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Tuesday, 22 November 2005 15:23

Govt sets out rules for VoIP

05The Government is to introduce a new (05) number range for VoIP services that are not tied to a particular location or otherwise differ from the standard telephone service.

The introduction of the new number range is one of a number of recommendations on the regulation of VoIP services contained in a report released by the minister for communications, senator Helen Coonan.

The report, prepared by DCITA, found that there was no immediate need for any changes to the regulatory framework but recommended some small adjustments to existing numbering, emergency services and customer service regulation to accommodate VoIP services. The minister said the Government had accepted all the report's recommendations.

The report recommends that: "A new number range should be made available for use by VoIP service providers...[to] accommodate services that depart from the expectations of a traditional telephone service."

Examples given of such service included that: "they are intended for itinerant use, are PC-based or otherwise differ significantly from the services on other number ranges."

It said that geographic numbers "should continue to be made available to telecommunications carriers and other providers of services that are a close substitute for a traditional telephone service."

For practical purposes, such services were described as those with "a conventional handset associated with a fixed location, capable of being used independently of a computer and its associated passwords and access routines. Such a service will normally provide an active connection for incoming calls, and can be used by any person to make outgoing calls."

A key issue that has surrounded VoIP services since their introduction is that they cannot be guaranteed to deliver accurate information on the location of the caller to emergency services.

The report suggests that this problem be dealt with by flagging VoIP numbers in the integrated public number database so that the emergency service operator will know they will need to ask the caller for location information.

"ACMA should give priority to consulting with law enforcement agencies, emergency service organisations and industry generally on how the end user and service provider can manage and update flags and other information in the IPND...[and] industry should be encouraged to find a technical solution to the issue of location information reliability in IP services. ACMA should work with domestic providers and vendors to ensure that any global solution can be implemented in Australia."

There is also a problem when VoIP users call 13, 1300 and 1800 numbers. Many organisations using these numbers, such as Pizza Hut, direct the call to the caller's nearest outlet based on the location information associated with geographic numbers, which can be wildly out in the case of VoIP services. The report recommends that "Service providers should disclose to consumers any limitations in the operation of these services."

To ensure that consumers are aware of the choices on offer and the differences between a VoIP service and a traditional telephone service, public information will be developed in cooperation with industry.

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