FCC Clarifies Access Charges for VoIP Traffic

In a February 11 Declaratory Ruling, the FCC sought to clarify the “VoIP symmetry rule” adopted in its 2011 USF/ICC Transformation Order in order to end disputes between the two largest interexchange carriers (IXCs), AT&T and Verizon, and certain large competitive local exchange carriers (CLECs), such as Level 3 and Bandwidth.com, that operate as numbering partners for VoIP providers. The “VoIP symmetry rule” requires providers benefiting from lower VoIP-PSTN rates when terminating traffic on another provider’s network to charge the same lower rates when terminating traffic comes from other providers’ customers.

According to the Declaratory Ruling, AT&T began disputing charges large CLECs were billing for originating and terminating switched access when the FCC adopted the VoIP symmetry rule in 2011. Verizon later followed AT&T’s lead and began disputing certain CLECs’ switched access charges under the same theory. Both IXCs argued that under prior FCC decisions, VoIP providers’ CLEC numbering partners did not provide “end office switching” since they did not control the last-mile facility over which a VoIP call is transmitted and were therefore not eligible to bill end office switched access rates.

The FCC clarified that the VoIP symmetry rule adopted in 2011:

  • applies in a technology- and facilities-neutral manner;
  • does not require an entity to use a specific technology or its own facilities in order for the service it provides to be considered the functional equivalent of end office switching; and
  • does not require a CLEC 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.

Thus, the CLEC may assess access charges for these services even if provided “over the top” of another provider’s broadband connection, provided that the billing CLEC is identified in the Number Portability Administration Center (NPAC) database as the VoIP end user’s service provider.

The FCC’s declaratory ruling regarding the interpretation of the VoIP symmetry rule applies retroactively. Accordingly, AT&T and Verizon are now obligated to pay any disputed charges associated with VoIP end office switching dating back to 2011.

In light of this ruling, CLECs that operate as numbering partners for VoIP providers, and may have experienced “short payments” from AT&T and Verizon related to end office switching functionality, should evaluate and bill these access charges accordingly. Additionally, such providers should carefully review their filed switched access service tariffs to ensure that they have defined the end office switching rate element in a technology-neutral and functionally-equivalent manner so as to allow them to recover end office switching rates when the service is provided over a last-mile facility that the provider does not actually own or control.

If you have any questions about the FCC’s VoIP symmetry declaratory ruling, please contact John Kuykendall or Valerie Wimer at 301-459-7590.

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