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VoIP lobby group formed over emergency calls

A new lobby group has been set up in an attempt to influence the regulation of Internet telephony in Europe.

A new lobby group has been set up in an attempt to influence the regulation of Internet telephony in Europe.

Voice on the Net (VON) Coalition Europe, which comprises large suppliers like Google, Intel, Microsoft and Skype, was launched last Friday following regulatory proposals made by the European Commission a month ago.

These proposals included the idea that all VoIP providers should enable calls to the emergency services. The U.K. telecoms regulator, Ofcom, has since mandated that such access must be made available by September 2008.

Leading VoIP providers, such as Skype, disagree with such proposals, arguing that VoIP is a complement to, rather than a replacement for, traditional telephony services.

According to a Friday statement, VON Coalition Europe "will work to educate, inform and promote responsible government policies that enable innovation and the many benefits that Internet voice innovations can deliver".

"Internet-enabled communications are an entirely new genre of communications products, services and applications and a new frontier in communications for individuals and businesses alike," said Stephen Collins, director of global governmental and regulatory affairs at Skype. "In order to unleash their vast benefits, policymakers need to embrace forward-thinking policy approaches."

"If we automatically subject this new technology to legacy telephone regulation, consumers and business users could miss out on the new services, increased choices, better prices and improved features that VoIP, for example, can deliver," Collins said.

In its statement, the coalition claimed that the "premature application of 112 [emergency call] rules to Web sites, click-to-dial services, one-way PSTN-out interconnected voice services, and other VoIP services that are not a replacement for traditional home/business phone services could actually harm public safety, stifle innovations critical to people with disabilities, stall competition, and limit access to innovative and evolving communication options where there is no expectation of placing a 112 call".

The European Commission could offer no comment at the time of writing.