Friday, April 19, 2013

High Court Case Highlights FCC's Need to Settle VoIP Status Now

On April 15, the U.S. Supreme Court granted a petition for certiorari in Sprint v. Jacobs. The case is on the docket for the next term the Supreme Court. Under review will be a September 2012 ruling by the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals that applied the Younger abstention doctrine and ordered a stay on Sprint's federal lawsuit pending the outcome of related litigation in Iowa state court.
The underlying issue in dispute is the Iowa Utilities Board's order requiring Sprint to pay intrastate access charges to Windstream for Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) calls. As the 8th Circuit's opinion explained: "[t]he determination of that issue will turn on whether Sprint's VoIP traffic is an intra-state 'telecommunications service' subject to IUB regulation… or whether…the calls at issue are included within the definition of 'information service'which classification remains largely unregulated and exempt from access charges."
Based on the "Questions Presented" for the case a future ruling in Sprint v. Jacobs will focus on the parameters of the Younger doctrine. The FCC's reluctance to make any classification decisions regarding VoIP makes it even less likely that the Supreme Court's ruling will answer whether VoIP is a "telecommunications service" or an "information service."
Prof. Daniel Lyons, a Member of FSF's Board of Academic Advisers, made the case for why the FCC should classify all VoIP traffic as a Title I "information service" in his Perspectives paper, "The Challenge of VoIP to Legacy Federal and State Regulatory Regimes." By settling the status of VoIP, the FCC would thereby keep disputes like Sprint v. Jacobs from arising in the first place.