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Legal Issues with Voice Over IP (VoIP)

Updated on February 14, 2013
The VoIP Regulatory Environment
The VoIP Regulatory Environment

Exploring VoIP's Legal Environment

If only every new technology could be implemented solely on the basis of its capabilities and features. Alas, such is not the case and when it comes to the replacement of the system that has worked pretty much intact for decades, the legal implications can be multifaceted and significant. Even within the United States where regulatory environments are typically more relaxed than those found in other parts of the world such as the European Union, VoIP adoption can be significantly impacted by government bodies who're charged with the oversight of communication networks.

The Federal Communications Commission or the FCC has long debated whether or not it should step in to create some basic rules for VoIP services. Such as mandatory 911 registration. However, traditional telecom companies are also keen on forcing VoIP providers to pay interconnection charges by classifying it as a communications service rather than an information one.

Then of course is the manner in which VoIP is impacted by legislations regarding net neutrality which covers all Internet traffic and not just VoIP. But given the fact that VoIP can be a sore point with operators of the regular PSTN phone system, it is in greater danger than other types of Internet traffic.

VoIP Interception and Eavesdropping

There is yet another field involving the legal implications of VoIP that is completely different from the ones that we discussed so far. And that is the authority and capabilities of the government to intercept VoIP calls. Due to the flexibility of the Internet, not all Internet calls are delivered equally. Some for example utilize high-end encryption in order to completely secure line between two people. This makes it impossible for any entity – even the government – to "tap" the line even when empowered to do so by a court order. This is one reason why many governments insist on technology providers implementing "back doors" into their VoIP services for interception.

Regulations in this regard vary from country to country and what is acceptable in one may be completely unacceptable in another. What is for sure is that the whole debate on VoIP is still in its nascent stage and the field is likely to change tremendously in just the next few years. But it cannot be avoided because the Internet is moving quickly and embracing more and more people into its fold.

VoIP providers need to keep a particular watch on the regulatory environment and adjust their business models accordingly. New York business phone providers will need to ensure that they retain full compliance of local laws and regulations.

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