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VoIP regulation hit by three-month delay

Ofcom is months late in publishing a statement on internet telephony regulation in the UK, as VoIP take-up increases
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

The publication of Ofcom's proposed regulation for the burgeoning internet telephony industry has been delayed by at least three months.

The communications regulator was expected to have made a statement regarding voice over IP (VoIP) regulation in August, after a consultation into the issue closed in May. Three months later, no news of the proposed regulation has emerged, although insiders have indicated that some form of statement will be made by the end of November.

The regulation could affect the ability to port phone numbers across from the old telephone network, as well as issues surrounding network quality and the availability of emergency services access.

The consulation had been beset by delays. It actually began in September 2004, but "a number of further developments" in the industry — including the requirements of the European Commission — meant Ofcom had to reassess its aims, leading to a new consultation being published in February of this year. The closing date for responses was originally supposed to be 3 May , but the regulator pushed that back by a week too.

Ofcom's proposals in the consultation document could, if turned into regulation, have a significant impact on the rapidly changing UK telecommunications industry. One proposal was to discontinue a "forbearance" policy for VoIP services, which allowed providers to "offer access to emergency services (999 access) without having to meet other regulatory requirements associated with being classed as a publicly available telephony services (PATS) provider".

If VoIP providers who do not meet the PATS requirements are clamped down upon, Ofcom argued, new rules should also be made regarding the porting of location-based telephone numbers across from the old network to new IP-based systems. There is currently only an "interim policy" in place to deal with this issue, letting incumbent providers restrict such porting if they do not feel the VoIP provider meets the requirements.

Another proposal was to replace the Essential Requirements Guidelines for providers, because they were "not flexible enough" to cope with internet telephony. These guidelines detail how to maintain reliable networks. Ofcom also proposed to set new guidelines for how it would "investigate potential contraventions of obligations in relation to network reliability and emergency calls", and "encourage and enforce the maximum level of compliance by providers of VoIP services".

Providers should also ensure their customers are "well informed of the capability of VoIP services", according to Ofcom. The regulator also proposed that this should be mandated "in respect of certain providers".

Asked for comment, a spokesperson for Ofcom told ZDNet UK on Tuesday that a statement on VoIP regulation would be "due out before the end of November", although there is no mention of this on Ofcom's website.

By Ofcom's own calculations — mentioned in a September speech by strategy and market development partner Peter Phillips, entitled Seizing the opportunities from convergence — there are now 1.8 million VoIP users in the UK, "bringing real benefits to consumers".

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