According to several sources, SBC plans to file a new tariff with the Federal Communications Commission that aims to increase the fees paid by Internet service providers for calls completed on the company's local-phone network. In other words, if you use VoIP and terminate on SBC's PSTN network you're going to pay up. If the interpretation of this tariff filing is correct, this would mark the first time that a RBOC or phone company has tried to levy a fee on VoIP providers. It's not "exactly" a correct interpretation, but I'll get into that in a minute.
As most people using VoIP know, VoIP calls avoid the traditional public-telephone network usually until the "last mile" when the call is then completed to the PSTN number dialed. News of the filing came as SBC recently announced it would make Internet phone service available by early next year to around five million residential subscribers of its high-speed Internet.
This move has resulted in cries of "foul play" by VoIP advocates, including FCC Chairman Michael Powell, which just a couple of weeks ago deemed Internet-based phone companies exempt from state regulation, making Voice over Internet to fall under federal jurisdiction. According to FCC officials, they said said Mr. Powell is concerned about SBC's plans.
SBC officials defended the new tariff, saying that FCC and industry officials are misinterpreting it. In fact, upon further investigation I learned that SBC is planning to introduce something called True IP to PSTN (TIPToP) service by filing a tariff with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
According to SBC, TIPToP service is simply a traditional TDM telecommunications service featuring the same old switched circuit interfaces but specifically designed for use by a VoIP provider to connect traffic from its IP end users to end users of the circuit-switched network. They also stated that TIPToP service is not a mandatory offering but voluntary. Internet phone providers who choose not to purchase the TIPToP service can simply use their existing PSTN call termination setup, which already is under current FCC guideliness, regulations, and tariffs.
Ok, so if I interpret this correctly, SBC is offering this TIPToP service to Internet phone providers such as Vonage, Packet8, AT&T CallVantage, etc. and they are going to charge them money for it? Well, there must be some sort of value add in order for SBC to believe the Internet phone providers are going to pay them this money. Time to dig a little deeper.
According to SBC, they were quoted as saying it is "confident that VoIP providers that are interested in offering a compelling VoIP service to their customers will recognize TIPToP's benefits."
According to Advanced IP Pipeline, TIPToP Service provides two types of switched circuit port interfaces (one-way and two-way) designed to provide seamless functionality between the Time Division Multiplexing (TDM) based voice network and VoIP-based network. The interfaces incorporate choke trunks, Transport, SS7 connectivity, and call related database query capabilities to the tandem or end office switch in which these interfaces are installed.
SBC claims that TIPToP service provides more efficient connectivity for VoIP providers and their customers who want to send calls to, and receive calls from, the circuit-switched network. FCC officials has asked SBC to put the "voluntary" promise into writing to ensure the company wouldn't in the future cut off alternative ways to connect.
Phew! I think the VoIP industry can breathe a sigh of relief. No mandatory access charges for VoIP service providers -- let's hope it stays that way.