BACKGROUNDERS | Updated: Tue, Feb 21, 2006 12:27 pm PDT

Legal Issues

Last revised by Ali Farshchian, Feb 18, 06 at 7:15 pm PDT | Edit | Add New Term

As the popularity of VoIP grows, and PSTN users switch to VoIP in increasing numbers, governments are becoming more interested in regulating VoIP in a manner similar to PSTN services.

In the U.S., the Federal Communications Commission now requires all VoIP operators who don’t support Enhanced 911 to attach a sticker warning that traditional 911 services aren’t available. The FCC recently required VoIP operators to support CALEA wiretap functionality [1]. The Telecommunications Act of 2005 proposes adding more traditional PSTN regulations, such as local number portability and universal service fees. Other future legal issues include wiretapping and network neutrality.

Some Latin American countries, fearful for their state owned telephone services, have placed restrictions on the use of VoIP, including in Panama where VoIP is taxed, while in Mexico it is illegal to sell VoIP or equipment exclusively used to obtain VoIP [citation needed]. In Ethiopia, where the telecommunication service is monopolized by a single service provider, it is a criminal offence to give services in VoIP. The country has installed firewalls to prevent international calls being made using VoIP. These measures were taken after a popularity in VoIP reduced the income generated by the telecommunication company.

In the European Union, the treatment of VoIP service providers is a decision for each Member State’s national telecoms regulator, which must use competition law theory to define relevant national markets and then determine whether any service provider on those national markets has “significant market power” (and so should be subject to certain obligations). A general distinction is usually made between VoIP services that function over managed networks (via broadband connections) and VoIP services that function over unmanaged networks (essentially, the Internet): - the former are often considered to be a viable substitute for PSTN telephone services (despite the problems of power outages and lack of geographical information); as a result, major operators that provide these services (in practice, incumbent operators) may find themselves bound by obligations of price control or accounting separation; - the latter are often considered to be too poor in quality to be a viable substitute for PSTN services; as a result, they may be provided without any specific obligations, even if a service provider has “significant market power”. As concerns obligations which can exist independently of market power (e.g. the obligation to offer access to emergency calls), the relevant EU Directive is unfortunately terribly drafted and it is impossible to say definitely whether VoIP service providers of either type are bound by them. A review of the EU Directive is under way and should be complete by 2007.

This text is licensed under the GNU Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article “VoIP".

Revision History