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Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission


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Are Internet Phone Calls A New Frontier Or Just A Technological Tweak For An Old service?

September 21, 2004

By Staff

GATINEAU, Que. (CP) - Are Internet phone calls a new frontier or just a technological tweak for an old service?

That was the question before the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission on Tuesday as it opened three days of hearings into the possibility of regulating such calls. The hearings have drawn 31 groups, ranging from communications giants such as Bell and Rogers, to high-tech upstarts such as Telus and Vonage, who are already pushing ahead into Internet voice services. There are consumer groups, too, urging a cautious, rule-driven approaches to the new technology.

Charles Dalfen, the commission chairman, told the opening session of the hearings that the agency is inclined to look at these services, known as Voice over Internet Protocol or VoIP, as just a kind of updated phone service which should be subject to the existing regulatory framework.

"A principal issue in this proceeding will be whether this preliminary view should be adopted or whether a different approach is warranted," he said.

Brooke Schulz of Vonage Holdings Corp., one of the pioneers in the field, urged the commission to leave the companies and the marketplace alone.

"Let the customer choose," she said.

Primus Telecommunications Canada Inc., however, said it sides with the commission's preliminary view of applying the existing rule framework.

The commission is concerned about security measures - protection against hackers and the like - as well as 911 emergency services and access for the handicapped.

The companies mostly said they are working on these problems. The 911 angle is tricky, for instance, because a subscriber may tap into the Internet from anywhere. If they call for help, how do you locate them?
Bell asked the commission to stay out of price-setting for Internet calls.

"Our fundamental belief is that the economic regulatory framework for Voip must be built on principles that allow open, dynamic competition to continue to flourish," said Lawson Hunter, executive vice-president of BCE, the parent company of Bell.

That approach will encourage experimentation and innovation that will produce the best and cheapest services, he said.
Bell also argued that previous CRTC decisions to steer clear of setting rules for the Internet have helped consumers and the agency should follow that precedent.

"You demonstrated great insight when wireless and new media on the Internet emerged," he said. "We urge you to be neither complacent nor risk-averse in this case."

Regulate only to protect customers, Bell said.

The Public Interest Advocacy Centre, speaking on behalf of a number of consumer groups, argued for tight control.
Internet voice is "simply an incremental technological change," the centre said.

"The commission does not normally abandon regulatory requirements due to simple, technological improvements in the name of fostering innovation."

After the hearings, participants will have until Oct. 13 to file comments with the commission. A decision isn't expected before early next year.



 
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†AK and HI residents pay $29.95 shipping. ††Limited time offer. Valid for residents of the United States (&DC), 18 years or older, who open new accounts. Offer good while supplies last and only on new account activations. One kit per account/household. Offer cannot be combined with any other discounts, promotions or plans and is not applicable to past purchases. Good while supplies last. Allow up to 2 weeks for shipping. Other restrictions may apply.

1Unlimited calling and other services for all residential plans are based on normal residential, personal, non-commercial use. A combination of factors is used to determine abnormal use, including but not limited to: the number of unique numbers called, calls forwarded, minutes used and other factors. Subject to our Reasonable Use Policy and Terms of Service.

2Shipping and activation fees waived with 1-year agreement. An Early Termination Fee (with periodic pro-rated reductions) applies if service is terminated before the end of the first 12 months. Additional restrictions may apply. See Terms of Service for details.

HIGH SPEED INTERNET REQUIRED. †VALID FOR NEW LINES ONLY. RATES EXCLUDE INTERNET SERVICE, SURCHARGES, FEES AND TAXES. DEVICE MAY BE REFURBISHED. If you subscribe to plans with monthly minutes allotments, all call minutes placed from both from your home and registered ExtensionsTM phones will count toward your monthly minutes allotment. ExtensionsTM calls made from mobiles use airtime and may incur surcharges, depending on your mobile plan. Alarms, TTY and other systems may not be compatible. Vonage 911 service operates differently than traditional 911. See www.vonage.com/911 for details.

** Certain call types excluded.

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