Until today, we couldn’t have told you this: out of 97 million residential phone lines in the U.S., nearly 20% were VoIP subscribers. (Annoying technical footnote alert: this actually refers to “interconnected” VoIP, the most common form of VoIP service, which is voice service over a broadband connection that also allows users to both receive calls from and place calls to the public switched telephone network, like traditional phone service. We don’t track non-interconnected VoIP, which generally speaking, enables voice service between two computers on broadband only.)
Anyway, that VoIP fact comes from our latest Local Telephone Competition Report, which, for the first time, includes information about voice services delivered over broadband connections. Why, you may ask, has it taken so long for the Commission to get these numbers? Well, interconnected VoIP is a relatively new product, and the Commission is careful about imposing potential burdens, like data reporting, on nascent services. The Commission in 2004 began considering the idea of collecting VoIP data, and finally, in 2008, concluded that the time was right to collect those figures. While private data firms have for some time estimated VoIP penetration, the FCC now has hard data on VoIP subscribers, data that give us a more complete fact base for understanding voice services.
And why, you may ask, are we just now publishing December 2008 data? What took so long? There are a couple of reasons. First, any time we change collections, it takes a fair amount of time to update and cross-check the analysis, and then a bit more time to create the new report. In addition to that, the data in this report come from Form 477, the same form from which we created the High-Speed Services for Internet Access report. We focused first on the high-speed report and the related work in the National Broadband Plan before turning our attention to the Local Telephone Competition report. Now that the National Broadband Plan is done and we have the new report format and collection process down, subsequent Local Competition Reports should be timelier.
Of course we recognize that, even though this is the first report that draws on the new Form 477 data, there may yet be room for improvement. As we undertake an upcoming Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to discuss collection of data for broadband, we may have the opportunity to further improve the data collection for the Local Competition Report.
So take a look at the report. It opens a new window on the competitive landscape that should help the Commission make more informed decisions on behalf of consumers.