        Re: Emergency service

        "I have a cordless phone, yes. I also have a cheap corded one in a box upstairs. In case of, you know, a power cut."

        So in the event of an emergency you have to go and find the corded phone which is in a box, and find a socket and plug it in. Doesn't sound especially useful in an emergency situation. Maybe a mobile phone would be more useful.

    2. swm Bronze badge

      Re: Emergency service

      My mother lived in a retirement apartment where the phone service was over a cable modem. When the power failed she lost phone connectivity.

      1. keith_w

        Re: Emergency service

        the cable modem/phone service boxes that the local cable provider supplies has a built in battery to prevent such an occurance.

  8. Mark 85 Silver badge

    Politics, big tech, and consumers.

    We know this won't end well for one of the above.

    1. Tomato42 Silver badge

      Re: Politics, big tech, and consumers.

      TBH, a lot of legislation in the EU is what the crazy party in the US would call "anti-business", it definitely is pro-consumer and yet businesses are doing just fine in the EU

  9. Yobgod Ababua

    Gaaaaaaah

    If people depend on your service to make their telephones work... it should be regulated the same way as the telephone service. Period. Full stop.

    That you now get "caller id on your television" does not make the CORE COMPONENT OF THE SERVICE less important.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    [mis]information service

    " Charter fought back, claiming that because its VoIP service uses internet technology and comes with additional services like voicemail-to-text, caller ID appearing on a television, and the ability to use an app to access the service, it was no longer just a "telecommunications service" but an "information service."

    At my house the VOIP phone my cable company forces me to have so that I can get a "bundle discount" on my already overpriced internet is never plugged in.

    Whithin an hour of plugging the VOIP phone into the modem I start receiving phone calls from "Microsoft Support Specialists".

    And with this new ruling I suspect I will be receiving many more calls from "Microsoft" (and others) in the near future so the phone which I pay several taxes on will remain in a box in the closet.

  11. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

    If you can call me ...

    ... on my POTS line, you must be using a regulated telecommunications service. I don't care if it's a cell phone or VoIP. If its a phone call, it should be regulated as such.

    On the other hand, free up the telecoms to use whatever technology serves a particular area the best. VoIP/fiber*, copper or cellular. The regulatory requirements need to be supported. Operation during power outages for primary residential phone lines for example. My FiOS network interface and VoIP telephone circuit has a battery backup.

    The only difference between some of my neighbors' POTS service and mine is that their phone call comes in to a box at the street corner on IP over a fiber link and then switches to a copper loop for the last few hundred yards. My IP/fiber comes into my house and then is converted in exactly the same way to copper, but only for twenty feet or so to the same old telephone set.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Passing notes to make a comeback?

    - Pen

    - Paper

    - Mail

    (Relative) privacy?

    1. My other car WAS an IAV Stryker

      Re: Passing notes to make a comeback?

      Privacy in the mail? Misdelivery and miscreants: mail either delivered wrong or intercepted by bad actors. Yes, as a regulated utility/monopoly, it's a federal offense (USA), but that does not ensure enforcement or prevention.

      In the former case, I've had to re-deliver lots of mail for a house on a different street in our neighborhood that share our house number (this is USA so it's a 5-digit number and duplicates are rare). No telling how much of our stuff they've thrown away over 12 years I've owned this one.

      (Also, my next door neighbor *currently* has a package of ours -- the delivery report proves it was delivered to the wrong address. We've redelivered stuff to her, so why won't she just drop it in our box?)

      As for the latter, I'm scared of someone stealing outgoing mail straight out of my box -- the raised flag to alert the carrier for pickup works for crims also -- and taking finance info from bill payments. This happened to my brother-in-law (and wife) and they lost thousands, not to mention the hassle with the bank. Online bill payments is usually easy, but in some cases writing out the paper form is easier; I just make sure to use a trusted (and preferably locked) drop-off spot (just like using "trusted" sites online, I guess).

  13. Any mouse Cow turd

    BT FTTP

    I have fibre to the premises with BT, no copper at all and therefore all my calls are VOIP but I'm still charged for a phone line because Openreach have locked out access to the Fibre Voice Access part (ATA) within the ONT and only allow ISP's that are willing to pay extra to provide a "phoneline" access.

    Hence why the Openreach ONT comes with a battery backup in case of powercuts you can still use the phone but if I wanted to run my own VOIP line I'd need a separate ATA box connected to my router (which doesn't have a UPS).

    It's all a con to make more money.

    1. David Beck

      Re: BT FTTP

      I have a similar situation, not BT fibre but only fibre to the house. In the cupboard there is a small UPS, cost of about £50, into which is plugged, router, ATA and PoE switch needed for wifi. I get about an hour from the UPS under the current (excuse pun) load. ONT has its own battery but I think it only gets about 20mins. I could have gone for a cheaper UPS with less reserve time but I liked the one I bought.

  14. My other car WAS an IAV Stryker
    Megaphone

    Vonage and 911 (US-specific, sorry)

    Forgot the power outage scenarios. If there is an emergency -- especially with Mommy now on blood thinners forever (thanks a lot, d*** PEs!)* -- I need to make sure the kids (or visiting family, friends, etc.) can call 911 and it be traceable to the house itself.

    (* Or accidental drowning in the pool. While the (poorly-)lifeguarding adult starts rescue breathing, someone else makes the call.)

    My wife and I keep our mobiles passcode-locked most of the time. Thus, the only option is our pseudo-landline, and I prefer it that way. If this deregulation includes no longer paying 911 fees, then will they take the call? Would Vonage even pass the call along if they weren't forced to?

    I used to love our Vonage plan since my wife has a sister in Scotland and we can call there for free. Now with Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, it's all text/voice over IP all the time on the handbrains, and the Vonage only serves to receive mostly scam calls. Since I don't want to ditch it entirely, there may be ways I can cut the cost down, especially as our data needs -- mobile and home -- and the associated costs grow.

    1. The First Dave

      Re: Vonage and 911 (US-specific, sorry)

      I thought all phones had the ability to make emergency calls without being unlocked?

      1. Baldrickk Silver badge

        Re: Vonage and 911 (US-specific, sorry)

        They do. Mine even allows calls to specified contacts without unlocking the phone - useful if you have a specific need or want your home/next of kin to be contactable.

      2. My other car WAS an IAV Stryker
        Facepalm

        Re: Vonage and 911 (US-specific, sorry)

        Yeah, you're right; I succumbed to emotional cloudiness instead of checking my facts. I deserve that downvote.

        Facts aside, I still prefer having a land line as our "family" primary for many purposes.

  15. John Robson Silver badge

    Does that...

    Free it from the scopes of CALEA?

  16. Sloppy Crapmonster

    I run my own phone service on a shared host ~900 miles away from my home. It costs me about $150 a year (lowest-end VM on ramnode - $30/yr, Debian OS - $0/yr, asterisk - $0/yr, Twilio trunk - ~$10/mo), on top of the Internet bill I would be paying already. I'm okay with this.

  17. Stevie Silver badge

    Bah!

    Then vendors shouldn't be allowed to use the terms "phone" or "telephone" for their information service.

  18. David Beck

    IF VoIP isn't a phone service then will all the charges/taxes disappear?

    From my last US Vonage bill -

    U.S. and Canada 750 for 1-(919)-338-xxxx (24/Jun-23/Jul) $19.99

    Vonage Extensions for 1-(919)-360-xxxx (24/Jun-23/Jul) $0.00

    International Calls for 1-(919)-338-xxxx (24/May-23/Jun) $16.66

    United Kingdom Virtual Phone Number for 44-(207)-993-xxxx (24/Jun-23/Jul) $4.99

    Taxes & Fees

    Regulatory, Compliance and Intellectual Property Fee $1.99

    Emergency 911 and Information Services Fee $1.99

    Federal Program Fee $5.06

    State Telecommunications Sales Tax $3.55

    State 911 Fee $0.60

    Total Amount $54.83

    So for my $24.98 in services and $16.66 in call charges I paid $13.19 in taxes and fees, because it was a telephone.

    I assume that if it is no longer a telephone then none of the listed taxes and fees apply, although there will probably be some sales tax rate applied.

    Looks like a win to me.

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