In the wake of reports that Google Voice is blocking calls to “traffic stimulator” sites (like free conference calling and free porn sites), Speakeasy has now changed its terms of service to explicitly block calls to these sites with its VOIP product. To its credit, Speakeasy directly informed its users (a friend forwarded me the email reproduced below). But this now elevates the question of VOIP providers and calls to a new level.
The FCC has danced around the regulatory status of “interconnected VOIP providers” (meaning VOIP providers that connect to the regular public switched voice network (or PSTN)). It has required regular phone companies to interconnect with VOIP providers in the famous Madison River case, and subjected VOIP providers to Enhanced 911 rules and CALEA, but has shied away from calling them telecommunications services. So the ability of VOIP providers to engage in the kind of “self-help” the FCC said was off-limits when the traditional Title II phone companies tried it. (Actual Order here for us legal buffs).
I’m not making a specific recommendation here because I’m still trying to gather info. As a general rule, I despise regulatory chameleons who shift regulatory treatment based on what their best interest. If you want to be a Title I information service and be able to refuse to connect calls, don’t complain when you get blocked because you are not eligible for mandatory interconnection under Title II. But I’m also well aware that reality matters and its intrinsic messiness means that these inclinations need to be guides rather than hard and fast rules. I am aware of my ignorance of the factual situation enough to know that I’d like to have a lot more information about the nature of the services and the regulatory environment (about which I know only enough to make my usual uninformed guesses).
But the one thing I can say definitively is that the longer this goes on without any FCC response, the more VOIP providers are going to look to save themselves money by blocking these “free conference call” sites.
Stay tuned . . . .