The telecommunications industry is a system of switches and lines that interconnect to provide communication between multiple parties. Today, the telecommunications industry includes local telephone service, long distance telephone service, wireless telephone service, paging service, Internet service, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), and a wide array of other competitive products and services. All of these different methods of communication operate through networks forming a global telecommunications industry.
Local Telephone Service
Most telecommunications service begins and ends with a local service provider. The local service provider maintains the local lines, handles service and safety concerns, and provides switches for interconnection with other telephone service providers. The federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 has encouraged and provided a framework for competition in local telephone service. The PUCO maintains jurisdiction over local landline telephone service, including quality of service.
Long Distance Telephone Service
Long distance telephone companies provide service beyond the local service area within Ohio and across the globe. These companies maintain and provide access to switches and lines between local exchange carriers and other long distance telephone providers.
Long distance service has been competitive for many years and is jointly regulated by federal and state government. Through its rules, regulations, tariffs, and certification requirements, the PUCO has jurisdiction over long distance companies carrying calls placed within the state. However, if a call begins or ends outside Ohio, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has jurisdiction.
Wireless Telephone Service
Wireless telephone service is designed differently than traditional local and long distance service. These systems are divided into geographical units called cells. Cells are assigned their own set of radio channels and are served by low powered transmitters and receivers that connect to the traditional landline telephone system. Wireless service has exploded within the last decade as the cost for service and hardware has declined and technology has improved call quality.
The FCC regulates wireless service, while local authorities maintain some jurisdiction over certain aspects of service, including cellular towers. The PUCO registers the providers of wireless service to operate within Ohio. However, the PUCO does not regulate the rates of wireless service. If end users have billing concerns, they should contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office for assistance at (800) 282-0515.
Telephone consumers in many parts of Ohio are now able to keep their telephone number when they switch from one wireless carrier to another, or from their landline carrier to a wireless carrier. In 2003, the FCC clarified the rules governing this service, known as wireless local number portability (WLNP). Consumers can check with wireless providers to verify if WLNP is available in their area.
Internet service utilizes traditional landline service, the wireless technology, and other systems, including cable to connect digital communications between global users. It is important to note that the PUCO does not regulate Internet service or Internet service providers.
Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP)
Voice and other telecommunication services traditionally carried over the public telephone network are now being offered via Internet technology at a growing rate. In 2003, the PUCO initiated an investigation examining how those services, commonly referred to as VoIP, are provided in Ohio and whether they are subject to PUCO jurisdiction. The PUCO is actively participating in the proceedings at the FCC on the issues surrounding VoIP technology.
Other competitive services and products have expanded as telecommunications technology has grown. Services and products such as pay phones, voice mail, and customer-owned equipment have evolved into competitive markets with many available alternatives. As such, the PUCO does not regulate these services and products.