What's a phone number worth?

by Bruce Stewart

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin recently commented that he'll be looking seriously at taxing VoIP providers by forcing them to contribute to the Universal Service Fund (USF), and that he favored a "numbers-based approach," which ties taxes to telephone numbers with no regard for the underlying technology. "I think telephone numbers are a good, easy mechanism to begin to address those issues," Martin said.

Rich Tehrani nails some of the problems with this approach:

Mr. Martin is reported as saying all phone numbers should be paying into the fund regardless of underlying technology. As soon as this happens there will be a massive push to ENUM and people will bypass phone numbers altogether. We really don't need phone numbers and taxing them is illogical.

Worse, are we going to tax US based numbers? All phone numbers? If we tax US based numbers then how many people will switch their phone numbers to international numbers? How will we police this?

The world is changing. VoIP is changing it and the old rules don't apply. Making blanket statements about phone numbers in a world where phone numbers have less and less meaning will just push the market further and faster away from phone numbers. Then what do we do?


2005-12-16 15:24:53
The FCC has a problem. Congress has told them that they MUST provide for "universal service", which to say that people in the Ozarks and back-country Montana get a phone and everyone else pays for it. For this cross-subsidization scheme to work there have to be a way to tax phone users.

Since the FCC knows that landlines are on the way out they have to leach onto another source of revenue to pay for people who aren't willing to pay for themselves (or accept the fact that living in "deep country" comes with costs). Taxing phone numbers probably is the best bet.

Now, of course the good readers of this blog know that phone numbers are replaceable; BUT Congress hasn't released the FCC from its duty of providing Universal Service, so like the Mickey's animated broomstick they're gonna keep trying to provide whether it's a feasibly idea or not.