By STEPHEN LABATON
WASHINGTON, Nov. 9 - The Federal Communications Commission seized
regulatory control over Internet-based telephone services on Tuesday
by issuing an order that sharply limited the role of state regulators.
In a unanimous ruling, the commission said that Minnesota could not
impose regulations on these services. That included a requirement that
one of the leading companies in the field, Vonage, must offer to all
Internet phone customers emergency 911 service similar to that offered
by the traditional phone companies.
The decision, if upheld by a federal appeals court considering the
matter, would set the precedent of limiting state regulators to issues
of consumer fraud, general commercial law and state taxes. Regulators
in Minnesota and New York were blocked by federal courts when they
tried to require Vonage to be certified by the states and subject to
the rules that govern traditional phone services.
But federal officials said that they hoped the commission's order,
which was announced just a few days before a federal appeals court is
scheduled to hear oral arguments in the Minnesota case, would cut
short the legal skirmishing and leave the field largely in the hands
of the F.C.C. and Congress, should it decide to rewrite the
telecommunications laws next year. Some senior lawmakers, like
Representative Joe Barton, the Texas Republican who is chairman of the
House Energy and Commerce Committee, praised the decision.
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