FCC Sets Six-Month VoIP Number Investigation

Turns out that the rumors I wrote about a month ago (Who’s Got Your Number?) about the FCC considering new rules allowing VoIP providers to directly tap into the national telephone numbers pool were accurate. The FCC on April 18 issued a missive saying that they’re embarking on a six month test of the ramifications of just such a rule.

Now don’t everyone rush out and think that it means anything the average VoIP user will notice, at least not yet.  But the stakes are big for the VoIP community as a whole, and if the bigwigs in Washington are convinced that the rules need to be changed it will, in my humble opinion (okay, I’m not so humble) signal both another nail in the coffin for plain old telephone service (POTS) and both decrease the cost and increase the reliability of VoIP.

What the FCC’s now mandated is a “a limited technical trial of direct access to numbers” by a cadre of VoIP providers. Just who those are is not relevant – they simply represent the entire industry. And what the trial does is allow them to go directly to the national number pool to assign phone numbers to VoIP subscribers (for this test the numbers will be from the mobile phone pool). That’s in contrast to current rules, where VoIP companies need to go to local incumbent carriers (i.e. AT&T, Verizon and Century Link, for the most part) to get the numbers they provide to VoIP users. Put another way, the three giants that dominate the industry right now can hold VoIP providers hostage, perhaps, and at the very least get a direct look at what level of business VoIP carriers are doing in their territories.

If that isn’t a competitive advantage, I don’t know what is./p>

The FCC trial also represents a potential end to the area code system as we know it, since VoIP is not physically dependent on where a phone wire terminates. As the FCC says in its announcement of the test: “The relationship between numbers and geography—taken for granted when numbers were first assigned to fixed wireline telephones—is evolving as consumers turn increasingly to mobile and nomadic services. We seek comment on these trends and associated Commission policies.”

I won’t go into all the niceties of the FCC action, which runs to well over 100 pages. It’s all there on the web for anyone interested, at https://www.fcc.gov/document/direct-access-numbering-nprm-order-and-noi.

And I’ll be watching over the coming months to see the outcome of all of this, and what it means to users of VoIP carriers such as Phone.com.