FCC Adopts Rules Requiring Certain VoIP Providers to Contribute to TRS Fund

On October 7, 2011, the FCC released new rules requiring interconnected and non-interconnected voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) service providers to participate in and contribute to the Telecommunications Relay Services Fund (TRS Fund).

The NAD commends the FCC for these new rules, which are a step in the right direction. The NAD encourages the FCC to monitor the solvency of the TRS Fund as telephone services via Internet connections evolve. The NAD led the way in drafting and submitting comments on behalf of several consumer groups (Press Release; Consumer Groups’ Comments).

Traditional telephone services are already required by law to pay into the TRS Fund which supports relay services for deaf and hard of hearing people across the country. However, in the last few years we have seen the telephone system evolve to include more and more phone calls made over the Internet via VoIP. In 2007, the FCC issued rules that required interconnected VoIP providers to contribute to the TRS Fund. This rule became law with the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 (CVAA), which also expanded the requirement to certain non-interconnected VoIP providers.

Interconnected VoIP service allows people to make and receive calls to and from traditional phone numbers using an Internet connection, possibly a high-speed Internet connection (for example, Vonage). Non-interconnected VoIP service generally allows people to only make or receive calls from or to the public switched telephone network (such as making a call to somebody’s cell phone through Skype).

Interconnected VoIP service providers must contribute to the TRS Fund. Non-interconnected VoIP service providers must also contribute to the TRS Fund if they earn interstate revenues from people who have purchased and use their services.

In our comments, we explained that one day people may be able to make telephone calls for free, such as in exchange for viewing advertisements on their phones or computers (similar to basic television or online news websites), and we need to make sure that such free non-interconnected VoIP services contribute to the TRS Fund. The FCC did not go as far as we wanted with this order and require contributions from all non-interconnected VoIP service providers; however, the FCC has reserved the right to re-visit this issue such as if the revenue model for telecommunications evolves.

We appreciate the hard work of the FCC in implementing this requirement under the CVAA and we urge the FCC to continue monitoring the evolution of telecommunications and safeguard the solvency of the TRS Fund.

Click here to read the October 7, 2011 Report and Order.