How ACMA Plans To Regulate VoIP

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) is planning to take a new approach to deal with the regulation of VoIP service providers.

Speaking at the CommsDay Summit 2008 in Sydney, Chris Cheah, Acting ACMA Chairman explained how the organization was adopting a three-strand approach to VoIP which included a review of existing regulation and a new “VoIP engagement strategy” to better understand the regulatory framework and ACMA’s approach.

ACMA wants to understand how existing regulation applies to the kinds of services that are now available, engage with the industry and consumers and finally put in place a specific compliance program. As part of the strategy, ACMA will advise VoIP providers on how the regulations apply to them and outline the types of services subject to regulation.

‘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,’ said Cheah.

‘VoIP services have been of interest to ACMA for some time, but the market has continued to grow and to evolve with considerable diversity in the way these services are provided. This has, in turn, led ACMA to consider the implications for the way we think about applying the regulation to them.

‘Raising awareness and educating parties about their regulatory obligations is an integral part of ACMA’s compliance activities. ACMA welcomes the opportunity to work directly with the VoIP industry and aim to do this by conducting industry seminars and meeting directly with interested service providers,’ he said.

Carriage service providers and carriers who provide VoIP services in Australia have a number of legal obligations, which are set out in the Telecommunications Act 1997 and the Telecommunications (Consumer Protection and Service Standards) Act 1999.

ACMA has defined four different types of VoIP services including on-net services; outbound only services, inbound only services and services that provide both inbound and outbound VoIP.

The Authority has identified key compliance areas it wants to focus on in 2008. These compliance areas are the provision of emergency calls; IPND notification; TIO scheme membership; geographic numbering; local number portability; Customer Service Guarantee requirements.

Emergency call service access

  • The emergency call service provides vital security and safety of life service for all Australians by facilitating timely access to police, ambulance and fire services.
  • In 2007, ACMA in conjunction with the Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, wrote to known VoIP providers to encourage them to confirm their obligations under the Emergency Call Service Determination (the Determination) and communicate with customers about the characteristics of the services that they provide.
  • In November, ACMA amended the Determination to:
    • provide certainty as to the obligation on Type 4 two-way VoIP services to provide access to the emergency call service numbers
    • introduce the concept of a ‘location independent communications service’ for two way VoIP services
    • formalize the obligation to appropriately populate the Integrated Public Number Database with details of these services, and
    • outline the obligations for the provision of available location information to the emergency call person.
  • Type 2 VoIP outbound services are not currently required to provide access to the emergency call service but these issues will be examined as part of a broad review of the Determination and overall arrangements. The review will commence shortly with the release of a discussion paper Calling the Emergency Call Service – Review of Arrangements.
  • Contributions to the review are expected to inform changes to the Determination to better take into account IP-based services and other emerging next-generation network services and their interaction with the time-critical emergency call service environment.

Integrated Public Number Database (IPND) notification

  • The provision of accurate name and address information for subscribers to telephone services supports the activities of the police, security, and other emergency services agencies.
  • ACMA is determining appropriate education, compliance and enforcement strategies for data providers who are required to update the Integrated Public Number Database (IPND).
  • Identifying non-complying data providers will be an important part of the strategy. The results of periodic IPND audits will inform the education, compliance and enforcement strategies.

Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) Scheme membership.

  • The TIO Scheme provides industry-funded complaint resolution services for telecommunications users who are unable to resolve complaints with their service providers.
  • There are well-established processes between ACMA and the TIO for pursuing carriage service provider members of the TIO Scheme. The TIO seeks membership by a relevant carriage service provider in the first instance with the ability to refer non-compliant carriage service providers to ACMA for regulatory action.
  • ACMA will continue to liaise with the TIO on issues around membership and code compliance.

Assignment of geographic numbers

  • Carriage service providers who use numbers allocated from the National Numbering Plan are required to abide by rules attached to the use of those numbers which support routing, charging and certain regulatory requirements.
  • ACMA’s VoIP provider database and carriage service provider websites will be interrogated to assess the procedures used by VoIP carriage service providers in issuing geographic numbers to determine whether they comply with the rules in the Numbering Plan.
  • Education and compliance action will be targeted based on this assessment.

Encouragement of local number portability

  • Local number portability is intended to support competition and enhance consumer choice by permitting consumers to retain their local telephone number when changing service providers.
  • ACMA strongly encourages the provision of local number portability and will work with industry and other regulators to ensure portability operates consistently with the intent of the legislation.

Customer Service Guarantee (CSG) requirements

  • Providers of standard telephone services to residential and small business customers (up to 5 lines) are required to meet the timeframes for connection and repair established by the CSG unless they have appropriate customer waivers or exemptions.
  • ACMA will educate the industry on the appropriate use of the waiver provisions by those carriage service providers who do not propose to meet the CSG standard for connection and repair timeframes.
  • ACMA will address complaints on their merits in the same way as applies to other fixed voice service providers. The four major residential fixed voice service providers provide regular CSG performance data to ACMA – it is not intended to expand coverage of this reporting requirement at this time.

Initial industry seminars are being arranged for Sydney (8 May) and Melbourne (date to be advised). Providers can register interest by email to VoiceOutlookProject@acma.gov.au. ACMA may visit other locations depending on their levels of interest.

Comprehensive information about ACMA’s regulatory approach to VoIP is available on the ACMA website, at www.acma.gov.au

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