FCC Allows Interconnected VOIP Providers Direct Access to Telephone Numbers

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By Sue Bladek

Acknowledging that Americans are increasingly dropping traditional wired telephone service in favor of newer technologies, the FCC has modified its rules to make it easier for providers of interconnected Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone service to meet consumer demand by allowing VoIP providers direct access to telephone numbers.

The new rules allow interconnected VoIP providers such as Vonage to obtain telephone numbers for their customers directly from federally designated Numbering Administrators. They previously had to request numbers through third-party carriers, which resulted in both increased costs and delay.

The FCC explained that by “leveling the playing field,” the new rules would promote competition by reducing costs and allowing the telephone number porting process (which allows consumers to keep their number when they switch carriers) to move more quickly.

VoIP Providers Must Comply with Numbering Rules 

The new rules come with a price, however. In return for having direct access to phone numbers, the VoIP providers will be subject to the FCC's “numbering rules” that apply to traditional carriers, including the filing of Numbering Resource Utilization and Forecast (NRUF) reports. These requirements, the commission explained, would help protect the security and integrity of the numbering system, and slow the exhaustion of available telephone numbers.

FCC's Actions Authorized by Communications Act 

The agency concluded that it had the authority under Section 251(e)(1) of the Communications Act both to extend the right of direct access to, and apply the numbering rules to, interconnected VoIP providers. It observed that the statutory language does not limit number access to “telecommunications carriers” or “telecommunications services.” In addition, the requirement in Section 251 that the FCC ensure numbers are made “available on an equitable basis” was interpreted by the agency as including the discretion to decide both to whom numbers would be available, and the terms and conditions under which they would be available.

Emergency Capabilities Also Enhanced 

The revised rules also sought to improve the 911 capabilities of VoIP providers by permitting VoIP Positioning Center (VPC) providers to obtain pseudo-Automatic Number Identification (p-ANI) codes directly from the Numbering Administrators to provide 911 service in states that do not certify VPC providers. The commission said the rule revision was necessary because there was evidence showing that the inability to obtain p-ANI codes had the potential to disrupt E911 service.

The actions taken in this order followed a six-month technical trial conducted in 2013 that allowed interconnected VoIP providers to obtain direct access to numbers. An FCC report found that as of the end of that year, more than one-third of all wireline retail local telephone service connections—roughly 48 million—were VoIP connections.

To contact the reporter on this story: Sue Bladek in Washington at sbladek@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Bob Emeritz at bemeritz@bna.com