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Potraz yet to come up with VoIP regulations
The Sunday Mail (Zimbabwe)
March 25, 2007

http://www.sundaymail.co.zw/inside.aspx?sectid=1354&cat=8

THE Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz) has failed to come up with a clear policy framework to regulate the Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), leading to it still holding on to the Internet Access Provider (IAP) Class A licence, which allows the licensee to provide VoIP.

This development has led to an outcry from players in the sector who now accuse Potraz of dragging its feet over the matter.

The delay by Potraz has irked players, some of whom have been waiting for as long as four years for Potraz's IAP Class A licence, which allows them to legally provide VoIP services in the country.

The three IAPs — Telecontract, TelOne and Ecoweb — hold the IAP Class B licence, which is an internet licence that allows them to only transmit data using the internet and not voice.

Although there is a provision for licensing of IAP Class A in the statutes, this has not been issued.

VoIP is a technology that allows one to make telephone calls using a broadband internet connection instead of the regular (or analogue) phone line which uses traditional circuit-committed protocols of the public switched telephone network (PSTN).

Potraz was supposed to have prepared and gazetted regulations on VoIP by October last year.

An official from Potraz confirmed this development to The Sunday Mail Business, adding that the regulatory body was yet to come up with the policy framework.

"We are aware that we were supposed to have come up with this policy framework by the end of last year, but to date nothing much has been done.

"We are working on it, but there are fears that it will soon be a year since Potraz embarked on coming up with a policy to regulate VoIP and we are fully aware that players are now also getting very impatient over the matter," explained the Potraz official.

Mr Shadreck Nkala, chief executive of Telecontract, one of the three licensed IAPs in the country, said: "We have been waiting for four years for a licence. When we applied for the IAP Class A licence that would enable us to provide VoIP, we were granted the Class B licence.

"We have been eagerly awaiting Potraz to gazette regulations that will govern VoIP, but to date nothing has come up.

"There is confusion at the moment over the VoIP regulations. Potraz recently told us that they had made some recommendations that were submitted to Government on VoIP. However, when we called the ministry following up on the matter, the ministry professed ignorance over the matter, saying 'it was not even aware of any such recommendations from Potraz'.

"We have shown Potraz, on the internet, some local institutions that are presently using VoIP clandestinely and they are not being accountable to anyone."

He added: "Presently, South Africa has a very large-scale VoIP infrastructure that carries both voice and data traffic into Zimbabwe and the rest of Africa at our disadvantage, just because Potraz has not gazetted the regulations and awarded the licence."

The IAP Class A licence is still vacant and Potraz is yet to determine how many players will be licensed to hold the licence.

Last year Potraz held consultations with stakeholders over VoIP.

Once Potraz awards the IAP Class A licence, the public switched telephone network (PSTN) currently being used by TelOne is highly likely to gradually fall away, as VoIP technology gains momentum in the country.

A major advantage of VoIP and internet telephony is that it avoids tariffs charged by TelOne, which charges according to distance and time called.

Some services using VoIP may also allow you to call other people using the same service, but others may allow you to call anyone who has a telephone number — including local, long-distance, mobile and international numbers.

VoIP converts the voice signal from your telephone into a digital signal that travels over the internet.

A Potraz official last year told this paper that they were aware that there are some companies that were "illegally" using VoIP for their day-to-day internal communications, adding that there was no way they could take action against them until they (Potraz) came up with a clear policy framework on VoIP.

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