No extra regulation for Voice over IP

By EDRi · February 24, 2005

On 11 February the European Regulators Group (ERG) released a common statement against regulation of Voice over IP services. The statement from the 25 national regulatory authorities was welcomed by EU Commissioner Viviane Reding, responsible for Information Society and Media.

In a press release from the Commission she says: “I expect Voice over IP to lead to more diverse and innovative services in the market which may well have an even bigger impact on consumers and businesses than email. (…) I am convinced that, as the market develops, the European Commission and national regulators will jointly ensure that throughout the EU, the roll-out of new IP-based services will not be hindered by regulatory hurdles.”

In June 2004 the Commission organised a consultation on VOIP. The main concern from the industry centres around the obligations of PATS, publicly available telephone services. Among the 86 public responses is a paper from ETNO (European Telecommunications Network Operators’ Association), the powerful European lobbying group from the incumbent telephony operators. They hesitantly reject general telephony demands on Voice over IP services such as guaranteed access to emergency services, number portability and provision of location information, but on the other hand see a market advantage if a national regulatory authority would provide, “on request, a standardised declaration to those suppliers that undertake to provide publicly available telephone services in accordance with the applicable conditions in the general authorisation.” ETNO also sees an advantage in a separate number plan: “when VoIP services are offered as a nation-wide nomadic service, a dedicated number range may be appropriate.” The many footnotes in the document show how divided the operators are amongst themselves. Some companies such as the Dutch KPN clearly try to preserve their market position in the telephony world by claiming for extra regulation, while other companies such as Telekom Austria and British Telecom seem to favour a more practical approach towards internet telephony.

A different answer is provided by Skype, the provider of peer-to-peer software for VoIP services which also allows users to make calls to regular telephone numbers. “In Skype´s opinion a VoIP service that does not offer access to emergency services can not be defined as a publicly available telephony service (PATS).” Only ‘traditional’ operators should be burdened with any PATS obligations, Skype writes. “For example, if a law enforcement agency wishes to intercept a VoIP communication that is being transported across the PSTN, the PSTN provider, rather than the VoIP provider, should offer the means for intercepting the communication.” When it comes to separate numbers, Skype clearly opposes: “Furthermore, the allocation of specific numbers could easily lead to the situation that calls to these specific VoIP numbers are more expensive then calls to the standard numbers.”

Press release European Commission (11.02.2005)

Common Statement European Regulators (11.02.2005)

Answers to Commission Consultation (June 2004)