The hottest emerging technology is Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephony, which allows users to send telephone calls over the Internet rather than through public telephone networks (PSTN). Many business and residential customers are making the switch to VoIP and finding that there are tremendous savings to be had in infrastructure and long distance charges. However, the growing popularity of VoIP is causing concerns for regulators, because VoIP has largely been unregulated, at least in the United States, throughout its development.
One of the reasons for the lack of VoIP regulation is precisely because VoIP transmits voice data packets over the Internet. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the United States decided several years ago that the Internet did not fall under its jurisdiction. This meant that although Internet Service Providers could be required to provide access to user accounts, pricing and availability were not regulated. Information found online was also not subject to FCC regulation. Because VoIP relied on the Internet, the FCC has been content to leave it unregulated, although it did put a working group in place to examine VoIP and Internet related subjects in late 2003.
The fact that the FCC does not have a mandate to regulate VoIP in the same way it does standard telephone service has caused the US Congress to become involved. Congress has been working to implement regulation of VoIP providers. There are several goals involved with these regulations. One hope is that by paying into a fund, VoIP providers will ensure that VoIP expands into more areas, rather than being restricted to larger centers.
Another concern is security. Because VoIP providers are unregulated, they are not able (or required) to provide the same security access to law enforcement agencies that regular telephone service provides. This concern is particularly important in the post 9/11 world, because it is feared that terrorists could use VoIP to communicate and plan their activities without fear of detection. Taxation is another important concern - VoIP providers are not subject to the same taxes and duties as regular telephone providers, and it is feared that this imbalance will create unfair market conditions for VoIP service.
Other countries, such as Indonesia, have implemented regulation of VoIP services, ensuring consistent pricing levels and nationwide technological development. VoIP is developing fast, however, and it is a constant challenge for lawmakers and regulatory agencies to keep up with this rapidly emerging technology.