FCC Issues Ruling on VoIP Symmetry

On February 11, the FCC issued a declaratory ruling meant to clarify some issues in the ongoing debate surrounding intercarrier compensation.

The ruling (WC Docket No. 10-90) terminates a controversy surrounding the assessment of end office switching charges under the VoIP symmetry rule as applied to VoIP-PSTN traffic.

In 2011, the FCC adopted a VoIP symmetry rule as part of its effort to abandon outdated approaches to intercarrier compensation, eliminate competitive distortions, and encourage the transition to IP-based networks and services. This rule stated that a LEC may charge the relevant intercarrier compensation for functions performed by it and/or by its retail VoIP partner, regardless of whether the functions performed or the technology used correspond precisely to those used under a traditional TDM architecture.

A dispute developed when several CLECs began to complain that two IXCs – AT&T and Verizon – were withholding payment for certain access elements when they partner with over-the-top VoIP providers. According to the IXCs, neither the CLECs, nor their VoIP provider partners, provide either end office switching or the “functional equivalent” of end office switching, and thus neither party qualifies for access charges pursuant to the VoIP symmetry rule

The CLECs disagreed, interpreting the symmetry rule to mean that they are entitled to assess end office switching when they partner with over-the-top VoIP provider partners.

The new FCC ruling clarifies that the VoIP symmetry rule applies in a technology- and facilities-neutral manner. It does not require a competitive local exchange carrier or its VoIP provider partner to provide the physical last-mile facility to the VoIP provider’s end user customers in order to provide the functional equivalent of end office switching, and thus for the competitive LEC to be eligible to assess access charges for this service.

In a statement issued with new new ruling, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler wrote,

“I continue to believe that technology transitions will be speeded by technology-neutral rules that promote, preserve, and protect the competitive choices that consumers expect. Today’s decision will help maintain those competitive choices through symmetrical treatment of like services and additional regulatory certainty for all parties."