Italy: The Italian Communications’ Watchdog regulates VoIP services

Last Updated: 17 May 2006

The Italian Communications’ Regulatory Authority ("ICRA") has issued its decision no. 11/06/CICR which regulates the provision of Voice over Internet Protocol Services and makes the necessary amendments to the national telephone numbering plan. (the "VoIP Decision")

The VoIP Decision comes after auditions of BT-Albacom, Wind, Vodafone, Eutelia, Telecom Italia, Fastweb and, lastly, AIIP – which groups 45 Internet providers and several contributions from other operators acquired through a public consultation procedure on a regulation proposal.

VoIP is the acronym for Voice over Internet Protocol (IP) and refers to the use of IP transport technology for delivery of voice information. Generally speaking, this means sending digitally-encoded voice information in packets rather than through the public (circuit) switched telephone network (PSTN). The protocols used range from SIP and H.323 standardized by IETF and ITU to proprietary solutions like the Skype protocol. Since VoIP signals are transmitted in packets, such transmissions are very much suited to be routed through IP networks, no matter if local, regional or global. Also VoIP transmissions may be used either on public and closed networks.

When regulating VoIP, the main two issues on the table were (i) deciding whether VoIP services were to be regulated as PATS Telephony (i.e. Publicly Available Telephony Services) or not; and (ii) deciding whether nomadic services could use geographical numbering or not.

The above two issues "make the difference" in qualyfing a communication service: the world-famous Skype service does not qualify as PATS telephony1 because of its refusal to meet obbligations to offer access to emergency numbering in States which have such requirement; also, nomadic telephony is fundamental for VoIP development: such feature means that VoIP operators may sign up new accounts regardless of the Internet provider which connects the user to the Internet and ensure the user with the ability to stay connected to his/her geographical numbering from any (broadband) Internet connection; in fact the user can be, anywhere in any country providing nomadic VoIP and so does the VoIP provider.

The VoIP Decision allows operators providing VoIP telephony services to provide PATS telephony through VoIP technology should they wish to so, without having to meet PATS regulations as traditional telephony operators and without having to pay the relevant public service charges.

As for nomadic services (and number portability towards fixed lines as well) they are introduced and a special numbering ("5") is assigned exclusively to VoIP services.

The result is that an attorney may stay in touch with his/her desk while advising a client abroad, a consultant may have a fixed number where clients may reach him/her, someone with multiple residences may live with only one set of contacts, etc.

Some proprietary systems available on the Internet are, in fact, already offering a nomadic service but not providing national Italian geographic numbering for its fixed line-to-IP services; in addition, as mentioned above, some services use a proprietary protocol and therefore refuse VoIP-to-VoIP interconnection: users may talk to each other only in the a community which, on the other hand, may be very large.

The VoIP Regulation opens VoIP "5" numbering to listing in the national telephone directories, apparently users without a "5" numbering would not be entitled to such listing.

VoIP operators will welcome the introduction of the so-called "Electronic communication services", defined as "those services, normally provided for remuneration, which consist wholly or mainly, in the conveyance of signals on Electronic Communications Networks". The aforementioned definition is provided on the basis of that contained in the Framework Directive (Art. 2c) but has been extended to comprise television; the definition indeed specifies that "telecommunication services and network transmission services, employed for circular television and radio broadcasting are to be considered as Electronic Communicaton Services, except for services providing content transmitted through networks and electronic communication services, or services exerting editorial control over the [transmitted] contents; furthermore information society services (...) are excluded from the scope of the definition when not consisting wholly or mainly in transmissions of signals on electronic communication networks."

The above defintion is rather complex to sort out as it comprises numerous kinds of service provisions, but this is not to be regarded as a defect of the VoIP Decision: perhaps a so structured ECS definition is the key to regulating future VoIP content provision services while keeping network and content regulation from interfering with VoIP.

In fact, should television content be transmitted via VoIP, such content would fall within control of entities qualified as ECS services only for the "transport" part, whereas editorial control would be regulated by existing television regulation and, also, intellectual property regulatons would apply for the relevant part.

For a better understading, it is important to note that PATS is a subcategory of ECS when considering VoIP so every VoIP service, even if proprietary, qualifies as ECS but not as PATS whereas every VoIP operator providing PATS is also providing ECS.

So, in theory, should a proprietary system wish to broadcast a TV show, the VoIP Decision would apply, whereas it would not apply as far as number portability is concerned.

This is only the initial Regulation, ICRA is to provide detailed regulation on each point of the VoIP Decision (e.g. interoperability, nomadic services, ECS, etc.).

The VoIP Decision is however to be regarded as a promising opportunity to bring innovation in the Italian communications’ market.


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