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UK watchdog issues VoIP regulations

UK telecoms watchdog, Ofcom, this week introduced a new regulatory code for VoIP providers as it readies itself to regulate the sector starting this summer.

The watchdog said the move was to ensure consumers have access to information about the capabilities of their service.

Recognising the phenomenal growth of VoIP – forecasts predict three million users in the UK by year end – Ofcom is trying to minimise confusion around what a VoIP telephone service can actually do and how much it costs to do it.

Starting June, VoIP firms operating in the UK will have to state the following:

Whether or not the service includes access to emergency services.

The extent to which the service depends on the user’s home power supply

Whether directory assistance, directory listings, access to theoperator or the itemisation of calls are available

Whether consumers will be able to keep their telephone number if they choose to switch providers at a later date.

Most UK VoIP providers do not provide access to emergency numbers and users typically retain a landline for emergency use. However, Ofcom has also determined that those services that offer no emergency calls, must get “positive acknowledgment” from the customer.

The watchdog said in a statement that it would open a consultation later this year on whether certain providers should be forced to offer access to emergency numbers.

VoIP industry body, ITSPA (Internet Telephony Services Providers’ Association) said that while the new rules “are broadly acceptable” it is concerned VoIP “will be subject to a stricter regulatory framework than any other technology within the UK telecommunications industry”.

ITSPA pointed out that regulating VoIP providers who are overseas but sell into the UK “will be a significant threat to the UK consumer, who may not be aware of the disparity”. It is also concerned that extra regulatory costs could put the UK VoIP industry at a competitive disadvantage against international competitors.

Kerry Ritz, MD of Vonage UK, shared ITSPA’s concerns, arguing that there were no regulatory pressures on mobile operators to allow emergency calls. “This is a new technology and my only concern here is that they [telecoms technologies] should be treated equally.”

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