The UK regulatory authority Ofcom has today published a letter entitled “Number portability and Ofcom’s interim PATS policy”.

The letter mainly concerns number portability in the context of “new voice services” (Ofcom’s terminology to address VoIP-enabled and related services). It was addressed (on 20 Dec 2004) to members of two industry fora: the number portability commercial group and the working group dealing with customer information issues.

It elaborates upon Ofcom’s interim position on the application of the regulatory framework to new voice services (“the Interim PATS Policy”) which was issued on 6 Sep 2004 in the form of a consultation and what Ofcom termed “interim guidance” together with a Statement on Numbering Arrangements for New Voice Services.

Ofcom uses this letter addressed to industry to give further specific interim guidance on number portability rights and obligations, i.e. on the manner in which communications providers are expected to deal with number portability in the context of VoIP.

Specifically, it addresses questions:

a) as to how a request should be formulated (e.g. request for conclusion of a general porting agreement, discussions on the process for requesting portability service establishment, and actual porting-out of numbers), and

b) whether (and in which circumstances) a request can be refused.

The key new item of interim guidance provided by Ofcom is the following:

“Ofcom judges it reasonable for a communications provider that receives a request for Portability to ask for written confirmation that the applicant’s service is a PATS service andthat it complies with the Interim PATS Policy and on provision of such confirmation shall provide Portability. If the applicant fails, contrary to Ofcom’s guidance above, to state that that is the case then it is reasonable for it to refuse to provide Portability. However, the recipient of the application for portability does not have the right or the responsibility to ask the applicant to prove that this is the case.”

Significantly, the letter also indicates that a final Statement on VoIP should not be expected immediately, given the ongoing discussions with the European Commission and within the European Regulators Group (see also a previous T-REGS news item).

Ofcom makes the following remark:

“Ofcom is currently waiting for the Commission to clarify its policy on new voice services and hopes to be able to publish the statement in the first quarter of 2005. Providers should therefore be aware that the circumstances in which they are able to secure Portability under the Interim PATS policy may be subject to change. However, Ofcom will seek to ensure that any Porting under the interim arrangements is not affected by decisions regarding any final policy.”

The full text of the Ofcom letter can be accessed by clicking here.

For a discussion of VoIP regulatory issues in the UK and in other European countries, please contact Yves Blondeel or Alexa Veller.