My wonk-English translation: What the telecommunications reform bill draft really says

I've been carefully reading the just-released Draft of a telecommunications reform bill just issued by the U.S.

I've been carefully reading the just-released Draft of a telecommunications reform bill just issued by the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee.

Interesting reading for policy wonks, but necessary reading for all VoIP providers and users.

I say this because if enacted in anything resembling its current form, this bill will have a lot to say about the future of VoIP services in the U.S.

Let's take a look at some of the key provisions. I will translate them into plain English and then give you my analysis of what this means:

"Each VOIP service provider shall have the right and duty to exchange voice communications traffic with other VOIP service providers and telecommunications carriers." 

Let's play nice. No port-blocking, especially on the "down low" (i.e., on the sly).

"A VOIP service provider shall enter into a reciprocal compensation agreement with a telecommunications carrier with which the VOIP service provider exchanges traffic for compensation for the costs of transport and termination of voice communications traffic."

Those that own the lines- the big legacy phone companies- have a right to charge VoIP companies for carriage rights over their lines. How much? Well,doesn't seem anyone really knows yet. But I guess that's the Federal Communications Commission's job, in re:

"The Commission shall promulgate regulations that determine the reasonable rate for such reciprocal compensation. The Commission shall create a unified compensation regime in which the same methodology and factors for determining such rate shall apply."

When I read language like this I get suspicious that "unified.. methodology" rules may be set by the big phone companies and VoIP provider and avoid the pinched-capital challenges of smaller VoIP startups. They are out there, believe me. Will there be any allowances for them or will they have to pay the same carriage rates as a Vonage?

Here's my bg concern about the language in this section: will this "compensation regime" result in VoIP providers assessing surcharges to subscribers to help offset costs of these payments to the telcos for carriage rights? You bet it will. Too early to say how much, but I'd guess $2 or $3 a month per sub.

"This subsection shall not be construed to preclude arrangements that afford the mutual recovery of costs through the offsetting of reciprocal obligations, including arrangements that waive mutual recovery (such as bill-and-keep arrangements)."

Sounds to me that if a broadband pipe provider and a VoIP service provider want to work out their own arrangement, they won't be outrightly prohibited from doing so.

"A telecommunications carrier and a VOIP service provider shall negotiate in good faith for the purpose of entering into a binding agreement with respect to the exchange of voice communications traffic. If an agreement is reached, the agreement shall be submitted to the Commission and to the State commission of each State within which such exchange of traffic will occur."

Be fair, ye telecoms. Just because you may think you may have those VoIP service providers between a rock and hard place, this is not the time for hardball. 

"Any party negotiating an agreement under this section may, if the parties reach an impasse after negotiating in good faith for not less than 30 days, ask the Commission to mediate any differences arising in the course of the negotiation, except that if the differences relate to the exchange of traffic in a single State, such request may be made to the State commission of that State. Any recommendation by the Commission or a State commission under this paragraph shall not be binding on either party."

Hey, telcos and VoIPs- throw sand at each other, let your lawyers hiss @ each other, and the FCC will call you in to settle things.