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Missouri Tries to Regulate VoIP Via Cable

Missouri utility regulators believe cable voice-over-Internet Protocol service can be subjected to state certification.

The state's Public Service Commission, acting on a staff complaint, asked Comcast Internet Protocol Phone to explain, by Oct. 26, why it hasn't applied for a certificate of service authority.

Comcast has already countered the regulator's demand, filing a federal lawsuit on Oct. 10. The company wants the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri, Central Division, to block the PSC from its attempt to regulate, Comcast senior director of communications and government affairs Sena Fitzmaurice said.

John Van Eschen, manager of the telecommunications department of the PSC, said his staff disagrees with Federal Communications Commission rulemakings barring regulation of VoIP.

In 2004, the FCC held VoIP providers including Vonage and cable companies exempt from state regulation, including demands for certification, tariff filings and 911 requirements. The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission is in the process of appealing that ruling.

Van Eschen said the ruling barring state regulation is based on a Vonage customer's ability to “plug in anywhere in the broadband world.” Not so with a local cable operator, such as Comcast and Time Warner Cable. Their customers must initiate a call on their plant, located in Missouri.

Fitzmaurice said no other state has attempted to do what Missouri regulators are doing. In fact, in many states, utility regulators have been specifically barred by state law from regulation of VoIP.

The Missouri regulator said the state's certification process is simple: The provider identifies local and national contacts and provides information on its financial and technical ability to serve. The company must also file tariffs that identify services, their rates and terms and conditions.

Van Eschen noted that a Comcast entity did file for a certificate. Comcast Phone of Missouri was certified to handle interconnection agreements and number porting, the PSC said.

The other entity, Comcast Internet Protocol Phone, began marketing phone service in June to more than 175,000 homes in eastern Jackson County, Mo. Representatives of that Comcast unit met with PSC officials, according to Van Eschen, so its failure to file “is not an oversight,” he said.

Time Warner sought and received certification for its phone service — an action taken before the FCC Vonage decision.

Time Warner later asked the PSC to withdraw its tariff filing, but the PSC refused. A rehearing request by the operator is pending.