The European Regulators Group (ERG) has released an 'ERG Common Statement on VoIP Regulatory Approaches'. This was followed-up by a welcoming press release from EU Commissioner Vivane Reding, who is in charge of Information Society and Media.
The ERG, which is an institution in which the National Regulatory Authorities (NRA's) of all 25 EU Member States are represented, expressed the opinion that the appearance of VoIP services is a positive development.
The ERG agreed that:
- The regulatory approach to VoIP in Europe under the European regulatory framework for the benefit of consumers should enable the greatest possible level of innovation and competitive entry in the market, whilst ensuring that consumers are adequately protected.
- Application and interpretation of rights and obligations in relation to VoIP should be in accordance with the European regulatory framework including the policy goals and regulatory principles existing today.
- Legal analysis of the European regulatory framework in relation to VoIP by the ERG is more appropriate when the market has further developed.
- The NRAs will further clarify the rights and obligations for VoIP providers.
- The NRAs are committed to address barriers to market entry if they arise and in accordance with the European regulatory framework.
- Consumers and service providers should be provided adequate information and be empowered to make informed choices about services and service provision
Two specific statements were made, one with regard to numbering and number portability, the other with regard to access to emergency services.
1. Numbering and number portability
- In order to foster competition by stimulating the emergence of new services as well as promoting number portability numbering plans should be technologically neutral, based on the service descriptions and the same number ranges should in principle be available for both traditional voice and VoIP services.
- Number portability is an important point from the consumer’s as well as the provider’s point of view while enabling end-users to retain their telephone number when changing a service provider. Number portability is one of the main enablers of competition.
- Conditions concerning number portability should be equal for similar types of voice services within the scope of national numbering plans in order to facilitate consumer choice and promote effective competition.
The first statement is a bit ambiguous. It is explicit that numbering plans should be technology neutral and based on the service description. This latter could be interpreted as meaning that geographic numbers could be "tied to PATS". Note that the terminology PATS/non-PATS is not once used in the document. This discussion has been clearly avoided. This seems deliberate and it appears that national legislation will be the determining factor (i.e. if a Member State decides that geographic numbers should be tied to PATS they can be tied to PATS, as this is a service description).
The statement also does not make it especially clear whether the ERG encourages geographic numbers for nomadic VoIP use or not. One could interpret the juxtaposition of "traditional" voice and VoIP services as meaning that VoIP services can be more than traditional voice services and that geographic numbers should still be available. This, however is by no means explicit.
Number portability is clearly seen as a user's right. Again the statement is a not entirely unambiguous, but from the document it is clear that this statement is pointing in the direction of allowing and requiring all operators (VoIP or not) to participate in number portability systems.
2. Statement on emergency services
The statement on emergency services is unequivocally forward-looking. Solutions are allowed to develop as the technology matures.There is clearly no intention to impose the provision of location-based information to emergency services on all VoIP-enabled services at this point in time.
- Access to Emergency services is extremely important for citizens, irrespective of how a voice service may be classified for legal and regulatory purposes.
- From a public policy point of view it is desirable that access to emergency services is available from as wide a range of electronic communications services as possible.
- VoIP emergency calls from fixed or otherwise known locations should be routed to the nearest emergency centre on the basis of the contractually agreed physical address.
- When calling the emergency number, caller location information should be provided to the extent technically feasible.
- In those cases where the caller location cannot be determined by the VoIP provider (most likely in the case of nomadic use of VoIP services), the end-user should be clearly and unambiguously informed by the VoIP provider about any restrictions in routing emergency calls and providing caller location information and the potential consequences.
- Further requirements for nomadic VoIP services related to routing and caller location information should be discussed after technology and standards have matured.
Further requirements related to other types of VoIP services, SIP emergency calls, SMS emergency messages, email emergency messages, etc. should be discussed after technology and standards have matured.
It is clear that VoIP-enabled service providers are expected to work toward solutions with regard to location information, but they are being given ample time.