Ofcom ready to regulate VoIP providers

Internet telephony providers like Skype, Gossiptel and BT will have to come clean about the potential deficiencies of their services at the point of sale.

The declarations, expected to be on-screen, will cite inabilities such as not being able to call 999 or use the service when the host computer is powered off.

Disclosures obtained by The Times suggest such a code of practice governing all VoIP service providers could be unveiled by Ofcom within the coming weeks.

Until now, the regulator has held off interfering in the nascent voice services market, but its reported value of £80million suggests it is now ripe for intervention.

In April, Ofcom said 3million Brits will take advantage of free VoIP calls within the subsequent six months, with a diverse range of business models and features likely to exist for the "foreseeable future."

The plan for a code of practice suggest consumer complaints about VoIP are being taken seriously, in light of concerns that emergency calls cannot be made from most of the packages.

Under the code, providers may also be required to tell consumers about the unavailability of other facilities they might expect from a telephone services, such as an answering machine.

In the future, customers will be asked to sign to say they understand the conditions of their VoIP service, as part of a bid to encourage providers to be more transparent about their offerings.

Labels will also be placed on product equipment, such as VoIP-enabled handsets, with clearly emblazoned warnings.

The Internet Telephony Services Providers Association has reportedly expressed major concerns about the code, saying the new rules could force providers, such as London-run Skype, to relocate elsewhere.

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