Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) is one of the most rapidly emerging technologies in the world. VoIP allows people to use a broadband Internet connection as a telephone by using their computer to speak to another computer user, using their computer to connect to standard telephone networks, or by using a hardware adapter, which handles the dialing and connection chores. Because VoIP uses the Internet for most of the long distance "journey" instead of standard public telephone networks (known as PSTN), VoIP service providers can charge much less for long distance than regular long distance providers, which can save customers money.
In most cases, customers using the same provider can speak to one another free, no matter where in the world they are calling. In addition, many large enterprise clients have implemented VoIP on their IP networks to reduce the cost of communicating between branch offices all over the world. The rapid expansion of VoIP has caused some scrambling at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) the United States federal government watchdog that supervises television, radio, and telecommunications services in the United States. The issue has been to develop an FCC VoIP position that outlines just how the FCC will deal with VoIP: essentially, will VoIP service be regulated by the FCC or not?
For insight into the FCC VoIP position, it is useful to look at how the FCC dealt with Internet service. Early on, the FCC decided that it would not regulate the Internet or Internet Service Providers (ISPs), because their business was, they decided, outside the purview of the FCC. The FCC has taken the same view on VoIP providers, and has so far decided against regulating VoIP. The official FCC VoIP position is that because VoIP providers use a medium (the Internet) that is itself unregulated, they themselves do not need to be regulated.
Although VoIP providers do connect to PSTN networks, they do not lease space ("airtime") on these networks like long distance providers do - instead, they are considered "end users" because they purchase telephone numbers for their users from local telephone service providers, and use switching, technology to route calls from the Internet to their final destination. The FCC has recognized the growing popularity of VoIP. Therefore, they are continuing to examine the issues related to this new technology. The FCC established an Internet Policy Working Group in 2003, and this group's work is ongoing as it decides what the FCC VoIP position ought to be in the future.