Legal Updates

Information Technology – VoIP – New Code of Practice to take Effect June 2007

Ofcom has announced a new regulatory code relating to ‘Voice over Internet Protocol’ (“VoIP”) service providers. The new code is designed to ensure that consumers have access to important information about the capabilities of the service being provided to them. From June 2007 onwards, all VoIP providers will be required to comply with it.

VoIP services offer consumers the prospect of cheaper calls. The service is especially economical when the caller makes a call from one VoIP service to another. VoIP also introduces 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 steadily. Industry forecasts predict that there could potentially be as many as 3 million users in the UK by the end of 2007.

Following a 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 when choosing between the different packages.

The new code of practice requires VoIP providers to make the following information available to consumers:

§   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 services such as 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 between 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 requires VoIP providers to:

§   Secure the consumer's positive acknowledgement of this at point of sale (by ticking a box on a form, for example);

§   Clearly label the capability of the service, either with 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.

As VoIP usage in the UK continues to grow, and the market develops even further, Ofcom will continue to review and develop its approach to regulation in this area to ensure that consumers gain the full benefits of VoIP services. A number of respondents to Ofcom's consultation expressed concern that a lack of access to emergency services via VoIP services might result in consumer detriment. It is for that reason that Ofcom intends to consult VoIP service providers later this year on whether (and how) certain VoIP service providers might be required to offer access to emergency services.

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© RT COOPERS, 2007. This Briefing Note does not provide a comprehensive or complete statement of the law relating to the issues discussed nor does it constitute legal advice. It is intended only to highlight general issues. Specialist legal advice should always be sought in relation to particular circumstances.




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