Monday, September 06, 2004

Ofcom to encourage the development of new voice services

Ofcom Website | Ofcom to encourage the development of new voice services

Ofcom today published its approach to new voice services, including Voice over Broadband (VoB) phone services which deliver calls over the internet rather than via traditional telephone networks.

Ofcom believes that the emergence of these services will offer important benefits to consumers. Call costs should reduce significantly; where a call connects from one VoB service to another, the only cost to the consumer is typically a standard monthly fee, regardless as to whether the call is to the next town or to the other side of the world.

New voice services also offer consumers the prospect of innovative features currently the preserve of large corporations, such as sophisticated call handling and messaging, multi-party conference calls and video calls.

Additionally, the comparatively low cost of the technology required means that the barriers to entry for new companies are lower than those in traditional switched-circuit telephony. Ofcom believes that those advantages, coupled with increasing competition in the wholesale broadband market, are likely to mean that consumers will benefit from the choice of a wide range of providers.

Ofcom’s approach is intended to minimise the regulatory burden associated with the creation and delivery of new voice services whilst ensuring that providers benefit from fair and effective competition in the infrastructure markets upon which they will depend.

Ofcom has therefore today:

-Set out the telephone numbering available for new voice services, allowing providers to:

--Offer their customers geographic phone numbers (beginning with 01 or 02), making it easier to switch from a traditional service to a VoB service, for example, without having to change telephone number.

--Offer their customers a non-geographic phone number beginning with a new code, 056, which would not be linked to any location and could be used anywhere in the country.

-Published a consumer guide to new voice services, granted a Crystal Mark by the Plain English Campaign.

-Begun a public consultation on the appropriate level of consumer protection measures which should apply to new voice services. Traditional fixed-line telephony services comply with regulatory conditions stipulating near-guaranteed access to essential services such as 999. The consultation asks to what extent these requirements would be proportionate and appropriate in the case of internet-based voice services and how consumers should be informed of the new services’ capabilities. The consultation will close on Monday 15 November 2004.

Ofcom Chief Executive, Stephen Carter said: "Broadband voice services are a new and emerging market. Our first task as regulator is to keep out of the way.”

He added: “As the market develops, we will ensure that consumers are appropriately informed and protected.”

See also:

The Register: Ofcom sets out stall on VoIP UK regulator announces approach to VoIP services

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