Ofcom presses VoIP providers for 999 calls

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Ofcom presses VoIP providers for 999 calls

Ofcom is to require VoIP service providers to allow users to make 999 emergency calls by early 2008.

The proposal comes on the back of Ofcom's research revealing that as many as 78 percent of VoIP users who cannot use their service to call 999 thought they could, or did not know whether they could.

Ofcom proposes that any VoIP service allowing users to make calls to ordinary phone numbers must also offer access to 999.

Some VoIP providers, for example BT and Vonage, already allow users access to 999. For other VoIP providers, Ofcom estimates the cost of allowing their users to call 999 is likely to be around £0.90 per household per year.

Under Ofcom's proposals, providers of VoIP out and full VoIP services would be required to offer access to emergency services.

The number of households that have used VoIP telephony has grown from around 1.2 million at the end of 2005 to around 2.4 million at the end of 2006 and the growth is set to continue.

Ofcom's research shows that only 64 percent of UK households with VoIP use a supplier that provides 999 calls.

In February 2006 Ofcom consulted on its approach to regulating VoIP services. Several respondents, including government departments and the emergency services, voiced concern about the possible harm that could come to VoIP users who are unable to contact 999 using that service.

As a result, in March 2007, Ofcom put in place a code of practice that requires all VoIP providers to make it clear to consumers whether or not their service includes access to emergency services.

The code of practice would continue to apply under the proposals published today. The deadline for responses by VoIP providers to Ofcom's proposals is 20 September 2007.

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