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Non-geographic phone numbers: Ofcom consults

Ofcom yesterday launched a consultation on proposed changes to the rules on use of 0870/1 and 0844/5 numbers. Calls to these numbers can cost more than many people expect so the regulator wants to boost consumer protection.29 Sep 2005

Advert: Phishing conference, London, 27th October 2005At present calls to 0870/1 and 0844/5 numbers, which are non-geographic, have been priced at a level that allows businesses to share the revenue generated by per-minute call charges.

They benefit consumers and businesses alike by enabling access to a range of services, including dial-up pay-as-you-go internet access, travel enquiries, tele-voting, telephone banking and many others. However, according to Ofcom, an increased use of these numbers (also known as Number Translation Services or NTS) has generated high levels of consumer concern about the lack of clarity in the pricing and marketing of these services.

Ofcom tried to tackle these concerns in October last year, but its proposals were not widely accepted. It is therefore consulting again, on new proposals.

These include a plan to end revenue sharing for all calls to 0870 numbers – with the result that these calls will cost the same as calls to national-rate geographic numbers. Those communications providers who wish to charge more than this rate would be obliged to advise the caller of the increased cost in advance, says the regulator.

Ofcom also wishes to re-classify 0871 numbers as premium rate, bringing them under the control of premium rate services regulator ICSTIS.

Ofcom does not plan any changes to 0845 numbers at present as they are used by many ISPs to offer dial-up pay-as-you-go internet services. Maintaining the current arrangements would protect these services for more than 5 million UK dial-up internet users, says the regulator.

Other proposals include:

  • Increased price transparency for 0844 numbers;
  • Better information as to the cost of calling 087/084 numbers;
  • A requirement that public bodies use geographic numbers as well as NTS numbers, so that vulnerable groups are not disadvantaged by cost; and
  • Ensuring that all adult services are provided on the 09 number range, where they can be regulated by ICSTIS.

The consultation will run until 6th December.