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Sunday, 17 January 2010

Ofcom action against Silent Callers? - time to decide. Consultation ends on 25 January.

From: David Hickson - (Veteran) Stop Silent Calls campaigner

Big fines for a few - or firm proportionate action against all Silent Callers?

The Department for Business consultation on allowing Ofcom a further increase to the maximum financial penalty to impose on those making Silent Calls ends on 25 January.

I oppose the granting of this further increase unless heavily qualified. Ofcom must finally undertake to use the powers that is has properly - by naming and shaming all those found to be making Silent Calls and imposing a requirement to cease the practice. A balanced and proportionate approach may mean fewer big headlines, but it would address the problem more effectively. We need action not gestures.

The public want Ofcom to stop Silent Calls being made. That is Ofcom’s duty.

Big fines, after 18 month investigations (as we have seen previously) is not the way to stop the practice. When Ofcom was last granted an increase to the maximum penalty available (in April 2006), this came with a clear stipulation from parliament - “We expect you to use your powers to eradicate the nuisance of Silent Calls”. Ofcom has not even attempted to do this - Ofcom allows Silent Calls to be made up to a 5% tolerance limit, and does not even count some Silent Calls within this limit.

Collecting the scale of evidence necessary for even the present maximum penalty to be imposed has prevented Ofcom from taking modest and decisive action swiftly - issuing a formal public Notification and imposing an enforceable requirement to cease making Silent Calls. Any single breach of such a requirement may result in repeated penalties and potentially an injunction and criminal sanctions against the offender. This is what the powers allow – but such a requirement is not normally imposed, because Ofcom only acts after the damage has been done. Ofcom prefers only to take many months over major investigations to produce headline-grabbing cases around the imposition of a major penalty for long-past nuisance. Ofcom reports having done nothing about any new case since April 2007!

We do not care about penalties, we would rather that nobody was penalised because the practice has been halted. Ofcom’s first duty is to Stop Silent Calls being made, not to penalise those who make them, because it has failed in its first duty. An even higher maximum penalty would simply prolong the process further, unless Ofcom changes its approach.

I have been campaigning on this issue for over 5 years now. It is a disgrace that Ofcom is still failing to do its duty. The request for a higher penalty is a red herring, being used to cover up Ofcom’s failure.

I see it as vital that those who are concerned about proper and effective action being taken to stop the nuisance of Silent Calls make it clear to the Department for Business that we demand swift and effective action by Ofcom, using the powers that it has held since 2003 - not further delay and the hope of a few headline grabbing cases.

There is just one week left to make submissions to the consultation - at http://www.bis.gov.uk/maximum-penalty-for-misuse-of-an-electronic-comms-network.

Public opinion on this matter has been disregarded in the past, as has an explicit demand from parliament. With a former fellow Stop Silent Calls Campaigner, Kevin Brennan MP, now in place as the relevant Minister, I trust that this will not happen again.

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