ACMA paves way for VoIP Out geographic numbers

National Broadband Network spurs incremental changes to telephone numbering regulation

Outbound-only Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) subscribers will soon be able to sign-up for a chosen geographic number, under legislation amendments proposed in a discussion paper released by the Australian Media and Communications Authority (ACMA).

The "Geographic numbering amendments" discussion paper outlines amendments proposed by ACMA to the Telecommunications Number Plan 1997, would result in geographic and Location Independent Communication Service (LICS) or "0550" numbers assigned to outbound only services such as VoIP Out. The amendments also require carriage service providers to "inform customers who choose to receive numbers in alternative locations of the implications of this choice".

The new legislation would mean that outbound VoIP services are treated in the same way as a traditional PSTN services. Customers will be provided with a geographic number linked to a specific location. Calls will be charged in relation to that location information, regardless of whether or not the VoIP call is actually made from that location. This would allow business or consumers to set up a Sydney-based phone number, despite being initiated from a VoIP phone in Melbourne.

The proposed amendments will also allow VoIP subscribers to more easily port their number between service providers.

A report released by the Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts (now the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) in 2005 found attempts to change primary legislation and geographic numbering regulation was not required for VoIP services in the short term, but a longer term strategy would eventually be required.

According to the new discussion paper from ACMA, the National Broadband Network has further emphasised the need for a strategy.

In 2007, ACMA assigned the "0550" or LICS number range to VoIP services in order to avoid problems relating to inaccurate call charges based on unreliable geographic information from service providers.

The ACMA paper states the body intends to "make small amendments to the Numbering Plan so that it evolves to support greater flexibility, ensure consumers are adequately informed about the implications of their choices and provide certainty for industry."

"Over the course of 2010, the ACMA intends to examine a range of these other emerging numbering issues, to inform the ACMA's broader approach to the allocation of telephone numbers under the Numbering Plan and the regulation of numbering administrative arrangements more generally," it says.

ACMA is calling for submissions on a number of issues relating to the discussion paper. The deadline is May 31.

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