In the past, it was easy to separate telephone services from Internet services. That’s not true anymore–and the FCC is trying to catch up with rapidly evolving technology. The problem is that we have old rules and the FCC is not moving fast enough to update rules on a number of issues. This has impact on deaf and hard of hearing people because VRS and IP-text relay services uses same or similar technology and processes as Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP).
Relay services were designed to provide deaf and hard of hearing people functional equivalent access to the nations’ telephone communication network. Similar to mainstream use of telephone use, deaf and hard of hearing people have moved away from copper lines in houses and offices to Internet based connections and platforms.
The FCC and the industry has struggled to clarify rules that were written in a different era. I often call this the FCC’s Black Hole of rules that once you dive in, you cannot climb out.
A recent article and blog illustrate this very well.
Washington Post Article on AT&T v. Google
The communications landscape has become all the more complex as firms offer overlapping services. Internet companies like Vonage and Skype offer phone service, phone companies like AT&T and Verizon Communications offer Internet access over their equipment. Cable and phone companies offer video services over data networks.
A blogger who is also a non-resident fellow at the Stanford Law School of Internet and Society, Larry Downes, wrote this:
Unfortunately, they really are all hopelessly intertwined. Much as the FCC wishes there was still a clear distinction between ‘the Internet’ and ‘the telephone network,’ technology has obliterated that difference. Internet companies (Vonage, Skype) provide phone service using TCP/IP, ‘phone companies’ offer Internet access over their equipment, while ‘cable companies’ offer the same service over cable-along with phone services and television, which the phone companies also offer.
As Washington Post notes, Downes proposes that the slate be wiped clean and distinctions be thrown out. Downes says:
Hold everyone to the same rules regardless of what information they are transporting-whether voice, video, television, data. Because regardless of who’s doing what, these days it’s all bits.
Have all competitors follow the same rules. What a concept!