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FCC keeps deadline for broadband wiretap access

Carriers had asked the agency to reconsider the May 14, 2007, deadline

By Reuters
May 4, 2006 12:00 PM ET

Reuters - The U.S. Federal Communications Commission voted yesterday to preserve its May 14, 2007, deadline for some high-speed Internet broadband services to comply with laws that require access for law enforcement officials to conduct authorized surveillance.

The FCC in August decided to require compliance with U.S. wiretapping laws by facilities-based broadband providers and those that offer Internet telephone service that connects calls to and from the traditional telephone network.

The growth of Internet communications could have permitted criminals to circumvent wiretaps by using e-mail and Internet phone service instead of traditional telephone services.

The agency declined requests by carriers to reconsider the deadline and also turned down a request for companies to be able to recover the costs of complying with the requirements.

"I remain committed to ensuring that these providers take all necessary actions to incorporate surveillance capabilities into their networks in a timely fashion," said FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, a Republican.

The FCC also decided it was too soon to intervene on setting standards governing the specifics of how companies comply with the access requirements.

The decision came two days before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia will hear an appeal by universities and libraries challenging the FCC's authority to impose such requirements on broadband services.

JupiterResearch forecasts there will be 5.3 million Internet telephone subscribers by the end of 2006, and 8.3 million in 2007.

The FCC decision to extend the surveillance law to broadband Internet access raised concerns by educational institutions that said the agency overstepped its bounds.

Private networks would not be subject to the wiretap requirements, but those that are connected with a public network would have to comply with the law.

Staci Pies, head of Voice on the Net, a coalition of broadband service and software providers, said that the group was pleased the agency did not get into the standard-setting process and that while it supports law enforcement, questions remain.

"There are still so many open questions, it's hard to have a real informed judgment on what the impact of this order is," she said. Pies also serves as vice president for government and regulatory affairs at PointOne, an Internet phone provider.

FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, a Democrat, said the agency needed to further clarify its intentions for whether universities, libraries and others must comply.

The government "should work together to provide clarity here and to avoid confusion -- and potentially significant expenses -- for these institutions," he said.

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