Ofcom touts new Voice-over-IP regulation

UK Operators and ISP's offering voice-over-IP (VoIP) based Internet telephone services will now have to take account of Ofcom's new code of practice:

VoIP services offer consumers the prospect of cheaper calls - especially for calls from one VoIP service to another - and valuable new services such as call handling and unified messaging.

Over the last twelve months a range of new VoIP services have been launched and demand continues to grow. Industry forecasts predict that there could be as many as three million users in the UK by the end of this year.

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:

whether or not the service includes access to emergency services;

the extent to which the service depends on the user's home power supply;

whether directory assistance, directory listings, access to the operator or the itemisation of calls are available; and

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:

secure the customer's positive acknowledgement of this at point of sale (by ticking a box, for example);

label the capability of the service, either in the form of a physical label for equipment or via information on the computer screen; and

play an announcement each time a call to emergency services is attempted, reminding the caller that access is unavailable.

VoIP providers will be required to comply with the code from June 2007.

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