ACMA reveals VoIP regulation facelift

ACMA has announced that it will be adopting a new regulatory framework to govern VoIP in Australia.

ACMA has announced that it will be adopting a new regulatory framework to govern VoIP in Australia.

According to acting Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) chairman, Chris Cheah, ACMA's review of the Australian VoIP marketplace has yielded six areas of interest the authority intends to focus on for the remainder of 2008, these include emergency call service access, integrated public number database notification, assignment of geographic numbers, encouragement of local number portability, customer service guarantee requirements and an industry membership scheme for the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO).

"We're starting a process of engagement with industry as of now," said John Neil, project manager of the ACMA division charged with developing VoIP regulation. "Our short term plan is to hold a series of seminars in Sydney and Melbourne in conjunction with the Communications Alliance to bring industry members up to speed."

Anne Hurley, CEO of telco industry body Communications Alliance, told ZDNet.com.au that her organisation would be working closely with ACMA to ensure that a self-regulatory model prevails for the VoIP market.

"I really don't think that ACMA has many other options," said David Cannon, telecommunications analyst at research firm IDC.

"ACMA only has a certain amount of resources available to them, and trying to regulate VoIP is a lot like trying to regulate the Internet," he said.

Cannon observed that ACMA's decision to revamp its VoIP regulatory approach has coincided with a spike in the market, with ISPs such as iiNet and Internode offering VoIP through their naked DSL broadband plans.

"VoIP really has up until now been a secondary service, but now that we're seeing naked DSL bringing it to a greater market, it's emerging as a viable primary voice offering," he said.

For this reason, the IDC analyst pointed out that ACMA's intention to focus on the assignment of geographic numbers and resolve to address problems with emergency service calls was particularly important.

"It's OK for members of Generation Y and other tech-savvy sections of the market, but if its sold to end users who aren't then education and awareness about VoIP's limitations — particularly in relation to emergency calls — is very important," he said, adding that "part of that responsibility does fall to the service provider".

"These are two key things the VoIP market needs taken care of to grow; ideally users will be able to get a geographic number in line with others in the area," said Cannon. "It's been holding the VoIP market back long enough."