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Skype Faces Regulation in France

Friday 03 April 2015

The French government is to oblige Skype to register as a telecoms operator, thereby imposing significant new obligations on the company.

Whether the Skype VoIP telephony service is merely a computer application or a telephone service has been an on-going dispute in France since 2007.

Since this date the French telecoms regulator ARCEPS has been demanding that the service be registered with them, something the owners of the company have refused to do.

The owners, who since 2011 have been the US software giant Microsoft, have simply failed to respond to calls from ARCEPS, who finally lost their patience in 2014 when they asked the French public prosecutor to investigate the matter.

Although nothing has been heard of that investigation, it does seem that the public prosecutor considers the law needs to be strengthened, for last month the French government introduced a provision in a bill passing through Parliament that would give ARCEPS the power it needs to enforce compliance.

In a statement, the French Ministry of Finance stated that, "il faut pouvoir appliquer à des acteurs comme Skype, les mêmes règles que pour les opérateurs, y compris sur des enjeux aussi divers que les appels d’urgence ou la sécurité."

The nature of that statement suggests very clearly they mean business, and that other similar applications, such as Facebook Messenger, Whatsaap and Hangouts, could all be caught by the same requirement.

This would mean that as a registered telecoms operator they are supervised by the regulator and obliged to contribute to the provision of the telecoms infrastructure in France. This would include the provision of an emergency call facility, which Skype does not currently offer.

The French telecoms operator Orange has been particularly critical of Skype arguing that they benefit from the infrastructure laid by the registered operators without making a revenue contribution.

The risk for the VoIP providers is that if this principle is established in France it might quickly be applied elsewhere in Europe and the rest of the world.

The VoIP operators would also be required to permit telephone intercepts on the demand of the French judicial authorities, something which does not currently occur. At a time of significant tension in France over terrorist threats this is a gap in security surveillance the government will undoubtedly want to fill.

One area that continues to be uncertain is whether there would be wider fiscal implications on the company, which has its registered office in Luxembourg.

At the present time Skype to Skype calls are free, although there is a charge for calls from Skype to fixed or mobile lines.

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