All providers of electronic communication networks are governed by the Communications Act 2003 which contains several general conditions and around 21 of these relate to communication networks.
Anyone running a communications network has obligations under the General Conditions and General Condition 4 (GC4) relates to emergency services.
Previously a VoIP provider could decide whether to provide emergency services or not, as long as they clearly told the end-user. Providing emergency services may mean the provider has other conditions that then apply to them, so many didn’t bother.
On 5th September 2008, GC4 was amended such that all VoIP providers who provide access to the PSTN (i.e. public telephone network) MUST provide access to the emergency services. It is no longer an option not to.
This may involve cost to the providers as they should try and provide location information about the VoIP user to the emergency services (if possible).
Ofcom is watching you
Ofcom (or the Office of Communications) are the regulator in this space. On the day of the GC4 amendment they announced that they were starting an investigation into VoIP providers and their implementation of access to emergency services i.e. they are going to pro-actively see if VoIP providers are complying with the new legislation.
Based on the results of the investigation they will then work out an enforcement policy or action.
This affects all VoIP providers in the UK including foreign providers (offering services in the UK is the key part).
Companies such as Skype have previously not provided access to emergency services, but under the GC4 amendment they have to.
It will be interesting to see how Ofcom can penalise companies not based on UK shores as they will have to pursue them in the country where they’re based (or maybe the local telcos who provide them connectivity).