Police can now wiretap Internet phone calls on Cox Communications' network, kicking off a new era for law enforcement.

The cable and broadband provider turned to security specialist VeriSign to supply the know-how, the latter announced Monday.

Law enforcement officers can now eavesdrop on every call made by Cox's nearly 1 million voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone subscribers. Police can already tap calls on 12 of Cox's 13 telephone markets because they rely on traditional phone equipment equipped with eavesdropping abilities. But in December, Cox deployed VoIP, a much cheaper alternative that uses the unregulated Internet. Roanoke, Va., is the first of several small markets where Cox is deploying VoIP technology.

There is no requirement to tap Net phone calls yet, but all broadband providers are feeling pressure from a far-reaching FBI proposal that would require compliance with the 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA). This act requires telecommunications carriers to rewire their networks to government specifications to provide police with guaranteed access for wiretaps.

Cable operators "realize they are going to have to do it one day," a VeriSign representative said.

VeriSign Vice President Raj Puri said VeriSign is talking with "all the major cable companies selling VoIP" but did not announce any additional deals Monday.

Cable operator Comcast offers broadband phone service that uses a mixture of VoIP and traditional phone switches. Time Warner Cable and Cablevision are VoIP-only.

Telephone services are playing an increasingly important role for U.S. cable companies, which are winning new customers by offering low-priced bundles of broadband, television and phone services. Traditional phone companies have responded with a "triple play" of services of their own.

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