New proposals published by Ofcom, the regulator for the UK communications industry, require VoIP service providers to allow users to make 999 emergency calls by early 2008.
Recent research by Ofcom found that up to 78% of VoIP users who cannot use their service to call 999, either thought that they could call the emergency number or were unsure if they could or not. Only 64% of UK households with VoIP use a supplier that provides 999 calls.
The number of VoIP users is increasing rapidly - from 1.2 million UK households at the end of 2005 to 2.4 million at the end of 2006 - placing more and more people at risk from potential delays in ringing 999 if their VoIP service does not offer this facility. Ofcom is concerned that delays while consumers seek a landline could prove critical.
VoIP services provided by BT and Vonage already allow users access to 999. VoIP providers who do not currently provide access to the 999 number could incur costs of £0.90 per household per year under the new proposals.
A code of practice, introduced by Ofcom in March 2007, requiring all VoIP providers to make it clear to consumers whether or not their service includes access to emergency services, will continue to apply under the new proposals.