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Internet telephony providers must provide consumers with proper information

Most types of Internet telephony (VoIP) come under the legal criteria for fixed telephone services. OPTA, the Independent Post and Telecommunications Authority of the Netherlands, ensures that all providers of this type of VoIP services comply with the obligations applicable in the case of fixed telephone service providers. Examples of this are the provision of number portability, calls to 112, and calls to and from other countries. OPTA has confirmed this in its VoIP position paper, which market parties will be receiving today.

Many consumers have exchanged their fixed telephone line for an Internet telephone service. Although the two products appear to be the same, the technologies behind it are different. It is for this reason that the VoIP service varies in some respects. In its VoIP position paper OPTA has defined the situations in which Internet telephony may differ from fixed telephone services. In such cases the regulatory authority demands that consumers are clearly notified of this beforehand. In practice this involves a warning about the potential for loss of quality to occur and/or for problems to arise when using peripheral equipment. In this respect one might consider fax and PIN devices or alarm systems, which do not work in the case of some Internet telephony providers, or do not work properly.

When VoIP was first introduced about four years ago, OPTA decided to monitor the development of market supply which arose on the basis of this new technology. Since then this technology has taken off. Today in 2008 one in every three Dutch consumers uses Internet telephony. Now that the technology is well-developed and so many consumers use these services, it is important that, where possible, Internet callers acquire the same rights as their fixed telephone counterparts with regard to information, freedom of choice and security. Where consumer complaints reveal that this is not the case, OPTA will take action against the relevant Internet telephone service providers.

Consumer complaints constitute an important source of information to OPTA. If companies do not comply with applicable duties, consumers may turn to www.consuwijzer.nl. On this website consumers can find information about their rights, also in relation to Internet telephony. For instance, a consumer can check whether a specific VoIP provider is subject to the legal criteria governing fixed telephone services and whether the rules applicable to VoIP therefore also apply in his case. Consumers can also obtain information about how to act, if a provider fails to comply with the rules. For example, they may lodge a complaint and contact the responsible dispute resolution committee.

ConsuWijzer is the Dutch government’s consumer information portal. It was established as a joint venture of three regulatory authorities which fall under the Ministry of Economic Affairs: the Netherlands Competition Authority (NMa), the Independent Post and Telecommunications Authority (OPTA) and the Netherlands Consumer Authority (CA). ConsuWijzer consists of a website containing information, tips, examples and references to relevant organisations. In addition, ConsuWijzer can be reached by post or e-mail, or by telephone on 088 070 7070 (national call rates).