Free Rein Sought for Web Phones; Nonregulation Backed on Hill

Article excerpt

Byline: William Glanz, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Lawmakers said yesterday the nation's telecommunications laws should not apply to Internet telephone service because the arcane regulations could suppress development of the emerging technology.

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee also said the 1996 Telecommunications Act needs to be updated to account for new technologies such as Internet calling.

"If we try to regulate [Internet phone service] then I think we are headed down the wrong path," said Sen. John E. Sununu, New Hampshire Republican.

Sen. Conrad Burns, Montana Republican, suggested Congress not regulate Internet calling for up to six years.

Just a few hundred thousand U.S. consumers currently use Internet phones, which is unregulated and costs less than regular phone service. But more are expected to subscribe to Web calling as companies like Time Warner Cable and Vonage Holdings Corp. broaden their reach.

State regulators and local telephone companies like the Baby Bells want lawmakers to regulate Internet phone carriers so they pay for network access. But FCC Chairman Michael Powell told lawmakers at the Senate committee hearing it is simply too early to impose new rules on Internet calling.

"There is little compelling evidence that heavy economic regulation of these vibrant services is warranted at this stage," Mr. Powell said.

He also endorsed the Senate committee's call for reworking telecommunications laws.

Mr. Sununu said he plans to introduce a bill to protect Internet phone service from regulation.

Internet phone service converts calls to data, then sends calls over high-speed Internet connections. Most Internet phone companies also use at least part of the conventional telephone network to transmit calls.

The FCC voted two weeks ago to exempt from regulation voice communications that flow entirely over the Internet. …