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IP/01/4

Brussels, 5 January 2001

Commission publishes voice on Internet communication

The European Commission has published on its website an update to the 1998 Communication notice on the status of voice on Internet under Community law,after a consultation process. This update brings a number of clarifications to the 1998 Notice, but confirms its overall assessment that voice on Internet should continue, except in limited cases, to be treated by the Member States differently from voice telephony.

The 1998 notice on the status of voice on Internet under Community law indicated that its content should be reviewed before the year 2000, in order to take into account possible technological and market developments. A public consultation took place last Summer, which gave the opportunity to a variety of market players (operators, manufacturers, national authorities, associations…) to express their views.

http://ec.europa.eu/competition/liberalization/oj/

http://ec.europa.eu/competition/liberalization/telecom/voice_over_internet/consultation/

After taking these comments into consideration, the Commission adopted a supplement to the 1998 Notice on 21 December 2000, which concludes that the approach of the latter remains valid. Voice services on Internet usually do not meet each of the conditions for the definition of voice telephony in the 1990 "services" Directive and should therefore not be treated as such from a regulatory point of view.

This general assessment does of course not preclude case by case analyses. The supplement to the 1998 Notice adopted by the Commission provides general guidelines and does not prevent national authorities to carry out specific assessments when justified by specific circumstances.

In some cases, voice services on Internet might meet all the conditions laid down in the 1990 Directive. Certain Internet telephony providers may qualify as providers of voice telephony, and therefore be subject to the regulatory regime applicable to voice telephony, as soon as they offer a quality of service equivalent to that of traditional voice telephony.

The public consultation held last Summer highlighted the need for clarifications on a number of points. The communication therefore clarifies the differences between voice over Internet protocol and voice over the Internet. It states, as a consequence of this distinction, that the conveyance of voice signals over dedicated private networks using the Internet protocol is likely to produce a level of service comparable with that of voice delivered over conventional telephony networks.

The supplement also gives additional indications on the notion of integrated Internet services contained in the 1998 text. It also emphasizes the notion of substitutability with conventional voice telephony in the eye of the consumer. The 1998 Notice and its supplement published on the Commission's website (see on the Commission's website at will provide guidance for a transitional period, until the entry into force of the new package of directives on electronic communications.

Background

The concept of voice telephony is defined by Article 1 of Directive 90/388 EEC (the "services" Directive).

Internet telephony would be defined as voice telephony and therefore be subject to standard voice telephony regulation only if and when all the following conditions were met:

  • the communications are the subject of a separate commercial offer the service is provided for the public

  • the service is provided to and from public switched network termination points on the fixed telephony network

  • it involves direct transport and speech in real time.

At the time of the 1998 Notice, the Commission considered that Internet telephony did not meet all these criteria, and therefore would not be considered as voice telephony.

Since 1998, significant technological changes have taken place, with, in particular, inroads being made in the field of quality of service. Multimedia services including voice features have thrived on the Internet marketplace, whereas telecom operators are increasingly likely to test out telephony services over the Internet.

Despite these developments, voice services over the Internet do most of the time not comply with the conditions listed above. The quality and reliability offered by already marketed services still do not meet the expectations of mainstream consumers. Sophisticated products tailored to the needs of professional users have been released, but as they usually combine voice features with other elements (e.g. text and image) they cannot be assimilated with genuine voice telephony.

The Commission had issued a consultative communication on June 27th setting out its preliminary position as to the updating of the 1998 Notice. This preliminary position was subsequently amended to take into account the comments made during the two-month consultation period.


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