New Ofcom VoIP Rules Start Today

New rules regarding the supply of VoIP announced by Ofcom on 29 March this year come in to force today. The telecoms regulator insists that sellers of VoIP are more up front about the nature and limitations of the service.

From today customers will have to sign a document saying that they understand that access to emergency services numbers will not be available during power cuts on VoIP services, and labels to that effect must be placed on equipment to be sold, according to new rules from Ofcom.

Providers must also now comply with a consumer protection code of practice according to the rules, which were the result of a three-year consultation process.

The failure to comply with the new rules leaves suppliers open to draconian penalties including fines of up to ten per cent of turnover for the offending company together with enforced cessation of their services.

In summary, communications providers are now required to inform customers:

– whether the service will cease to function if the broadband connection fails or if there is a power cut

– whether or not the service includes access to emergency services

– whether access to emergency services will cease if the broadband connection fails or if there is a power cut

– the limitations on availability of location information (and, where appropriate, to register the customer’s location details)

– whether number portability is available

– a number of other items normally required under the general conditions (directory assistance, directory listings, access to the operator, itemised billing etc.)

The ITSPA (the Internet Telephony Service Providers’ Association) had commented at the time that although the new regulations were broadly acceptable, ITSPA was wary that the detail of the new rules may have unfortunate implications for UK businesses and consumers.

The association said that whilst they will work closely with Ofcom to ensure that the regulatory environment continues to run as smoothly as it does now, their members had expressed a number of fundamental concerns with the statement.

– That Voice over IP will be subject to a stricter regulatory framework than any other technology within the UK telecommunications industry.

– These new regulations will be particularly hard to enforce against providers who are based overseas, but market their services within the UK. This will be a significant threat to the UK consumer, who may not be aware of the disparity.

– The extra regulatory costs that Ofcom’s rules impose put the UK VoIP industry at a competitive disadvantage against international competitors, and risk hindering the creative development of the industry at an early stage.

The Federation of Communication Services is likely to be publishing a guidance paper for members on their web site shortly detailing how to comply with the new regulations.

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