Federal Information Technology and Communications Minister, Senator Helen Coonan, said in a speech to the Melbourne Press Club on Friday she had directed the Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, along with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and the Australian Communications Authority, to examine the impact of voice over IP.
"With new services come a lot of questions," Coonan told attendees. "For example, what will the network of the future look like? Will it be fibre, will it be a combination of fibre and copper, what role will wireless play?
"Is voice over IP a revolution or an evolution? What sort of regulations ought to apply to voice over IP and will new types of business models and new types of service providers emerge offering voice over IP services?".
Coonan said the government's primary objectives in communications "will continue to be providing consumers with equitable access to high-quality services and to make sure that businesses have access to new technologies and services that will improve productivity".
Coonan's comments come as ACA acting chairman, Bob Horton, prepares to address a major conference in Melbourne in November on regulatory and policy issues involving voice over IP.
Analysts International Data Corp released a survey last month in which almost two-thirds of respondents indicated they would deploy voice over IP telephony by 2007, up from a miserly 14 percent which already had.
With cost reduction being the main driver and catalyst for enterprises to implement voice over IP, IDC said they expected a steep decline in price over the next 12 months and IP handset subsidies to become almost "de rigeur". The number of players entering the market is also expected to rise sharply.
Coonan also moved to denigrate the rival Australian Labor Party's stance on the politically sensitive topic of offshoring of jobs. While the coalition would focus on getting its policy and regulatory setting right, regulate with a light touch and "support rather than hinder our IT community," the ALP would "dig in and defend" using weapons such as barriers, arbitrary benchmarks and quotas.
"I recently read the ALP's IT spokeswoman, Kate Lundy, say if Labor were in government, they would only allow government departments to go to overseas IT service suppliers if they had better skills or could do the job for a lower price," Coonan said.
"I wondered to myself who she thought was going to go overseas to pay more for less skilled staff?"
Coonan said the ALP would create layers of bureaucracy to set the rules "to enforce the commonsense approach which is already being taken.
"Governments should enable, support and promote the IT industry, not try to pick technologies or systems, dictate suppliers or tie the industry up in red tape".
She said offshoring was not a one-way street, noting a recent KPMG report which ranked Australia as the best place of 11 developed countries to base software development operations.