FCC Subjects IP–Based Conferencing Services to USF; Uncertainty Remains for SIP–Based Services


In a Bureau level decision released on November 4, 2011, the FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau denied MeetingOne.com’s request for review of a USAC decision that MeetingOne.com’s IP conferencing service is telecommunications.  MeetingOne.com describes its IP audio conferencing technology as distinct from that employed by traditional conferencing providers because its service does not use or depend on, and does not directly connect with the PSTN.  Instead, MeetingOne.com accepts inbound legs of a conference as IP packets at the inbound provider’s IP gateway, routes the packets over its network utilizing SIP and RTP, combines the packets with other packets from the conference, and hands the IP packets off to the outbound provider’s IP Gateway.  MeetingOne.com also noted that its service has the capability of supporting direct SIP-based computer-to-computer connections, but does not yet offer that service.

The WCB concluded that MeetingOne.com’s services are functionally equivalent to the audio-bridging services at issue in the InterCall Order and that MeetingOne.com’s use of IP technology is essentially IP-in-the-middle and does not alter the nature of the service.  What is potentially troubling about the decision is that the WCB declines to apply prospective-only application to its decision, noting that prospective-only application of the findings in the order are not warranted because “industry has been on notice since the IP-In-The-Middle Orderthat the use of IP technology to transport a call does not transform the call into an information service.  Similarly, the industry has been on notice since the InterCall Order that audio bridging service providers have a direct USF obligation.”

Because MeetingOne.com stated that it does not yet offer SIP-based conferencing services, the WCB explicitly declined to address whether that service offering is subject to USF.

Companies that offer or are considering offering similar services should contact the attorney assigned to their account to discuss the implications of this decision.

A copy of the order is available here.

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