Almost twenty years ago, the “Pulver Order,” a landmark decision by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), forever changed the telecommunications landscape. The FCC’s ruling culminated Jeff Pulver’s tireless advocacy for a deregulated internet telephony landscape, profoundly impacting the Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) industry and internet communication. The “Pulver Order” stemmed from a petition filed by Jeff Pulver (pictured) concerning his early venture, Free World Dialup (FWD). This petition sought clarity on whether VoIP applications were subject to traditional telephone regulations. The FCC’s favorable ruling exempted FWD from these regulations. It set a precedent for subsequent VoIP technologies, ensuring that internet-based voice communications would thrive in a regulatory environment tailored for the digital age.
Snom Americas, the creators of the first-ever VoIP phone, will commemorate this seminal ruling’s 20th anniversary on February 12, 2024, at The National Press Club in Washington, D.C., along with telecom industry leaders and regulatory experts.
“The vision of Jeff Pulver and his colleagues is now being seen in the Americas as traditional landlines are declining while VoIP is rising,” said Marc Magliano, Snom’s VP-Channel Business for The Americas. “In essence, The Pulver Order paved the way for the creation of many companies, careers, and opportunities that would otherwise never have existed.”
This decision was more than just a regulatory milestone; it was a triumph for innovation, competition, and consumer choice. By classifying VoIP networks as information services rather than telecommunications services, the FCC effectively insulated internet applications from unnecessary and potentially stifling economic regulation. This fostered an environment ripe for technological advances and new business models, significantly lowering consumer costs while increasing accessibility and functionality.
“Looking back, I didn’t immediately see the significance of the Pulver Order when it was released,” said Glenn Richards, a partner with Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, which represented Pulver before the FCC. “But now, watching the exponential growth of the IP communications industry in the past decade – due in some part to that decision, I am humbled to have played a role in making that happen.”
Over the past two decades, the “Pulver Order” has paved the way for widespread adoption and evolution of VoIP. It has been instrumental in the development of now-ubiquitous services like Skype, Zoom, Vonage, Dialpad, 8×8, FaceTime, Google Voice and Meet, fundamentally altering how we communicate. This was especially true during the recent pandemic, when working from home became the norm, and conferencing services replaced in-person meetings. The order also played a crucial role in shaping the debates surrounding net neutrality and the broader dynamics of Internet governance.
On this 20th anniversary, the telecommunications industry reflects on the “Pulver Order” as a regulatory decision and a visionary step towards a more connected and innovative future. It stands as a testament to the power of advocacy and the importance of adapting regulatory frameworks to the pace of technological change.
“As we look to the future, the ‘Pulver Order’ continues to remind us of the need for policy that embraces technological progress while safeguarding the principles of openness and accessibility that are the hallmarks of the internet age,” said Jeff Pulver.