Mid-2005 will herald a new era in voice over IP telecommunications when the Australian Communications Authority (ACA) introduces specific regulations for service providers and enterprises stipulating how the technology must be delivered.
The ACA’s acting chairman Dr Bob Horton said VoIP regulation is “inevitable”.
“VoIP is novel and needs to be treated with flexibility for a while as we are faced with an innovative approach to telecommunications and want to make sure we don’t stifle innovation,” Horton told Computerworld.
“We need to test the boundaries of existing regulation and then fashion something around VoIP. Regulation is inevitable because whoever is carrying it has obligations for data, voice, or whatever and there needs to be a requirement for universal service.”
Horton said a discussion paper covering the regulation of VoIP will be put down as early as December this year when the ACA will allow “a couple of months” for all parties to ponder its implications.
“We will then draw a set of regulatory conditions from that,” he said. “Around February 2005 the recommendations will be put to the industry and the complete regulation guidelines should be finalised by July next year.”
Horton is also adamant that VoIP regulation will not be an impediment to the “due diligence process” already in place between the ACA and industry.
“There is a period of tolerance because we’d like to see experimentation,” he said. “And the ACA thanks the early entrants.
"There is an atmosphere of industry self-regulation so we’re giving them as much flexibility as possible.”
As to the type of conditions VoIP regulations might impose upon service providers, Horton said the three areas of quality of service, call location, and privacy will be considered, along with existing carrier guidelines such as what will happen in the event of a power blackout and how access will be provided for people with disabilities.
“One concern would be to give customers an understanding of what they are buying,” he said. “Many VoIP service providers are positioning [their products] as a telephone replacement so if there is any difference – let them know! VoIP has distinguishing characteristics, for example it’s transportable, so for emergency calls you wouldn’t know where it’s coming from.”
Furthermore, Horton said if VoIP calls are made to non-VoIP phones the regulations may need to stipulate a new number range so end users “can expect a low quality of service” which will be part of the consideration in December.
Regulations for enterprises running VoIP over their internal networks, Horton said are difficult to predict. "It’s like a private network and that’s not something new but if you have a transmission link you have to become a carrier.”
He also stressed that in addition to forthcoming regulations, rogue VoIP operations will not be tolerated.
“The industry would detect odd players and we would move to close them down,” he said. “VoIP will spur a number of new carriers as some 700 [data] service providers are poised to offer voice.”
Individual calls are unlikely to be charged or taxed separately, Horton said, as regulations do not allow for this in keeping with the government’s stance on equal access.