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Saturday, 31 October 2009

Ofcom's Halloween trick, a treat for Silent Callers

From: David Hickson – Stop Silent Calls campaigner


Ofcom must be playing a Halloween trick with spooky and frightening Silent Calls. Whilst the possibility of bigger fines is out to consultation, Ofcom loosens its rules as a treat for Silent Callers!

One week after the government launched a consultation on whether Ofcom should be allowed to impose greater penalties, Ofcom has softened the rules it follows in assessing whether to penalise Silent Callers.

The announcement, published on 30 October, is found here - http://www.ofcom.org.uk/consult/condocs/persistent_misuse/amendment/.

The policy changes will apply in two ways:

  • Answering Machine Detection (a known major cause of Silent Calls) is now expressly permitted.
  • The number of "assumed" Silent Calls (caused by an unacceptably long delay before the caller speaks) will increase.


It is very easy to get lost in the detail of Ofcom's policy. Ofcom chooses to leave it to people like me to provide an explanation (- please ask why!).

In simple English, this change represents acquiescence to requests from dialler users who want to use Answering Machine Detection Equipment (AMD), but remain free from the risk of action by Ofcom. Everyone acknowledges that use of AMD inevitably leads to Silent Calls. Many in the contact centre business have urged Ofcom to effectively ban it by formally identifying it as an inevitable cause of Silent Calls. Ofcom has previously refused to do this, and now actually takes a further step towards its approval.

  • AMD users may now "choose" to use a longer sound sample to assess whether the sound from the receiving end is of a live person or a recording. This can now run for just short of two seconds from when they detect someone speaking, rather than from when the call is answered.
  • Those who do not use this detection equipment have inherited the full two second limit in which to deal with an answered call - either passing it to an agent or playing an Informative Message if none is available. (This excessively long interval was originally granted solely for the sake of AMD users.) To understand why this limit is excessive, one may consider the situation of AMD users. They have to complete dealing with the call within two seconds from the start of the greeting – but this is after they have also collected and processed a sound sample that is large enough for their determination!


AMD itself is a cause of Silent Calls, even for those who play an Informative Message when no agent is available. This extended sample time will not come anyway near eliminating the "false positive" detections that are accepted as inevitable. The nuisance of Silent Calls is no less if someone reasonably assumes that the caller will not speak, even though they would have eventually done so. An unnecessary tolerance of, or extension to, a lengthy interval before the caller speaks will cause more Silent Calls to be experienced.

Ofcom refers to its highly complex and absurdly detailed Statement that defines the way it considers cases of persistent misuse of a telephone network or service. It refers to the need for greater clarity - because those who make Silent Calls are not totally clear on what they can be sure of getting away with. It is all based on the complex calculation of an "abandoned call rate", when it should be simply saying – NO SILENT CALLS.

If Ofcom were to listen to the victims of Silent Calls it would hear that NO SILENT CALL IS ACCEPTABLE. Any habitual practice of making Silent Calls is "Persistent Misuse". The greater the number of Silent Calls, the greater the need for immediate and proportionate action using the powers granted by parliament. The longer the practice of making Silent Calls continues, the greater the number of occasions on which a proportionate penalty has to be imposed. Repeated disregard of a properly imposed requirement to cease making Silent Calls should lead to an injunction with the potential for criminal penalties being imposed by a court. Proper use of Ofcom's existing powers (as they have existed since 2003) could be that simple. A penalty of up to £5,000 per Silent Call would have been quite adequate.

The "Ofcom rules"

It is important to understand that the so-called "Ofcom rules" (which actually only bear legally on Ofcom itself) do not prohibit the making of Silent Calls.

They allow up to 3% of calls to be "abandoned" (including those arising from false answering machine detections, which are always Silent). Only if that limit is seen to have been breached will the possible failure to deliver an Informative Message, to cover every situation where there is no agent available to take an answered call, be considered.

Ofcom has penalised companies who have exceeded the 3% limit, but without being found to have made a single Silent Call. Those who remain within the 3% limit, regardless of the scale of their activities which could amount to making millions of Silent Calls, remain untouched by Ofcom's policy.


Ofcom's tinkering around with this foolish and improper attempt at refined regulation, which it has no proper powers to impose anyway, must be brought to an end. Parliament must not offer an endorsement of this ridiculous policy by granting an increase to the maximum penalty that may be imposed on its application.

Please contact me for any further explanation and comment. There is more information on my blog

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