ALEC Adopts Model VoIP Bill

ALEC Adopts Model VoIP Bill
September 1, 2007

Steven Titch

Steven Titch is a policy analyst focusing on telecommunications, Internet and information... (read full bio)

The American Legislative Exchange Council's (ALEC) Telecommunications and IT Task Force in late July approved model legislation for state deregulation of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) calling, in the process rejecting a controversial amendment that would have applied to VoIP calls the current carrier-to-carrier access charge scheme.

The model "Advanced Voice Services Availability Act of 2007," intended for use by state legislators, enjoins state public utility commissions from regulating rates, terms, or conditions for interconnected VoIP services. It was adopted by voice vote at the Telecom and IT Task Force meeting during the ALEC annual meeting in Philadelphia.

A key portion of the model legislation reads:

"The Public [Service/Utility] Commission shall have no authority to regulate the rates, terms, or conditions on which any entity offers any VoIP service to end-user customers in [state], nor shall it have the authority to regulate any entity's entry into, or exit from, the business of providing any VoIP service to customers in [state]."

With regard to payments for "Interconnected VoIP"--that is, compensation, fees, and surcharges one carrier pays to another for completion of a call--the model bill states: "No state agency or authority and no political subdivision of this state may impose any 911-related fee, tax or surcharge on a provider of Interconnected VoIP services or its customers unless the same or equivalent fee, tax or surcharge is also imposed by such agency, authority or subdivision on a provider of telecommunications services in the same or equivalent fashion."

In letters in advance of the meeting, groups such as the Organization for the Promotion and Advancement of Small Telecommunications Companies (OPASTCO), Independent Telephone & Telecommunications Alliance (IT&TA), and Pennsylvania Telephone Association asked task force members to oppose the model bill on grounds it would raise rates for rural users.



Encouraging Competition

Rural phone companies depend on access charges and intercarrier compensation for a substantial portion of their revenues, and access rates are regulated by federal and state mechanisms. Rates are not set by the market, but instead by complex formulas that result in different carriers paying different access fees to the same rural company for the same connection.

Several task force members argued access payments thwart the development of competition from other technologies by keeping rural rates for conventional dial-tone service artificially low.



Spyware Protection Proposed

In other action, the ALEC task force passed a model act to allow state attorneys general, Internet service providers, and trademark holders to bring civil actions against individuals and companies that use the Internet to surreptitiously install programs that track user movements online.

Among a number of provisions, the Computer Spyware Protection Act makes it unlawful for a third party, without the user's knowledge, to install software that collects personally identifiable information from keystrokes or harvests it from the PC hard drive, changes browser settings or otherwise modifies the owner's software applications, or implants a virus.

The task force also approved a change to technical language in the organization's model Wireless Communications Tower Siting Act, to take into account local regulations that would affect the attachment of wireless antennas to existing utility poles. The task force had already approved the model legislation at the ALEC spring conference in April.



Ticket Resale Policy Tabled

Finally, the task force tabled a proposed resolution for legislative action to deregulate the so-called "secondary" market for resale of tickets to entertainment and sporting events.

The resolution, reportedly brought by eBay, asks legislators to recognize and acknowledge the dynamic market for ticket resale, especially online. It calls for legislation that would lift price caps on the resale of tickets and prohibit operators, promoters, and producers from "imposing unreasonable or discriminatory restrictions on ticket resale."

The decision to pull the resolution came in advance of any discussion, although Steve DelBianco, vice president of public policy for the Association for Competitive Technology, a nonprofit research organization advocating free-market-based technology policy, said eBay had elected to confer with Comcast, a private-sector task force member that owns a number of sports teams and sports and entertainment venues, on language of the resolution.



Internet Safety Considered

The task force meeting opened with presentations from a number of speakers, including Lauren Nelson, the current Miss America, on Internet security and child protections.

Nelson urged legislators to continue to strengthen laws against online predation and called on the industry to continue to develop parental safeguards and fund educational efforts about online safety in the media and the schools.

Dr. Helen Soulé, executive director of Cable in the Classroom, the cable industry's education foundation, said the task at hand is not just software safeguards but to educate children to understand and navigate the increasingly pervasive media world itself--a world in which they can easily but sometimes naively participate.

"It's not just about safety, it's about media literacy," Soulé said. "We must make sure they understand what they are seeing. And when creating media, [to deal with] a key difference with what you can do with media today, make sure that they know what they are telling people about themselves online."


Steven Titch (titch@heartland.org) is senior fellow for IT and telecom policy at The Heartland Institute and managing editor of IT&T News.


For more information ...

ALEC members who register and obtain a password can view model legislation at http://www.alec.org.

Steven Titch

Steven Titch is a policy analyst focusing on telecommunications, Internet and information... (read full bio)