"Our (and that of companies like Granite State) sustainability depends on the USF," said Stafford. "It has allowed us to put in a lot of infrastructure and continue to grow."
But, Stafford admits, determining the contribution system in light of new technologies is a challenge for the FCC. Currently, companies pay in based on a percentage of their long-distance revenue, with the current rate about 10.7 percent. But with VoIP, local numbers can be used as exchanges and transportation over the Internet can make calls look like they are local.
Things only get more complicated when one looks at other means of communications, like e-mail and instant messaging.
"We can e-mail and IM each other all day long, but as soon as we speak, we start paying into the USF," said Rich Tehrani, president and editor-in-chief of TMCnet and an outspoken member of the VoIP community since 1998. "The thought is that if the government can do this with voice, why can't it do it with e-mail and other media?"
The hope among industry insiders is that the inclusion of VoIP is a first step in re-evaluations. FCC chairman Kevin Martin has stated publicly that the Telecommunications Act of 1996 needs to include "communications," rather than simply telecommunications, and while the new order may raise the rates of some consumers and businesses using VoIP, optimists hope it will be a first step toward a more cohesive system.
"At least it levels the playing field until they figure out what they are going to do," said Tehrani. "The technology is moving faster than the government, and that's the problem."