• FCC Grants Vonage Conditional Waiver of Numbering Rules; Opens Two Proceedings to Consider Revisions to Traditional Numbering Assignment Rules
  • April 26, 2013 | Authors: Ronald W. Del Sesto; Andrew D. Lipman
  • Law Firm: Bingham McCutchen LLP - Washington Office
  • During its April 2013 open meeting, the FCC adopted an Order, a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”), and a Notice of Inquiry (“NOI”) addressing historic telephone numbering assignment practices. The FCC issued an Order allowing Vonage to obtain a limited amount of numbers directly from numbering administrators for a six-month trial period. The NPRM proposes to allow all providers of interconnected VoIP services, and perhaps other entities, to obtain numbers directly from numbering administrators, while the NOI seeks comment on the broader implications of decoupling numbers from geography.

    We provide a brief summary of the Order, the NPRM and the NOI. The FCC is seeking comment on multiple issues and proposals that have been presented by various parties in a record that has been developed since 2005 when the first waiver of the FCC’s numbering assignment rules was granted to a non-carrier entity. Comments and reply comments are due 30 days and 60 days after publication in the Federal Register, respectively. We will alert you to when the comment dates are established. We would be pleased to provide you with additional information or answer any questions that you may have.

    The Order Grants Vonage a Limited and Conditional Six-Month Trial to Obtain Telephone Numbers Directly from Numbering Administrators

    Current FCC rules require entities seeking direct assignment of numbering resources from the North American Numbering Plan Administrator or the Pooling Administrator to provide evidence that they are authorized to provide service in the area in which they are requesting numbers. Only telecommunications carriers that have facilities-based authority to offer local exchange service or an FCC wireless license are able to obtain direct assignment of telephone numbers.

    Interconnected VoIP providers, which typically do not hold the requisite license, are unable to obtain telephone numbers directly from the numbering administrators and instead purchase wholesale services from competitive local exchange carriers in order to obtain telephone numbers. Vonage and other interconnected VoIP providers have requested waivers of the relevant rules, arguing, for example, that direct access to numbers would improve network reliability, reduce costs by minimizing reliance on wholesale third-party networks, improve states’ ability to monitor and manage number utilization, and enhance the overall quality of customer calls. In the Order, the FCC granted Vonage a limited, conditional waiver to test direct access to numbering resources for up to 5% of the numbers that Vonage currently accesses through intermediaries for a six-month trial period. Other parties that filed waivers can also qualify to participate in the trial but must first make supplemental filings with the FCC.

    The NPRM Seeks Comment on Permanent Rules Allowing Interconnected VoIP Providers and Others to Obtain Direct Access to Numbering Resources

    In the NPRM, the FCC proposed to modify its rules to allow interconnected VoIP providers and other entities to obtain numbers directly from number administrators. The FCC is seeking comment on whether revising the relevant numbering assignment rules would enhance the effectiveness of number conservation efforts at the federal and state levels, reduce costs and inefficiencies resulting from the mandatory use of carrier-partners, encourage the development of innovative new technologies, and assist in transitioning to an all IP network. Additionally, the FCC is seeking comment on numerous topics including, but not limited to, the following:

    • Direct Access to Numbers by Interconnected VoIP Providers. What, if any, documentation should interconnected VoIP providers be required to provide to the number administrator to receive numbers?

    • Intercarrier Compensation. How should the FCC address any new ambiguities in inter-carrier compensation payment obligations?

    • Issues Raised in Pending Waiver Proceedings. Does it make sense to differentiate between traditional carriers and interconnected VoIP providers in terms of the rate centers from which they can request numbers? Is a system in which all calls to VoIP providers are deemed to be local calls for numbering administration purposes feasible from a technological and administrative standpoint? Should the FCC require that providers obtain a certification from the FCC before gaining direct access to numbering resources? Should the FCC require interconnected VoIP providers to maintain carrier partners to ensure that calls are routed properly? What are the restrictions imposed by providers of the various database services on access to the databases? Should the FCC encourage development of a new set of databases, or should existing databases be modified to account for new technological developments? What effect will direct access to numbers have on the industry’s transition to direct interconnection in IP? What steps should the FCC take to ensure that any transition to direct access to numbers by interconnected VoIP providers occurs without unnecessary disruption to consumers or the industry? Should interconnected VoIP providers be treated the same as telecommunications carriers for purposes of numbering cost allocation?

    • Direct Access to Numbers for Other Purposes. Should the FCC expand access to numbers to non-interconnected VoIP providers and/or providers of other innovative services that rely on telephone numbers? Should the FCC allow VoIP Positioning Center providers direct access to p-ANI codes?

    The NOI Seeks Comment on Broader Implications of Disassociating Numbers with Geography

    The NOI seeks comments on a broader range of numbering issues that result from ongoing transitions from fixed telephony to mobile services, from TDM to IP technologies, and from geographically-based number assignment to decoupling numbering assignment from discrete areas. The NOI generally asks whether numbers should remain geographically relevant. Among other things, the NOI requests comments on the following topics:

    • What would be the practical and policy implications if the FCC were to transition telephone numbers to non-geographic distribution?

    • If the FCC were to modify the number assignment rules, how should such a system be administered (i.e., through a unified or national numbering regime)?

    • Would removing geographic boundaries from number administration raise public safety concerns associated with 911 call routing?

    • Would severing the connection between geography and number assignment affect access to communications services by people with disabilities?

    • Would altering geographic numbering limitations affect call routing or tracking, and how could the FCC prevent or minimize complications?

    • Would a move to non-geographic numbers affect the industry’s transition to direct VoIP interconnection?