Report: Consumer VoIP contracts lacking in detail

While there are plenty of providers pushing consumer VoIP, most are letting customers down on the detail, according to new research by Telsyte.

The analyst company's latest report compared the VoIP contracts currently offered with the terms recommended by the Australian Communications Industry Forum (ACIF). According to its findings, those listed by the 25 VoIP providers surveyed varied dramatically.

Consumer VoIP is defined in the study as a voice service offered over a public network via broadband internet, whether that is DSL, wireless, satellite, or HFC. The service can be delivered either through a soft phone or a piece of hardware attached between the modem and telephone.

With so many providers today, it is important for consumers to be informed and to shop around. But managing director of Telsyte, Shara Evans, said the variations and amounts of information each provider offered about its service was a concern.

ACIF recommends 26 points to be covered in a telecommunication contract that include an adequate explanation of what the service is, what the minimum requirements are, the limitations of the service, the service costs, the infrastructure ownership and information on regulatory and consumer protection.

No single provider participating in Telsyte's report fulfilled every point. The length of contracts given to customers varied between one page and 50 pages, with some providers even advertising no contract, according to Evans.

"These companies obviously have very little idea of business, as even a verbal agreement, when money is exchanged, is a legally binding contract," she said.

Only three of the 25 providers were licensed carriers. Another 14 were members of the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) and 10 providers were not involved in any regulatory, self regulatory or industry group at all.

"There are some providers offering VoIP services that have had very little experience in the telecommunication industry," Evans said. "Some kind of regulatory structure is important because it offers the consumer a certain amount of protection should they have complaints about the service."

Information on voice quality was also scarce, with only six providers giving customers any documentation.

"Any provider will know that once voice passes through multiple infrastructure owners over the public internet, quality is impossible to guarantee, but this should be disclosed," Evans said.

There was also a lack of information provided by the industry on infrastructure ownership, with only three providers making any mention of this, she said.

Another important area of omission was in the information given to customers about what happens if the terms and conditions change during the contractual period. Half the providers did not make any mention of this, while 40 per cent said that customers need to regularly visit the website to check whether the terms have changed.

"Having to manually check a company's terms and conditions on a weekly basis seems like an odd expectation to have of the consumer," Evans said.

Only nine providers gave any technical information, on issues such as the minimum ADSL speed required to make the service work. Only three providers could provide 000 but there was barely any mention of this limitation in contracts.

engin, with its 50-page user document, came closest to satisfying ACIF's recommendations. A spokesperson for engin said that it was aware of the recommendations but did not believe it should need to meet all of them as consumer VoIP was not a standard telephony service.

Telecommunications analyst, Paul Budde, made a clear distinction between Voice over IP (VoIP) and Voice over Internet (VoIN), claiming VoIN gives VoIP a bad reputation. VoIN was a poorer quality service with little to no customer information or support whereas VoIP offered both quality service and customer support, he said.

Regardless, both industries should be subject to full voice regulatory regime sooner rather than later, he said.

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