December 17, 2007 11:42 AM PST

Europe VoIP group resists emergency-call regulations

A new lobby group has been set up in an attempt to influence the regulation of Internet telephony in Europe.

Voice on the Net Coalition Europe, which includes large suppliers like Google, Intel, Microsoft, and Skype, was launched on Friday in response to regulatory proposals made by the European Commission a month ago.

One of these proposals would require that voice over Internet Protocol providers enable calls to emergency services. The U.K.'s telecommunications regulator, the Office of Communications, has since mandated that such access must be made available by September 2008.

Leading VoIP providers, such as Skype, disagree with such proposals, arguing that VoIP is a complement to, rather than a replacement for, traditional telephony services.

According to a statement released on Friday, VON Coalition Europe "will work to educate, inform, and promote responsible government policies that enable innovation and the many benefits that Internet voice innovations can deliver."

"Internet-enabled communications are an entirely new genre of communications products, services, and applications and a new frontier in communications for individuals and businesses alike," said Stephen Collins, director of global governmental and regulatory affairs at Skype. "In order to unleash their vast benefits, policymakers need to embrace forward-thinking policy approaches."

"If we automatically subject this new technology to legacy telephone regulation, consumers, and business users could miss out on the new services, increased choices, better prices, and improved features that VoIP, for example, can deliver," Collins said.

In its statement, the coalition claimed that the "premature application" of emergency call rules to Web sites, click-to-dial services, one-way public switched telephone-network voice services, and other VoIP services that are not a replacement for traditional home or business phone services "could actually harm public safety, stifle innovations critical to people with disabilities, stall competition, and limit access to innovative and evolving communication options where there is no expectation of placing a 112 call."

The European Commission could offer no comment at the time of writing.

David Meyer of ZDNet UK reported from London.

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3 comments

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What?! I dont get it
How on earth does a requirement to include access to emergency calls "harm public safety"? Sounds like corporate bull to me.
Posted by alphapolitan (25 comments )
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Agree
I don't think they liked the cost of having to do this in the US, and are trying to stop this type of regulation in Europe as well.
Posted by Ushiikun (30 comments )
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It can be harmful...
There is a world of difference between using IP as an alternate transport to switched circuits (as the phone companies are doing) and creating a revolutionary IP-based communication system (as many alternative providers would like to do).

By mandating that Skype must enable calls to emergency services, for example, requires that Skype knows where a person is physically located. When and if GPS coordinates may be used, then perhaps Skype could deliver calls to emergency services if all devices are equipped with GPS receivers. (That's a big *if*.)

There was also mention of issues related to accessibility. Today, deaf people have to suffer with very old TTY devices that are horrible. With IP, we have an opportunity to introduce something remarkably different and far superior to what was available with the PSTN. The FCC issued an order saying that "interconnected" VoIP providers must support those legacy TTY devices. And that benefits who? It would be far better to allow newer IP technologies to grow and replace the old legacy stuff that nobody likes. Instead, the FCC essentially put up a roadblock to progress, in my opinion.

I gather that the VON Coalition is trying to prevent the same mistakes from being made in the EU.
Posted by paulej (1261 comments )
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