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FOI response - Ofcom (Read 4,081 times)
idb
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FOI response - Ofcom
Jun 14th, 2005 at 4:45pm
 
Below is the response received from Ofcom at 10:15 am EDT today. I also received an earlier response at 9:33 am EDT today that Ofcom subsequently tried to recall (redact?!), although my e-mail client does not honor such requests. The earlier response has a different answer to at least one question (number 6) and the difference is, I believe, significant.

In my subsequent discussions with Ofcom by e-mail, it has asked me *not* to publish the first response and, strangely, asked me to "return" the e-mail (a pointless exercise if ever there was one). It points out that the first e-mail was sent in error resulting from a genuine mistake, which may well be the case.

At this stage, I am not publishing the first response, although I am reserving the right to do so in future. Ofcom has specifically asked me not to misrepresent its views, and this is not my intention. I'm sure that Ofcom reads this forum - if it wishes to contact me and discuss the matter, then give me a call - you know my number.

My next stage is to provide evidence to my MP in the UK of the growing NGN scandal, and Ofcom's responses will be part of that evidence.

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idb
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Re: FOI response - Ofcom
Reply #1 - Jun 14th, 2005 at 4:48pm
 
Thank you for your request for information regarding non geographic numbers, which Ofcom received on June 1st 2005.  I am writing to confirm that Ofcom has now completed its search.

Your request was composed of seven questions, of which Ofcom considers that question 3 is a request for information.  However, to be helpful, Ofcom has tried where it can to answer your other questions. However, these answers should not be taken as providing you with legal advice on the issues raised and you should seek you own independent legal advice where appropriate.

I will deal with each of your questions in turn:

1 - How many 0844, 0845, 0870 and 0871 numbers have been issued by Ofcom, either to the end user, intermediary or any other body since the introduction of such numbers (and the predecessors 0990, 0345 etc)? A month-by-month breakdown is requested.

I would direct you to the record of all numbering transactions in the last year, including the allocation of 08 and 09 numbers, which is available on the Ofcom web site at: http://www.ofcom.org.uk/telecoms/ioi/numbers/num_transact?a=87101

2 - Is Ofcom aware of the difficulties experienced by people trying to access non-geographic numbers from overseas?

Ofcom is the national regulatory authority for communications in the UK. Ofcom does not control access to UK services in other countries. Such access is regulated by a combination of commercial arrangements (eg, for NTS, non-geographic numbering) within a framework set by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) (eg, for geographic and mobile numbering).

Ofcom is aware that callers may experience difficulty in accessing UK non-geographic numbers from outside the UK. This results from uncertainties over financial returns for routing between international operators caused by the variable cost of calls and imbalances between charges that can be retained or passed on through international arbitrage. UK residents dialling the non-geographic numbers of other countries from the UK frequently experience the same or similar problems. Individual countries do not normally permit access to non-geographic numbers from overseas. This is because these services are differently priced from geographic services and it is impossible for an operator in the originating country (which in many cases may not be transmitting the international part of the call) to know what the appropriate price and for the correct amount to be passed via several carriers and be paid to the terminating operator.

3 - What discussions has Ofcom had regarding the termination of non-geographic numbers from overseas? Are there any meeting minutes available to support such discussions, and if so, can copies be provided?

Ofcom does not regulate the bi-lateral agreements between UK operators and overseas operators for conveyance of international calls and I can confirm that Ofcom has had no meetings with any UK operators on the issue of access to non-geographic numbers from overseas. 

4 - Whilst I am aware of Ofcom consultations on non-geographic number use, what plans does Ofcom have to end the discrimination against British citizens that live abroad due to the increasing use of 0870 and similar numbers?

As stated before Ofcom has no powers to intervene in the actions of overseas operators in preventing access to UK non-geographic numbers. Some companies which use these numbers and who are looking to receive calls from abroad do also publish UK geographic numbers (prefixed 0044) for overseas access. Ofcom, however, has no plans to take any action in the matter.


5 - Does Ofcom have any plans to force foreign telecommunication providers to treat 0870 and similar numbers in the same way as geographic numbers?

Ofcom does not have the power to do this.

6 - Does Ofcom think that it is acceptable for GP surgeries and other critical services to be terminated on 0844 numbers - a numbering range that Ofcom admits in some of its own documents that is difficult and sometimes impossible to terminate from overseas.

We have been in discussion with the NHS on this issue and have indicated that, in our view, it is inadvisable for 0844 numbers to be used for this purpose. Ofcom can only advise Government Departments on their use of numbers and the ultimate decision in this instance is one for the Department of Health. 

7 - How many complaints has Ofcom received from the public that relate to the use of 0870 and similar numbers by organizations whether commercial or government?

From 1 January 2004 to 31 May 2005 Ofcom received 1,044 Complaint/Dissatisfaction cases (there were also a further 168 queries on this issue) (source: OCMS "Cost of Non-Geographic National Rate"). It should be noted, however, that this number relates to any complaint where a non-geographic number is mentioned and not all are necessarily about the use or costs of the numbers themselves. For example a proportion arise because 087 numbers are contained in unsolicited text messages received on mobile phones inviting the recipient to call an adult service.
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mikeinnc
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Re: FOI response - Ofcom
Reply #2 - Jun 14th, 2005 at 10:27pm
 
Quote:
Ofcom is aware that callers may experience difficulty in accessing UK non-geographic numbers from outside the UK. This results from uncertainties over financial returns for routing between international operators caused by the variable cost of calls and imbalances between charges that can be retained or passed on through international arbitrage. UK residents dialling the non-geographic numbers of other countries from the UK frequently experience the same or similar problems. Individual countries do not normally permit access to non-geographic numbers from overseas.


So do we know if other countries have similar non-geographic numbering systems that provide the called party with part of the charge? I know that all the major telecommunication providers have some variation on premium rate calls, but these are well known and generally not purposely obscured in the way that 0870/0845 numbers are. For example, in the US and Canada, 1-900 numbers are advertised as being premium rate and you may opt to block them from your phone. I am confident that there is no similar system to 0870 here (there would be blood on the streets  Wink ) and most businesses have a 1-800 (free) number.

The problem (again!) is the way that Ofcom and the major carriers - especially, it would appear BT - set out to confuse and obscure the British consumer about the real purpose behind the 0870 scam. It is not about the difficulties described in the segment of Ofcom's reply - it is about maintaining a monopolistic position routing the majority of business traffic in an increasingly deregulated voice market.

Anyone who is involved with telecommunications can see that voice is increasingly becoming a commodity. Fixed rate call packages are now the norm. However, at a stroke, with the mis-selling and confusion that has become its hallmark in this sad and sorry saga, BT will ensure it maintains an appreciable level of revenue for many / most of the business voice traffic that originates and terminates in the UK.

In answer to Ofcom's comment that "countries do not normally permit access to non-geographic numbers from overseas", I would dispute that. There is NO problem calling US 1-800 numbers from the UK - I have done it many times. Of course, you pay - BUT it is just a normal US call fee - not a premium. And since the terminating party is not getting a share of the call revenue, there is no incentive for them to make you hold on to increase their revenue! I don't know about 1-900 numbers - but then why would most people want to do that anyway? If they did, presumably they would be well aware of the problems and costs associated with those numbers.

No, it is the sheer hypocrisy and underhanded approach of the major UK carrier and its partner-in-crime, Ofcom, that is so disturbing!.
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Dave
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Re: FOI response - Ofcom
Reply #3 - Jun 29th, 2005 at 5:15pm
 
Quote:
...

1 - How many 0844, 0845, 0870 and 0871 numbers have been issued by Ofcom, either to the end user, intermediary or any other body since the introduction of such numbers (and the predecessors 0990, 0345 etc)? A month-by-month breakdown is requested.

I would direct you to the record of all numbering transactions in the last year, including the allocation of 08 and 09 numbers, which is available on the Ofcom web site at: http://www.ofcom.org.uk/telecoms/ioi/numbers/num_transact?a=87101

...

idb, you pointed to the NTS Focus Group meeting of 24 February 2005 here. It says that Ofcom will be seeking this information from NTS communications providers.

Quote:
Nancy Saunders asked what information was likely to be requested as part of the formal information request. Caroline Wallace said that terminating communication providers would be asked how many 08 and 09 numbers they had in use (with further details requested on adult, ported numbers and numbers supplied to the public sector). Ofcom would also request the contact details of organisations which use NTS numbers.

Source: NTS Focus Group - 24 February 2005 - 2.15pm Ofcom
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idb
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Re: FOI response - Ofcom
Reply #4 - Jun 29th, 2005 at 7:26pm
 
Quote:
idb, you pointed to the NTS Focus Group meeting of 24 February 2005 here. It says that Ofcom will be seeking this information from NTS communications providers.

Ofcom didn't really answer this question in its FOI response. I haven't appealed as I have written to Ofcom separately setting out a formal complaint.
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