CRTC: VoIP is just phone service

A preliminary report from the CRTC suggests voice over IP will be regulated no differently than other types of phone service currently available in Canada.

As far as both the incumbent and the competitive local exchange carriers

are concerned, VoIP will be no different than TDM from a regulatory point of view. This adheres to the CRTC’s track record of regulating a service rather than the technology that makes it possible.

For Rogers Communications, no news is good news. “”(The CRTC view) doesn’t actually give us anything we didn’t have yesterday, but it’s not a bad thing,”” said Rogers’ vice-president regulatory, Ken Engelhart. The company plans to offer its own VoIP service to almost two million households in the Greater Toronto Area by mid-2005.

Anticipating Wednesday’s CRTC report — which is not a final ruling but an indication of the direction the commission is headed — Rogers applied for CLEC status last October. Engelhart expects that process will be completed by the end of this summer.

Group Telecom, a CLEC that largely addresses the enterprise market, has no plans to enter the VoIP market beyond deployments of the technology for its clients. Wednesday’s report won’t change that view, according to Michael Stephens, the firm’s vice-president of marketing. Unlike the U.S. — where the Federal Communications Commission has indicated that Internet-based calls are immune from certain taxes and regulations — Canada will have to judge VoIP largely on its technical merits.

“”VoIP as a tool will be strictly driven by engineering costs and technical costs as opposed to any regulatory consideration,”” he said.

As far as Rogers is concerned, the preliminary decision will spur competition in the VoIP market. “”I think a lot of competitors were very worried that the phone companies would be deregulated for their voice over IP offerings and they would use that service offering as a type of fighting brand to squash that competition before it ever got started,”” said Engelhart.

A spokesperson from Bell Canada said that the incumbent’s only response was that it will “”review the (CRTC) notice and comment in good course.”” Bell is planning to offer its own VoIP service in the future and is currently in trials.

Primus Canada currently offers a VoIP service called TalkBroadband over both cable and DSL modems. The company isn’t a CLEC, and can’t achieve CLEC status since it is owned by an American parent, but is still guided by similar regulations since it resells service from local incumbents.

“”Most of the requirements that (the CRTC) will be putting on VoIP providers like ourselves are things we’ve been working on. . . . People want to have 911 service,”” said Primus Canada president Ted Chislett.

“”I think this just makes sense. It’s the most reasonable (decision). . . . It’s consistent with what they’ve said and I look forward to it.””

Iain Grant, principle with consulting firm The Seaboard Group, agrees that the CRTC notice is congruous with previous decisions, but “”I think we’ve got a bit of a problem in that I think IP is really quite different,”” he said. “”This is not your father’s telephone. The commission is looking at IP service with yesterday’s gimlet eyes and is trying to apply 19th century thinking to a 21st century problem.””

He said the CRTC may have shoehorned VoIP into existing legislation because it doesn’t have any alternative.

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