The FCC today gave the go-ahead for Vonage to conduct a trial that will enable the VOIP provider to have direct access to nearly 150,000 phone numbers for assignment to its customers. The commission also is considering making phone numbers available more broadly to VOIP providers and other non-traditional telecom service providers.

Currently phone numbers are made available only to companies that have been certified as telecommunications carriers on a state-by-state basis, requiring companies like Vonage to obtain the numbers through another company that has the appropriate certification.

As a requirement of the limited trial of direct phone number access, Vonage will provide a monthly report to the FCC about the impact of the trial and that information will be made public. Vonage currently has 2.4 million customers, according to FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn.

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FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai noted that today’s numbering system is increasingly becoming an anachronism and that it was important to begin the process of modernizing it now.

The trial will be undertaken in the hope that it would help pave the way for innovative VOIP-based services, said FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski.

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel argued that if VOIP providers were to obtain direct access to phone numbers, it would be critical that the change should not adversely impact public safety, universal service, consumer quality of service or the competitive landscape.

Opponents of the Vonage trial, including an association representing state regulators, have  argued that giving the company direct access to phone numbers could lead to premature number exhaust, potentially requiring the creation of new area codes.  But Clyburn said she trusted that the trial “will not result in [any] community having to split into two area codes.”

In a notice of inquiry and notice of proposed rulemaking about VOIP provider direct access to phone numbers adopted today, the FCC is seeking input on issues such as:

  • Whether VOIP providers should demonstrate facilities-readiness before being able to obtain numbers
  • Whether VOIP providers should be subject to the same or more stringent utilization and optimization requirements than what traditional telecom carriers are required to meet
  • Whether VOIP providers should get direct access to pseudo automatic number identification (P-ANI) numbers for use in support of 9-1-1 and E911 emergency services.
  • How VOIP provider direct access to phone numbers will impact numbering databases, call routing, call termination, and interconnection
  • Whether any other types of companies that currently do not have access to phone numbers should be allowed to have that access

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