As we know VoIP comes in many shapes and flavours – our focus is in the SME or Enterprise arena but we always like to keep a view on what is happening in the VoIP carrier world. We have seen a lot of press recently about the new Ofcom (Office of Communications) regulations that will apply to VoIP Providers and all will be required to comply with the them from June 2007.
Following public consultation in 2006, Ofcom has decided to put in place measures to ensure that consumers have access to information which helps them make informed purchasing decisions. The new code of practice requires VoIP providers to make clear:
1, Whether or not the service includes access to emergency services.
2, The extent to which the service depends on the user’s home power supply.
3, Whether directory assistance, directory listings, access to the operator or the itemisation of calls are available.
4, Whether consumers will be able to keep their telephone number if they choose to switch providers at a later date.
If consumers choose to take up a service that does not offer access to emergency services or which depends on an external power supply, the code also requires VoIP providers to:
1, Secure the customer’s positive acknowledgement of this at point of sale (by ticking a box, for example).
2, Label the capability of the service, either in the form of a physical label for equipment or via information on the computer screen.
3, Play an announcement each time a call to emergency services is attempted, reminding the caller that access is unavailable.
As usage in the UK continues to grow, and the market develops further, Ofcom will continue to review and develop its approach to regulation to ensure that consumers gain the full benefits of VoIP services.
A number of respondents to Ofcom’s consultation expressed concern that a lack of access to emergency services via VoIP services might result in consumer detriment. For that reason, Ofcom intends to consult later this year on whether, and if so how, certain VoIP services might be required to offer access to emergency services. You can find the actual Ofcom document here
The ITSPA has responded to the OFCOM regulations by broadly accepting it but they have concerns as this will not apply to Overseas carriers and of course because of the nature of VoIP they can offer their services in the UK but without the need to comply so disadvantaging the UK carriers by comparison. See the response to the Ofcom regulations on the ITSPA website.
Sometimes Regulation can stifle free enterprise and innovation but we feel that something had to be done to ensure users are aware of the lack of emergency service support after all it only takes one life to be saved because of this to make it worthwhile.