On January 31, 2014, the FCC released a Report summarizing the results from a six-month technical trial in Docket 13-97, “In the Matter of Numbering Policies for Modern Communications.” The trial revealed that it is technically feasible for Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) providers to reserve telephone numbers for their end users directly from the numbering administrators rather than indirectly through a separate telecommunications carrier. This finding was expected and has little regulatory significance. More importantly from a regulatory perspective, the technical trial revealed that when it comes to IP interconnection, CLECs continue to face a multitude of issues.
Vonage, Level 3, SmartEdgeNet, and Millicorp were unable to reach agreement with CenturyLink for traffic exchange during the trial because CenturyLink required VoIP trial participants to interconnect via newly purchased provider specific dedicated Time Division Multiplexed (TDM) trunks in an IP trial.
CLECs protested, arguing that this requirement added unnecessary costs to the exchange of traffic and was a disincentive for interconnecting in an IP format. As SmartEdgeNet noted, the requirement for separate dedicated trunks “ignores the fact that the cost multiplies ten-fold (around $1000/month) if traffic volumes require a DS3 entrance facility…and also does not address the other charges associated with a separate trunk requirement, such as the monthly fixed and per mile charges for direct trunked transport.”
In addition to requiring new dedicated trunks, Vonage noted that CenturyLink would only exchange traffic with it in Phoenix by reaching an agreement through commercial negotiations. This would ensure that such an agreement would be outside the scope of the section 251 interconnection requirements of the 1996 Telecommunications Act and would provide a huge negotiating advantage to CenturyLink. Under the ILEC’s proposed arrangement, CenturyLink would send traffic to Vonage for free, but Vonage would have to pay inter-carrier compensation for traffic it sent to CenturyLink, giving CenturyLink incentives to perpetuate TDM technology. As a result of this dispute, Vonage did not interconnect or deploy numbers in Phoenix during the technical trial.
Making the actions of CenturyLink more problematic, Level 3 stated that in other circumstances, CenturyLink is willing to exchange all types of traffic over common trunks without the purchase of carrier specific dedicated ones, and therefore, requested the Commission to investigate whether CenturyLink’s conduct is justified and to what extent CenturyLink is enforcing its policies uniformly.
For its part, CenturyLink claimed that that it is an industry standard approach to track and measure traffic by using separate trunks by provider. Moreover, it was particularly important to be able to track traffic during this trial because it had seen instances of robo-calling and the telecom equivalent of denial of service attacks associated with traffic from VoIP end points. According to CenturyLink, when traffic is from multiple providers is commingled on the same trunk, it is hard or even impossible to pinpoint any problem. Establishing direct relationships, including separate trunks, would improve the VoIP numbering trial and remove the need to establish different arrangements following the trial.
As per usual, the FCC decided to punt on this issue. Despite the fact IP interconnection disputes are escalating and clearly affected the ability of CLECs to interconnect during this technical trial, the Commission believes that these issues can be handled later in other rulemaking proceedings such as in the just initiated Docket 13-5, the Technology Transition proceeding. Thus, we are looking at months, if not years, before the Commission provides some guidance on this issue to the industry.
By Andrew Regitsky, President, Regitsky & Associates