France pressures Skype to register as operator

French communications regulator ARCEP was gunning for internet telephony player Skype this week, which it suggests is committing a criminal offence by not declaring itself as a communications operator.

ARCEP said it has requested several times that Skype declare itself as an electronic communications operator, but the company has failed to do so thus far.

“The fact of engaging in the business of electronic communications operator, and particularly the fact of providing a telephone service to the public, also implies compliance with certain obligations, which include the routing of emergency calls and implementing the means required to perform legally ordered interceptions,” the regulator said. “Failure to comply with this obligation does, however, constitute a criminal offence.”

The French regulator has since moved to report Skype to the public prosecutor in Paris.

According to Luca Schiavoni, policy and regulation analyst at Ovum, this latest move is an example of the uncertainty that surrounds the definition and regulation of VoIP services. VoIP is exercising increasing pressure on voice revenues, and providers of these services should expect to be regulated in the same way as traditional telephony.

“The French telecoms sector keeps showing signs of strengthened competition across fixed telephony and broadband, where VoIP is increasingly being taken up instead of traditional voice services. Ovum predicts that from 2012 to 2020 VoIP will cost the global telecoms industry $479bn in lost cumulative revenues.

“Regulators must resolve the dilemma that seems to be the basis of the conflict between Skype and ARCEP: whether or not a player such as Skype can be seen as an electronic communications provider, as defined in the EC’s Directive of 2002. There needs to be more clarity in the way electronic communications services are defined, and a simplified and standardized framework where possible.

“The slow progress toward a common treatment in the EU may slow the deployment of VoIP because providers must come to terms with the different regulatory environments. Certainly VoIP is one area where a harmonised approach is desirable, and we expect such an approach to be established as telephony services gradually migrate toward VoIP technology.”

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