The Internet has long been a pinch hitter for the landline telephone, with such services as Skype and Google Voice, but now federal regulators are probing to retire the landline in place of digital networks.

Next Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission plans to vote on whether to test the idea that would allow a brief three- to six-month transition where selected areas switch to the new digital phone network, also known as voice over Internet protocol (VoIP). The FCC vote is required by federal regulations for any transitions by traditional carriers involving Internet protocol.

If approved, consumers and telecom companies would not be obligated to participate in the tests that will measure effects on small businesses, providers and individual consumers. However, according to a report from theWall Street Journal, carriers such as AT&T, Verizon Communications and Century Link have been seeking to retire the current circuit-switched systems so phone communication can be handled like other online data.

Like this story? If so, subscribe to Government Technology's daily newsletter.

The argument for VoIP, carriers say, is based on current consumer demand evidenced by the success of IP companies such as Vonage, Skype and Microsoft.

Rural areas, regions that have had difficulty with VoIP services, may present a potential blowback to the carrier’s wishes and possible hopes to harness reduced oversight and restrictions associated with VoIP. Should testing and eventually full adoption be approved, the FCC reports that it will weigh whether VoIP regulations should match traditional scrutiny.

Of note, FCC officials say even while existing customers can opt to stay out of regional trials, carriers can still compel new Internet protocol services on new customers by only offering VoIP in the trial areas.