Such liberalization carries the risk that these new entrants will conduct less ethical business practices that were impossible for a state-controlled monopoly; and so with liberalization comes a new wave of regulation.
A fact of the telecom industry is that all new entrants have had to resell some or all of the monopoly infrastructure in place. However, by using the Internet and the unbundled broadband local loop, VoIP is a technology that will enable a new kind of telecom operator who has no memory of the monopoly in place other than to stand up. interconnect with it to pass traffic between them.
So VoIP has caught the attention of regulators and from a European perspective the problem is that this attention varies from country to country. Each national regulatory authority has a different point of view.
According to a recent survey by network technology company Spirent Communications, the International Engineering Consortium, and Total Telecom magazine, 20% of Europe's telecommunications executives said government regulation was the biggest threat to VoIP, while 84% believe the technology is ready for widespread deployment.
According to a Gartner report from January 2006, no common approach has yet been adopted by national regulatory authorities (NRAs) for the provision of voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) through the Internet. ;Europe. In some countries the service is seen as a traditional circuit switched telephone connection, while in others it is viewed more as a data service. Until a common approach is implemented, VoIP service providers will be unable to provide common service platforms across multiple countries, removing one of the main opportunities offered by sub-technology. underlying – that of transnational competition.
The investigation found that NRAs have resisted the development of specific policies or regulations regarding VoIP. While no one is keen on vigorously regulating this technology, changes will need to occur to accommodate rapidly changing consumer and business use patterns. Gartner believes that with the maturation of VoIP and other IP or electronic communications (ECS) services, end users are often unaware that the protection and statutory rights are not the same with VoIP services as they are. for switched voice.
Therefore, Gartner concludes, VoIP will impose sweeping regulatory changes as voice telephony is being redefined. IP not only affects the pricing of voice services, but also changes the way voice services and features are ordered, delivered, delivered, marketed and regulated. As a result, the inevitable regulatory changes will increase the cost of providing IP services, thus shutting down the end-user tariff advantage that VoIP services currently enjoy.
Regarding the UK market specifically, under the Communications Act 2003, Ofcom & # 39; s main regulatory oversight in the VoIP market is to enforce a code of conduct for service providers. public telephone service – regardless of technology – to consumers and small businesses. (As far as large companies go, warn them.) This code of practice deals with the business process as opposed to the underlying technology and, as far as the consumer is concerned, that's all that's needed.
To quote section 52 of the Act itself:
(2) These questions are:
a) the handling of complaints lodged with providers of public communications by any of their domestic customers and small businesses;
(b) the resolution of disputes between these suppliers and any of their domestic and small business customers;
(c) the provision of remedies and redress for matters which are the subject of such complaints or disputes;
(d) information on service standards and on the rights of domestic customers and small businesses to be made available to such customers by public communications providers;
e) any other matter appearing to OFCOM as necessary to ensure effective protection for the domestic customers and small businesses of these providers.
VegaStream & # 39; s position regarding regulation of the VoIP industry is similar to that of OfCom. The app is simple – the ability to allow people to talk to each other through a telecom network. With VegaStream gateways, this network can contain both IP and TDM elements and this fact is completely transparent until the end. Regulators should therefore continue to hone their ability to protect the consumer from bad business practices and ensure that innovators in the VoIP industry can take full advantage of this technology to businesses and consumers.