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Ofcom sets out plans to regulate VoIP

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Ofcom, the UK communications industry regulator, has set out details of its new approach to internet telephony, updating earlier guidance published in 2004. Ofcom is consulting on its new proposals.

Internet telephony is the ability to make voice calls over any internet connection, particularly broadband, using Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). Internet telephony service providers can provide regular and enhanced phone line services, at reduced cost, with calls to other internet phones, often free of charge.

The new voice services also offer consumers the prospect of sophisticated call handling and messaging, multi-party conference calls and video calls.

Ofcom published interim guidance on VoIP services in 2004, but since then there have been significant developments in the sector, relating to the choice of providers, the services offered and the equipment customers use.

Many more people are using the service today. According to Ofcom, there are now more than 500,000 active VoIP users in the UK, and take-up growth is forecast to continue.

With this in mind, Ofcom is updating its regulatory requirements to ensure they adequately meet the needs of both customers and providers.

The watchdog is proposing a code for VoIP service providers to ensure customers are given important information about service capability. This would include information on reliability, whether access to emergency calls is offered, the reliability of such access, the portability of telephone numbers, and whether information such as directory listing is offered.

Ofcom is also updating its guidance to encourage VoIP providers to offer access to 999 emergency services and help them comply with existing regulation of voice services, including requirements for publicly available telephone services (PATS).

Comments are sought by May 3.

See the consultation.

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