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FCC Votes to Require VoIP Outage Reporting

The FCC voted unanimously Wednesday to apply its outage reporting requirements to interconnected VoIP service in an effort to ensure greater reliability of 911 phone service, regardless of the technology used. But the commission will not extend outage reporting more generally to broadband Internet service outages, as it had proposed.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said Wednesday the commission would work with the industry to come up with a voluntary way to keep track of those Internet service outages as well.

Commissioner Robert McDowell suggested it was just as well the FCC did not try to require the latter, since he said it does not have that the regulatory authority over the Internet.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association had opposed extending the outage requirements to VoIP, arguing that the cost of identifying and reporting outages would outweigh any benefits and that industry-government collaboration was a better approach. NCTA was even more definitive about extending outage requirements beyond the "fraction" of traffic that VoIP represents to broadband Internet service more broadly, agreeing with McDowell that the FCC had no authority to do so.

"With more than 25 million consumers relying on cable's voice service, the cable industry has long recognized the importance of providing quality, reliable and affordable service," said Rick Chessen, senior VP, law & regulatory policy, NCTA in a statement.  "We appreciate the commission's decision to collect outage information in a manner that will not unduly burden new technologies.  The cable industry will continue working hard to meet our customers' expectations as we provide best-in-class voice service."

McDowell thanked the chairman for working with him to clarify that the order was a narrow one, including applying the reporting requirement only to instances of complete outages. He signaled it was that narrowness that allowed him to support the order.

According to the commission, 31% of residential broadband subs have interconnected VoIP service, and while there have been outages reported in the press, including an AT&T outage affecting over a million customers, said the commission, those outages do not have to be reported to the FCC as do legacy phone and paging outages.

Genachowski said Americans would increasingly be turning to VoIP and that it was critical that the FCC be able to ensure the reliability of 911 service on whatever platform was being used, citing the directive of Congress in the 2008 law requiring VoIP providers to provide 911 service, and the FCC's broader mandate to ensure reliable emergency communications. The item was submitted by the Homeland Security Bureau.

The FCC also voted unanimously to establish a consistent regulatory approach to reining in telemarketing calls and texts (so-called robocalls) to both wired and wireless phones, including requiring written consent of the subject of those calls, giving them an easy opt-out during a call, and clarifying that computer calls or text like usage reports or school closings would not be affected. Written consent can include web site forms and e-mail.

The FCC move essentially harmonized FCC rules with FTC actions under the "do not call" enforcement regime.

It also began the process, a unanimous vote once more, of migrating cell service licensing from site-based to a geography-based, competitive bidding system to help spur broadband rollouts. As part of that , Genachowski pointed out, the FCC was proposing phasing out seven data collection requirements associated with the old regime, though he conceded VoIP would be adding a new data collection requirements, though one he called essential.