Who’s Got Your Number?

According to leaks out of the FCC (hardly a surprise), there is some serious back-room discussion of allowing VoIP providers to directly tap into the national telephone numbers pool. The way things stand today, the numbers are still controlled by legacy “telephone companies” … i.e. local exchange carriers including AT&T, Verizon, Century Link, and well over a hundred smaller players. VoIP carriers have to get the numbers from those companies.

The leaks, first reported by web site Politico, hint that the FCC is considering a rule-making action that will change all that.

The obvious question is what does that have to do with the average VoIP user, what difference does it make to me? Well, for those whose phone service is provided by Phone.com or any other VoIP carrier, the difference may be great.

That’s because in this day and age we have something called a “virtual phone number.” In other words, in VoIP technology, the number is not physically tied to switchboard and locality. You can live in California and have a New York phone number, or one from London, or most other places. But the truth is, the number is really tied to a physical location – one still owned by the legacy phone companies. That’s what area codes are (or at least used to be) all about.

But if those legacy phone companies – middlemen, if you will – are cut out of the picture, then a layer of complexity in the network is removed. It doesn’t take a Geek to figure out that the less complex, the better the VoIP phone service can become.

“Allowing VoIP providers to obtain telephone numbers directly, and not through intermediate providers, as is generally the case today, has the potential to fuel innovation and promote competition, at the same time we ensure calls are routed reliably and efficiently, protect public safety, and guard against exhaust of limited numbers,” Politico said that it source, an FCC official, wrote in an email.

One small detail, of course, is that area codes become even less meaningful than they are today. An obvious result is that long distance charges simply don’t have any reality any more. Of course Phone.com users on any plan don’t pay for long distance anywhere in the U.S., but legacy carriers by and large still do try to exact a toll, if only an add-on fee for “unlimited long distance.”

At this point there’s no indication of exactly when the FCC might act, and of course it should be remembered that there’s some pretty heavy lobbying by the powerful local exchange carriers against changing the rules.