The Austrian Regulatory Authority for Broadcasting and Telecommunications (RTR) has opened a public consultation on the regulatory classification of VoIP. No reference is made to market definition and market analysis. T-REGS Note: The RTR has completed its definition and analyses of Markets 1-2, 3-6, and 8-9-10 without making any references to possible economic regulation of VoIP.

As a key principle, the RTR proposes that, in cases where the transmission of voice packets occurs independently (technically and contractually) of the provision of VoIP (e.g. where an Internet application is used to make calls to other Internet users, or in cases where a VoIP-enabled service provider has no function or responsibility with regard to the transport of IP voice packets in the access network), no electronic communications service is being provided, because what is being provided does not mainly consist in the conveyance of electronic signals.

These types of VoIP therefore fall completely outside the scope of the Austrian legislation on electronic communications, the TKG 2003, as well as its secondary regulations.

With regard to the VoIP services that do fall within the legislation on electronic communications, the RTR puts forward that these may be considered as Electronic Communications Services (ECS) or Publicly Available Telephone Services (PATS).

The RTR rejects the concept (which has been suggested amongst others by the European Commission on the basis of the definition of PATS contained in EU Directive 2002/22/EC) that a service provider would not be considered as providing PATS, only because it does not provide access to emergency services.

The provision of access to emergency services is obligatory for PATS providers, but the obligation is not all encompassing, given that the Austrian legislator has taken into account technical and commercial feasibility, especially with regard to the routing of calls to the specific emergency service centres, consistent with the stipulations of EU Directive 2002/22/EC. The RTR acknowledges that a caller’s location is not necessarily available to a provider of VoIP-enabled services, and therefore a pragmatic stance is put forward, to the effect that the ability or rather the inability to route a call to an “appropriate” emergency centre is not seen as a legal blocking point for VoIP providers in Austria.

However, the RTR does expect providers of VoIP-enabled services to make available "quality access to emergency services to meet the user’s expectations". The RTR also makes it explicit that negative experiences with emergency calls on VoIP could lead to amendments in the legislation. RTR and the Federal Ministry of Traffic, Innovation and Technology (BMVIT) have set up a working group (“Plattform Notrufe”) to address issues with regard to emergency calls.

All numbering resources are available to PATS as well as ECS VoIP providers, as long as they respect the usage conditions of those numbers as defined in the KEM-V Ordinance.

The RTR states in its consultation document that geographic numbers can only be used for the provision of fixed PATS services, with a requirement for the provider of the VoIP-enabled PATS service to have some kind of agreement with the end user’s IP access to guarantee the correctness of the geographic data provided. There is some leeway granted for what is called “pseudo-nomadic use” whereby a user with a fixed access sporadically uses the services from another location. However, the guidelines issued with regard to this point remain rather vague and they are tied to the issue of emergency calls (which remains a problematic and evolving issue in Austria).

Other specific number ranges are brought to the attention of providers of VoIP-enabled services; these are:

  • Location-independent fixed network numbers – (0)720
  • Numbers for convergent services – (0)780

These number ranges can be used independently of the location of the user and. ECS providers are allowed to use these numbers. Whilst nomadic use of these numbers is explicitly allowed, the regulatory conditions which define the use of these numbers mandate that “the focal point of [their] usage [shall be] on Austrian territory”. This suggests that occasional use of these numbers abroad would be permitted.

The RTR invites comments on its consultation (comments can be presented both in English and in German) by 10 June 2005.

The RTR consultation document (available in English) can be accessed by clicking here.