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Wednesday, 16 April 2008 15:07

ACMA to crack down on VoIP services

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has launched a three pronged approach to ensure that all VoIP service providers in Australia's burgeoning VoIP industry are aware of and comply with all the applicable regulation.

VoIP has for some time been a rather grey area for telecoms regulation. VoIP services that can make and receive calls to standard phone numbers are expected to comply with all the rules applying to the standard telephone service, but these do not seem to have been rigorously applied.

For example, since November 2007 any VoIP service in Australia that is able to both receive calls made to a public telephone number and to place calls to public telephone numbers has been required to support calling to the 000 emergency service and the 106 service for the hearing or speech impaired. Skype which with the SkypeOut and SkypeIn option activated should therefore be require to support 000 calls, but Skype specifically states that it does not.

The ACMA in December 2007 published the results of research into the supply and demand of VoIP services in Australia.  It said there were 269 VoIP providers but gave no indication of what percentage of current VoIP services are considered PSTN equivalent services. Yet much of the ACMA's VoIP regulation centres around this distinction.

Also last April the ACMA introduced a new 0550 number range for VoIP services that were are not close substitutes for a standard phone service. It warned then that it would "more actively monitor compliance with regard to the use of geographic numbers for local services by carriage service providers." Today's developments appear to represent the first real progress in that direction. CONTINUED

Announcing the move, acting ACMA chairman, Chris Cheah, said: "ACMA's new approach to applying current regulation to VoIP aims to strike a balance between effectively applying regulation while continuing to enable innovation and providing greater clarity to industry around service provider obligations."

According to Cheah, the ACMA will adopt a three-strand approach to VoIP. First, it has been reviewing how existing regulation applies to the kinds of services that are now available and will "consider our priorities" Secondly, it will "engage with industry and consumers". Thirdly it will put in place a specific compliance program.

The ACMA has developed a VoIP engagement strategy, which "aims to provide information to assist an understanding of the regulatory framework and ACMA's approach" and "inform VoIP...providers on how the suite of regulations applies to them and to outline the types of VoIP services that are subject to regulation."

As a first step industry seminars are being arranged for Sydney (8 May) and Melbourne (date to be advised). Providers can register by emailing VoiceOutlookProject@acma.gov.au. ACMA says seminars may be held in other locations if there is sufficient interest.

It has also added a new section to its web site www.acma.gov.au/voip dedicated to provide "comprehensive information about ACMA's regulatory approach to VoIP".

The ACMA has given little detail so far of its compliance programme but says it has identified key compliance areas that it will focus on in 2008. These are: the provision of access to the emergency call service; ensuring that VoIP providers input current and accurate information into the Integrated Public Number Database (IPND); that they meet the requirement to become members of the
Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) scheme and that those that use standard telephone numbers "abide by rules attached to the use of those numbers which support routing, charging and certain regulatory requirements."

The ACMA says it will use "the appropriate power or intervention necessary to achieve the desired result" consistent with its broader approach to compliance.

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