VoIP regulation gets local support

Calls to disqualify Voice over IP (VoIP) services from traditional telephone regulations in the US are prompting similar investigations into the validity of existing telecommunications regulations across these services in Australia.

The US-based Voice on the Net (VON) coalition recently filed a statement with the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) asking it to refrain from applying traditional telephone regulations. The group claimed such measures could stall consumer benefits deriving from the expansion of VoIP services.

Instead, VoIP and other Internet-enabled communications services should continue to be considered unregulated Internet services, they argued.

However, concerns have arisen over how emergency services, disability access and universal services - features of traditional telephony- would be addressed if VoIP were not regulated in a similar fashion.

Australian Communications Authority (ACA) manager industry operations and licensing team, Greg Neylan, said the ACA considered VoIP to be a voice service, and, as such, fell under Telecommunications Act provisions for voice services.

Telecommunication regulations in Australia were technology neutral, so applied to services regardless of the underlying technology, he said.

Whether current regulations are sufficiently flexible for VoIP is, however, a main issue, and under ongoing assessment.

Neylan said the ACA recognised the huge potential for VoIP and the need for regulatory certainty. As a result, the ACA intended to hold a review of how well VoIP services fitted into the current regulatory arrangements. The ACA was also keen to work with industry ahead of the proposed review, expected later this year.

Additionally, experimental or trial initiatives with regards to VoIP regulation were being encouraged as a learning process, he said. These could contribute to the regulatory framework being adjusted if necessary.

Unlike the anti-regulation sentiment being experienced in the US, the ACA has been approached by several parties with suggestions on VoIP service regulations and customer safeguards, Neylan said.

He was heartened by the fact that new entrants were aiming to provide high-quality, regulated VoIP services.

“It is a tribute to the industry that regulation is being accepted as a useful guide to meeting customer expectations, rather than [something] to be avoided if possible,” Neylan said.

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