As I participated in our product demonstration last week on the VoIP Requirements publication, I was reminded how diverse VoIP regulation is across the nation. The FCC and state regulatory agencies impose certain operational requirements, financial obligations, and reporting requirements on VoIP providers that can be challenging to track by jurisdiction.
While we are turning gray waiting for the FCC to decide if VoIP is a telecommunications or information service, we’ve seen a few state commissions try to regulate fixed interconnected VoIP. The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission recently ruled that Charter’s fixed interconnected VoIP service constitutes local telephone service, and therefore, subject to its authority under Minnesota Statutes Chapter 237 and related rules.
Also, state legislatures have been more aggressive in addressing VoIP by limiting state PUC jurisdiction and imposing state fees/surcharges. In Wyoming, legislation from 2013 prohibited the Public Service Commission (PSC) from regulating VoIP service but said that VoIP services would be subject to any required assessment such as the Wyoming Universal Service Fund (WUSF). The PSC recently adopted rule revisions reflecting this requirement.
It is important to note that even though some PSCs have been prohibited from regulating VoIP, there may be registration or certification requirements. This is sometimes done to facilitate statutory requirements pertaining to the collection and remittance of surcharges in support of social engineering funds. Having provider information on file assists the PSC with administrative tracking and customer service issues that may arise. Currently, the FCC, 9 states, and Puerto Rico have some sort of registration requirement for VoIP providers.
In contrast, you may wonder why some states that require VoIP providers to collect and remit to social engineering funds do not have a registration requirement. How can states enforce the remittance of fees without provider information on file? Be advised that states can access publicly available information from FCC 477 and 499 reports filed that identify if carriers are providing VoIP service and in what states. Don’t assume that because a state does not have a certification or registration requirement that VoIP providers are exempt from any obligations. Failure to remit can result in fines or worse.
An interesting question asked during our webinar was “How many states require VoIP providers to remit 911 fees?” You can see from the map below that almost all states do. To add another layer of complexity, 911 fee structures vary by jurisdiction. Some 911 fees are assessed at the state level, while others are assessed at the county or municipality level. It can be a daunting task to calculate and remit properly.
Besides the big three social engineering funds (911, USF, and TRS), sometimes there are “Other Fees” imposed on VoIP providers. In Maine, for example, there is the “ConnectME Fund”, established to increase broadband and wireless services in Maine communities, especially rural communities. And Wisconsin imposes a “Police and Fire Protection Fee” (not a 911 fee) of $0.75 per service connection per assigned telephone number.
Many of our clients utilize our at-a-glance matrix with state details and supporting regulatory documentation maintained in our VoIP (Digital Phone) Requirements publication to stay informed of the ever changing regulatory obligations imposed on VoIP providers.