Video Franchise Fee Reform Bill Passes - Good news, Bad News

Tom Keating : VoIP & Gadgets Blog
Randy Savicky
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Video Franchise Fee Reform Bill Passes - Good news, Bad News

The U.S. House of Representative yesterday approved the Communications Opportunity, Promotion, and Enhancement Act of 2006 (H.R. 5252).  H.R. 5252 reforms the current video franchising regulations that have stifled competition in the video services market and have enabled cable companies to become monopolies. Essentially, this bill would make it much easier and cheaper for the phone companies to offer video services across the country by superceding local municipal franchise regulations. Currently, telephone companies have had to fight an expensive town-by-town war with their cable rivals in order to offer video services.

H.R. 5252 replaces thousands of local franchicing authorities with a national system supervised by the Federal Communications Commission - essentially one-stop shopping for the telecom companies to get into the video business. The bill passed by a lopsided vote of 321 to 101. This bill will make it much easier for the telephone companies to offer "triple play" bundled packages of voice, video,  and broadband data.

That's the good news.

The bad news is that several Representatives attempted to amend the legislation to prohibit "premium charges" on various Internet data services, i.e. tiered Internet access. This is the so called "Net neutrality" which is supported by major Internet companies such as Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft. However, the net neutrality amendment failed by a vote of 269 to 152.

According to the NY Times, the White House issued a statement on Thursday supporting the House legislation, saying it would "promote competition in both video and voice markets." However, House Democrats raised some objections to the legislation, including stating that the new national franchise rules would reduce the amount of money that cable companies give towns for public, educational and government programs.

Also, the legislation threatens to delay any effort by the Federal Communications Commission to require Internet telephone providers to make the investments needed to connect customers to 911 services. Essentially, Section 301 would clarify FCC regulations relating to VOIP access to 911 and E911 infrastructure. The language in section 301 would impose a new mandate on all private entities that own 911 components necessary to transmit VOIP emergency 911 services over their networks. Section 301 would require such entities to allow VOIP providers to have full access to the necessary 911 components. Owners of 911 components would be able to charge VOIP providers a fee for using their network components, but would be mandated to enter into such agreements with those providers. Large private entities that own 911 components have most of the infrastructure in place to comply with the mandate. Some smaller owners of 911 components may not have such capacity and would incur costs to comply with the mandate.

The HR 5252 section pertinent to e911 reads as follows - I bolded or made RED important text. I will post a follow-up blog post analyzing what this means. Essentially, it looks as though this legislation TRUMPS the existing FCC e911 requirements and it gives VoIP providers up to 180 days after first acquiring a VoIP customer in a specific geographic region.

HR 5252: Section 301
(1) IN GENERAL- Each VOIP service provider has a duty to ensure that 911 and E-911 services are provided to subscribers of VOIP services.

(2) USE OF EXISTING REGULATIONS- A VOIP service provider that complies with the Commission's regulations requiring providers of VOIP service to supply 911 and E911 capabilities to their customers (Report and Order in WC Docket Nos. 04-36 and 05-196) and that are in effect on the date of enactment of this section shall be considered to be in compliance with the requirements of this section, other than subsection (c), until such regulations are modified or superseded by subsequent regulations.

(b) Non-Discriminatory Access to Capabilities-

(1) ACCESS- Each incumbent local exchange carrier (as such term is defined in section 251(h)) or government entity with ownership or control of the necessary E-911 infrastructure shall provide any requesting VOIP service provider with nondiscriminatory access to such infrastructure. Such carrier or entity shall provide access to the infrastructure at just and reasonable, nondiscriminatory rates, terms, and conditions. Such access shall be consistent with industry standards established by the National Emergency Number Association or other applicable industry standards organizations.

(2) ENFORCEMENT- The Commission or a State commission may enforce the requirements of this subsection and the Commission's regulations thereunder. A VOIP service provider may obtain access to such infrastructure pursuant to section 717 by asserting the rights described in such section.

(c) New Customers- A VOIP service provider shall make 911 service available to new customers within a reasonable time in accordance with the following requirements:

(1) CONNECTION TO SELECTIVE ROUTER- For all new customers not within the geographic areas where a VOIP service provider can immediately provide 911 service to the geographically appropriate PSAP, a VOIP service provider, or its third party vendor, shall have no more than 30 days from the date the VOIP provider has acquired a customer to order service providing connectivity to the selective router so that 911 service, or E911 service where the PSAP is capable of receiving and processing such information, can be provided through the selective router.

(2) INTERIM SERVICE- For all new customers not within the geographic areas where the VOIP service provider can immediately provide 911 service to the geographically appropriate PSAP, a VOIP service provider shall provide 911 service through--
(A) an arrangement mutually agreed to by the VOIP service provider and the PSAP or PSAP governing authority; or
(B) an emergency response center with national call routing capabilities.

Such service shall be provided 24 hours a day from the date a VOIP service provider has acquired a customer until the VOIP service provider can provide 911 service to the geographically appropriate PSAP.

(3) NOTICE- Before providing service to any new customer not within the geographic areas where the VOIP service provider can immediately provide 911 service to the geographically appropriate PSAP, a VOIP service provider shall provide such customer with clear notice that 911 service will be available only as described in paragraph (2).

(4) RESTRICTION ON ACQUISITION OF NEW CUSTOMERS- A VOIP service provider may not acquire new customers within a geographic area served by a selective router if, within 180 days of first acquiring a new customer in the area served by the selective router, the VOIP service provider does not provide 911 service, or E911 service where the PSAP is capable of receiving and processing such information, to the geographically appropriate PSAP for all existing customers served by the selective router.

(5) ENFORCEMENT: NO FIRST WARNINGS- Paragraph (5) of section 503(b) shall not apply to the assessment of forfeiture penalties for violations of this subsection or the regulations thereunder.

(d) State Authority- Nothing in this Act or any Commission regulation or order shall prevent the imposition on or collection from a VOIP service provider, of any fee or charge specifically designated or presented as dedicated by a State, political subdivision thereof, or Indian tribe on an equitable, and non-discriminatory basis for the support of 911 and E-911 services if no portion of the revenue derived from such fee or charge is obligated or expended for any purpose other than support of 911 and E-911 services or enhancements of such services.

(e) Feasibility- In establishing requirements or obligations under subsections (a) and (b), the Commission shall ensure that such standards impose requirements or obligations on VOIP service providers and entities with ownership or control of necessary E-911 infrastructure that the Commission determines are technologically and operationally feasible. In determining the requirements and obligations that are technologically and operationally feasible, the Commission shall take into consideration available industry technological and operational standards.

(f) Progress Reports- To the extent that the Commission concludes that it is not technologically or operationally feasible for VOIP service providers to comply with E-911 requirements or obligations, then the Commission shall submit reports to the Committee on Energy and Commerce of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation of the Senate on the progress in attaining and deploying E-911 service. Such reports shall be submitted semiannually until the Commission concludes that it is technologically and operationally feasible for all VOIP service providers to comply with E-911 requirements and obligations. Such reports may include any recommendations the Commission considers appropriate to encourage the migration of emergency services to TCP/IP protocol or other advanced services.

(g) Access to Information- The Commission shall have the authority to compile a list of PSAP contact information, testing procedures, and classes and types of services supported by PSAPs, or other information concerning the necessary E-911 infrastructure, for the purpose of assisting providers in complying with the requirements of this section.

(h) Emergency Routing Number Administrator- Within 30 days after the date of enactment of this section, the Federal Communications Commission shall establish an emergency routing number administrator to enable VOIP service providers to acquire non-dialable pseudo-automatic number identification numbers for 9-1-1 routing purposes on a national scale. The Commission may adopt such rules and practices as are necessary to guide such administrator in the fair and expeditious assignment of these numbers.

(i) Emergency Response Systems-

(1) NOTICE PRIOR TO INSTALLATION OR NUMBER ACTIVATION OF VOIP SERVICE- Prior to installation or number activation of VOIP service for a customer, a VOIP service provider shall provide clear and conspicuous notice to the customer that--

(A) such customer should arrange with his or her emergency response system provider, if any, to test such system after installation;
(B) such customer should notify his or her emergency response system provider after VOIP service is installed; and
(C) a battery backup is required for customer premises equipment installed in connection with the VOIP service in order for the signaling of such system to function in the event of a power outage.

(2) DEFINITION- In this subsection:

(A) The term emergency response system' means an alarm or security system, or personal security or medical monitoring system, that is connected to an emergency response center by means of a telecommunications carrier or VOIP service provider.
(B) The term emergency response center' means an entity that monitors transmissions from an emergency response system.

(j) Migration to IP-Enabled Emergency Network-
(1) NATIONAL REPORT- No more than 18 months after the date of the enactment of this section, the National 911 Implementation and Coordination Office shall develop a report to Congress on migrating to a national IP-enabled emergency network capable of receiving and responding to all citizen activated emergency communications.


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