Telecommunications regulator Ofcom has issued a proposal outlining how it plans to regulate the UK's Internet telephony market.
Ofcom is proposing that operators offering VoIP should be forced to be clear about what their services can and cannot do. Because VoIP relies on a broadband network and often a PC, services will not work during a power cut, so cannot guarantee constant access to the emergency services. In addition, some VoIP providers have chosen not to include any access to the emergency services at all.
Ofcom also wants to consult the issue about number portability. At the moment, users can't transfer their existing telephone number if they choose a VoIP service.
Ofcom's proposals can be seen online, and the closing date for responses is 3 May, 2006.
The VoIP industry has given a cautious welcome to Ofcom's plans.
ITSPA, the UK's Internet Telephony Services Providers Association, which represents VoIP operators, said it supported Ofcom's "consumer-oriented approach".
"ITSPA appreciates Ofcom's position with regard to the sensitive issue of access to emergency services and the need to ensure the safety of citizens through regulation. ITSPA remains committed to ensuring consumers are fully informed about the benefits and capabilities of VoIP and has been working hard over the last 18 months to ensure consumers are aware of the differences between VoIP and legacy telephony services," said ITSPA in a statement.
But while ITSPA is keen to see Ofcom to bring in as little regulation as possible, the established telcos don't want VoIP providers to have a free rein in the marketplace.
"There needs to be a clear regulatory framework governing VoIP services — this is essential for effective competition in the UK telecoms marketplace, in turn ensuring that consumers have choice," said UKCTA, the UK Competitive Telecommunications Association, which includes Energis, Cable&Wireless, and Thus.