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  1. 1. The Voice of Advanced Communications Regulation of VoIP – What it means for your company CONTACT On 29th March, telecoms regulator Ofcom released their long-awaited statement on the regulation of VoIP services. The statement came as a For more information, please contact: response to the input received on Ofcom’s 2006 consultation. ITSPA was ITSPA Secretariat fully involved in this process, holding a regular dialogue with Ofcom right admin@itspa.org.uk +44 (0)20 7233 7377 up until the final release. The new regulatory framework is of great significance to VoIP service providers. There is to be a mandatory Code of Practice1 for all providers of voice services to consumers or businesses with ten or less employees. The code will apply to all providers of public electronic communications services and compliance is required by 29th May, 2007. The code sets out what Ofcom views as the minimum requirements to be met by service providers. Any breaches of the Code are subject to the imposition of sanctions by Ofcom. These sanctions will vary according to the nature of the breach but can be as severe as fines equivalent to 10% of company turnover or suspension from providing communications services. Ofcom plans to carry out a ‘mystery shopping’ exercise to gauge compliance at some point in 2007. Service providers will be made aware of this exercise in advance. The Code of Practice contains a number of additional demands made on VoIP providers above and beyond those contained in the previous ITSPA Code of Practice. The key differences which could affect your business compliance are briefly explained in this article. All Communications Providers in the UK are required to comply with the General Conditions of Entitlement2, as notified by Ofcom under Section 48 of the Communications Act 2003. • General Condition 14 has now been modified to include the new code of practice which will require voice providers to inform their consumer or small business customers of any feature that differs from a normal “Publicly Available Telephony Service”, specifically in relation to service reliability, Emergency Calls and number portability. • Ofccom has also modified the definition of a ‘Publicly Available Telephone Service’ (PATS) for the purposes of General Condition 18, so that only services available to the public for originating and receiving national and international calls and access to emergency services through a normal telephone number have the right to number portability under GC 18, with the exception of Public Electronic Communications Services for receiving calls only. 1 The Code of Practice can be found on pages 88-93 within the Ofcom VoIP Statement http://www.ofcom.org.uk/consult/condocs/voipregulation/voipstatement/voipstatement.pdf 2 http://www.ofcom.org.uk/telecoms/ioi/g_a_regime/gce/cvogc.pdf April 19th 2007 Page 1 ITSPA Secretariat Regulation of VoIP – What it means for your company
  2. 2. On the issue of 999, Ofcom now plans to consult on whether, and if so how, certain VoIP services should be required to offer emergency services access. This consultation will assess access to 999 should be mandatory, as well as considering the impact that would have on market entry, innovation and competition. This consultation will take place this summer of 2007, and ITSPA will continue to liaise with Ofcom as part of its response to it. Finally, the discontinuation by Ofcom of its interim forbearance policy as from the date of the VOIP statement (i.e. 29th March 2007) means that any VoIP provider offering a 999 service (and complying with the other gating criteria set out below) will be deemed to be a PATS (Publicly Available Telephone Service) operator. This will require compliance with more of the General Conditions of entitlement. PATS operators must comply with General Conditions 3, 4.1, 4.2, 5, 6, 8, 10, 12, 13, 15 and 16.A failure to comply with the General Conditions of entitlement can ultimately lead to the imposition of fines by Ofcom. April 19th 2007 Page 2 ITSPA Secretariat Regulation of VoIP – What it means for your company
  3. 3. Modification to GC 14 - Code of Practice Outline The new mandatory Code of Practice requires Service Providers to provide information on i) service reliability ii) emergency calls iii) number portability and iv) other information for domestic and small business customers. Service Reliability • Each Service Provider must provide “clear and readily accessible information” about its service, if it ceases to function due to a power cut, power failure or a loss in the broadband connection. • This information must be provided during the Sales process, within the Terms and Conditions of Use and in any User Guide. Ofcom have specified that this will also include leaflets and marketing materials. • An example provided by Ofcom; “IMPORTANT INFORMATION: If your Broadband Connection fails, your voice service will also fail. Your service may cease to function if there is a power cut or failure. These failures may be caused by reasons outside our control”. Emergency Calls No Access: • Service Providers offering no access to emergency calls must provide “clear and readily accessible information” at the point of signature, in the Terms and Conditions of Use and in any User Guide. This information must also be provided within the Sales process. • Customers must acknowledge in the form of a signature (or online equivalent) that they understand that this service will not provide access to emergency calls. Evidence of this must be provided to Ofcom within five working days, following a written request from the regulator. Ofcom has provided guidelines on how this requirement can be applied using the different sales scenarios. o Online: The provider must ensure that a set of boxes are ticked by the consumer, showing that they have read and understood each relevant statements before signing up. o Telephone: The sales agent must read out a statement on each relevant aspect and ensure the customer verbally agrees to understanding each point before signing up. o Face to face: The sales agent will ask to sign each relevant statement to ensure they understand the details before signing. • As part of the Terms and Conditions of Use customers must be supplied with a clear and readily accessible statement or an on screen statement that the customer is encouraged to print out that emergency calls cannot be made. • During the sales process, the customer should be given the opportunity to receive labels stating that Emergency Calls cannot be made using the Service. Where a screen or display is used with the service, a label could be an onscreen message or display using a clear and readily accessible graphic. Alternatively, the customer should be able to choose either; a) A printed label sent to the customer (to be attached to the Service Access Terminal); or b) Software facilities for producing such labels (e.g. a PDF file). • Should anybody attempt to make an emergency call, an announcement must be made in order to notify the user that this service is not available. This announcement should be interspersed with a Number Unavailable Tone. Reliability of access to emergency calls: • The same steps have to be made for services that do offer emergency calls, due to the possibility that the service may fail in the event of a power cut or a loss of broadband connection. • Customers must be given the same “clear and readily accessible information” during the Sales process. They also must acknowledge this by signature. Ofcom example: “I understand that this service allows calls to the April 19th 2007 Page 3 ITSPA Secretariat Regulation of VoIP – What it means for your company
  4. 4. emergency services numbers 999 and 112. However I understand that calls will fail if there is a power cut or my broadband connection fails.” • Service Providers also have to provide the same label offering and produce evidence to Ofcom within five working days if requested. Emergency Location Information • If a service does provide emergency service access and is being used principally at a fixed location, the Service Provider must request the customer to register the address of where the service is going to be used prior to activation. • If the service is being used at several locations, the Service Provider should recommend that the customer update the location information, whenever accessing the service from a new location • Service Providers must advise customers about any limitations of the location information provided, if the location information is not kept up-to-date. This should be done at the point of signature, in the Terms and Conditions of Use and any User guide. • If the Service Provider does not provide emergency location information at all, this must be relayed to the consumer at the point of signature, in the Terms and Conditions of Use, any User guide and must also be made available during the Sales process. Number Portability • Where a Service Provider doesn’t offer number portability, this must be made clear in any User Guide or within the Terms and Conditions of Use. This information must also be made available during the Sales process. Other Information for Consumers • Service Providers must make it clear to a prospective customer whether any of the following features are not available: a) Access to a Directory Enquiry Facility; b) Access to operator assistant services; c) Calling Line Identification facilities; d) Provision of a Directory on request; e) Special measures for end users with disabilities; f) The non-itemisation of calls, which are made from a Subscriber’s telephone which are free of charge. • The Service Provider must make any restrictions on Number ranges or Country Codes clear. If a number cannot be dialled, Ofcom recommend that the Number Unavailable Tone be used. Number Portability General Condition 18 provides that only subscribers of PATS (Publicly Available Telephone Services) have the right to number portability. The definition of PATS in the modified GC18.5 is: a) in relation to a service to be used with a Telephone Number for receiving calls only under the contract between the person and the provider in question, means a Public Electronic Communications Service for only receiving national and international telephone calls through a number or numbers in a national or international telephone numbering plan b) in relation to a service to be used with a Telephone Number for originating and receiving calls and access to Emergency Organisations under the contract between the person and the April 19th 2007 Page 4 ITSPA Secretariat Regulation of VoIP – What it means for your company
  5. 5. provider in question, has the meaning ascribed to it under paragraph 1 of Part 1 of the Schedule; This definition is relevant only to the Number Portability provisions contained in General Condition 18. PATS Compliance and Network Integrity A service will be deemed to be a Publicly Available Telephone Service if it meets all of the following “gating criteria”: It is a publicly available service. It originates and receives national and international calls. It offers access to the Emergency Services. It is through a number or numbers in a national or international telephone numbering plan. Becoming a PATS operator means that there are a significant number of extra obligations which Service providers have to adhere to. The following General Conditions are relevant to PATS providers: o GC 3 – Proper and effective functioning of the network. o GC 4.1 – Emergency Call Numbers. Ensuring an end user can call 112 or 999 free of charge (including public telephones). o GC 4.2 – Emergency Call Numbers. To the extent where technically feasible, caller location information must be provided for emergency organisations handling the calls. o GC 5 – Emergency Planning. Assisting emergency organisations and government bodies during disaster situations. o GC 6 – Public Pay Telephones. Offering operator services, directory enquiry facilities and the displaying of minimum charges and emergency service access as part of a public pay telephone service. o GC 8 – Operator Assistance, Directories and Directory Enquiry Facilities. Ensuring end users can access operator services and director enquiries. o GC 10 – Transparency and Publication of Information. The provision of clear and up-to-date information on prices and tariffs as well as standard terms and conditions related to the access and use of a PATS operator. o GC 12 – Itemised Bills. On request, a provider must provide subscribers with a basic level of itemised billing either at no extra cost, or for a reasonable fee. o GC 13 – Non-Payment of Bills. A provider should take proportionate and not unduly discriminatory action to subscribers who have not paid their bills. Due warning must be given to service interruption or disconnection. o GC 15 – Special Measures for End Users with Disabilities. Compliance with a wide range of obligations for disabled end users. o GC 16 – Provision of Additional Facilities. The offering of tone dialling or dual-tone multi frequency operation and Calling Line Identification facilities. Ofcom’s original forbearance policy allowed VoIP providers to offer access to emergency services without having to adhere to all these additional General Conditions. This is no longer the case and if a VoIP provider offers 999 access (and meets the other gating criteria), it must now comply with the relevant General Conditions. One of the major concerns for VoIP providers was the clarity of the some of the General Conditions, particularly with regards GC 3. Some providers were unsure whether they were sufficiently compliant within the network integrity guidelines to be PATS or not. Ofcom has recognised the need for greater clarification and has provided further details within the Statement (Annex 5). GC3 states that a PATS operator must take reasonably practicable steps to maintain to the greatest extent possible: a) the availability of the PATS offering if there is major network breakdown and b) uninterrupted access to the emergency organisations. April 19th 2007 Page 5 ITSPA Secretariat Regulation of VoIP – What it means for your company
  6. 6. Ofcom understood the numerous different elements that could affect the reliability and performance of a VoIP service. These considerations included: Consumer Premise Equipment (CPE – e.g. PC/software and /or adaptor). Local access (e.g. copper loop). Broadband access network (e.g. DSLAM, ATM and IP network). Core IP network and Internet peering arrangements. Service and application layers (e.g. home subscriber server, call server and media gateways). Interconnection into other networks for the purpose of call termination. Ofcom did recgonise that a provider who controlled all aspects of the network would be able to provide a high level of network integrity. Ofcom also recommended some ways in which to improve network integrity, although did stress that these recommendations were not mandatory in order to demonstrate compliance to GC 3. The recommendations included; Engineer the VoIP service to minimise latency and to specify the minimum requirements needed to run the service (e.g. bandwidth and contention ratios). Marking VoIP traffic for priority in an IP network. Designing networks to minimise routing hops. Proactively managing any customers CPEs – e.g. packet or window size to maximise throughput for voice. Implement deep packet inspection to identify and prioritise voice traffic in the network areas which the provider controls. Implement home subscriber server, gateways and call servers. Use the associated PSTN line within an xDSL service for 999 access to ensure emergency service access in the event of a power cut or failure of the broadband service. Ofcom do believe that all communication providers should expect to carry out a formal risk assessment for providing 999 access. This risk assessment should include: A model of the network elements used to provide that service Defining a set of performance parameters. Identifying which of the elements are most likely to fail, or suffer a degraded service. Determining which elements are critical in relation to the end-to-end service performance. Determining and implementing a risk mitigation strategy. Ofcom have also highlighted the importance of service level agreements (SLAs) between VoIP service providers and infrastructure providers and would both recommend and consider the SLA agreements entered into, when investigating any potential breaches of GC 3. Ofcom did understand that putting SLAs in place for nomadic services. Contingency plans for power outages have also been considered by Ofcom, and line powering has been discounted as a credible option to VoIP CPE. The option of providing battery backup for CPE has been left up to the individual VoIP provider to decide. Despite Ofcom’s further guidelines on network integrity, ITSPA still feel it would be useful to produce a risk assessment on General Condition 3, to ensure that ITSPA members have assured guidance to be confident that they can comply with GC3. This will be undertaken, following further discussion with the Regulatory Working Group and Ofcom representatives. April 19th 2007 Page 6 ITSPA Secretariat Regulation of VoIP – What it means for your company