The FCC has adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on direct access to telephone numbers for VoIP providers, a process that they say will streamline the process to roll out services.
Under the current structure, a VoIP provider has to obtain numbers through traditional telephone companies that act as a middleman, which the regulator says can "raise costs and slow introduction of innovative services, such as high-definition voice."
In addition to getting comments on whether interconnected providers should get direct access to numbers, the FCC wants to get feedback on streamlining access to other services that require numbers such as IP access to emergency services, home security systems, text messaging services, programmable appliances and telematics like hands-free cellular modems in cars.
During the course of a six-month trial, Vonage (NYSE: VG) and other VoIP providers will be able to test various technical issues related to the FCC's proposals. VoIP providers that have pending direct-access waiver petitions with the regulator will be able to test direct access for 5 percent or fewer numbers they get through other intermediary sources and a limited amount of new numbers.
Any provider that participates in the trial will have to report monthly progress and could be required to return numbers if any issues come up. The FCC granted TeleCommunication Systems, Inc., which provides E911 services for interconnected VoIP service providers, a limited waiver.
Vonage, one of the major VoIP providers, embraced the FCC's NPRM.
"Direct access to telephone numbers is the future of telecommunications," said Kurt Rogers, chief legal officer for Vonage, in a statement responding to the FCC proposal. "It allows for lower-cost, higher-quality voice service and innovation in developing new services, which benefits consumers."
Likewise, AT&T (NYSE: T), which has been an advocate of relaxing TDM-based regulations as the industry migrates towards IP, also spoke out in support of the FCC's proposal.
"This proceeding will enable the FCC to gather critical information to transition numbering from its TDM past to its IP future," wrote Hank Hultquist, vice president - federal regulatory for AT&T.
This new NRPM for direct access to numbers follows a Notice of Inquiry the FCC issued last week on how telephone numbers are assigned to geographical regions.
"The tie between area codes and geographic regions has been weakened by number portability," wrote the FCC in its filing, "especially as mobile subscribers move away from the area where they obtained the service but continue using the number."
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