The Wisconsin Public Service Commission has informed VoIP provider 8x8 that its VoIP service is subject to the same rules as traditional telephone companies. Last month Vonage was told a similar story by Michigan. In this story from c|net News, Huw Rees, a spokesman for 8x8 claims that this ruling has ramifications beyond voice:
[The WPSC ruling] could potentially regulate e-mail because they don't distinguish between data communication and telephone communication. It seems to be a lot of confusion to how and whether or not to regulate these types of services.
The problem is that as services converge, its more and more difficult to separate out voice services from data services. Combine a Cisco 7200 with the right cards and software and you've got a voice switch. Buy some PRIs from the phone company and you can start offering phone service to your friends and neighbors. There are companies like PortaOne who will sell you the billing and self-service provisioning system and you're in business. Its cheaper than you think too: a few hundred thousand is all it takes to be your own phone company these days.
I think that PSCs around the country have to start regulating behavior instead of implementation. That is, don't try to figure out what's data and what voice. Don't try to regulate data packets. Just modify the rules so that they're consistent with voice service and forget about how its delivered. If we believe that there is some public interest in regulating voice, and I think there is (eg. 911 service, life line services, etc.) then let's provide for that. But all the rules now about CLECs and so on were made a decade ago when becoming a phone company required the cooperation of the RBOCs. At this point, its hard to imagine how they'd stop you.