Some Internet telephony suppliers will come under the same EU regulation as conventional telcos, as they start to provide similar quality of service, the European Commission said this week.
The Internet companies would then be counted as public voice operators and would need to be licensed by national regulators.
The prediction is included in a formal competition notice issued by the Commission this week on the regulatory position of Internet telephony. This follows consultations with the industry and an earlier draft notice issued last year.
"When all the criteria of the voice telephony definition are satisfied, those Internet service providers offering a dial-out service to any telephone number, and only those, could then be considered providers of voice telephony services under community law," the document states.
However, the EC said that, even if member states decided these services required individual licences, the licensing schemes would have to be notified to the Commission and would have to be "proportionate to their aim" and non-discriminatory.
Comments filed with the EC show that at least one group of Internet service providers enables Internet users to connect via local access from a PC to a telephone subscriber without a modem and against payment.
"The use of the Internet (and the lower consequent tariffs) are a decisive driver for Internet subscription to such a service (whether or not the subscriber is also taking an Internet connection to a PC as part of the service allowing use of his or her telephone)," it said.
Internet service providers could also fall within the EU rules on universal service, in member states where these are applied. They would then be required to make a contribution to ensuring that all citizens - even in poor or remote areas - can access telephone services.
The commission said it plans to review this notice on Internet telephony periodically and will make a final policy on 1 January 2000.
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