Vonage’s track record with issues involving courts and lawsuits hasn’t been the greatest. They’ve lost or settled a number of patent disputes in the past 18 months. Now they can put one in the win column. A U.S. District Court for Nebraska ruled in Vonage’s favor against the Nebraska Public Service Commission in the matter of Nebraska’s state universal service fund (USF). The court ruled that Vonage qualifies as a “nomadic” VoIP provider and therefore is not required to make payments into Nebraska’s state USF. The court based its arguments, in part, on precedents of so called nomadic VoIP. Nomadic VoIP service allows customers to take their VoIP wherever they go, provided there is a broadband connection. For example, a nomadic VoIP user can take their VoIP broadband adapter on a business trip, connect it to a hotel’s broadband Internet connection, and presumably make and receive phone calls over their VoIP service. Their phone number remains the same, and it doesn’t matter where that hotel is geographically.
The ruling may add an important precedent for USF and VoIP. Other states are also pursuing similar state USF lawsuits with Vonage. This ruling makes those other efforts much more difficult to win. I’m not a lawyer (and I didn’t stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night), but I would guess this ruling could impact federal USF efforts as well, especially since it was passed out from a federal court. Maybe I’m off base there, but I would assume Vonage probably is pumping its chest today and exploring all its options relative to USF obligations. This ruling may provide Vonage with some much needed competitive advantage, however slight it may be.