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Thursday, 20 August 2009

Ofcom creates more confusion about the cost of making telephone calls

From: David Hickson – campaigner against misuse of telephone numbers Ofcom has today published Number Crunching. This guide is said to look at “some of the common numbers in use today, what they are used for and how much it costs to call them from a BT landline”. The guidance given adds to some of the confusion that exists around telephone number ranges in areas of current contention and concern. In attempting to achieve the worthy objective of presenting a complex situation simply, it fails to provide essential and necessary information in a number of ways.

** Because some of BT’s charges are regulated, they are NOT TYPICAL of the general pattern. The repeated suggestion that “other providers’ prices may vary” makes the guide useless to the majority of callers. It could be said to be false and misleading, in that it is BT’s pricing structures that vary from the normal pattern. 0845 and 0870 provide the clearest example.

** There is no clear explanation of “revenue sharing”. Calls to 0845 and 0844 numbers are generally far more expensive than others because money is invariably passed to the receiving end. The fact that some recipients can deny receiving a share as income is irrelevant, as the benefit is obtained in some other way. To descibe the receipt of benefit as only “generally” occurring provides a clear opportunity for consumers to be misled by those who claim to be exceptions to this principle. (There are no exceptions, other than those who gift money to their telephone service provider.)

BT’s margin on calls to revenue sharing numbers is regulated by Ofcom and is much less than that which it takes on other chargeable calls. When the 1 October BT price increases render this document out of date they will leave BT’s charges for calls to ALL revenue sharing numbers as LESS THAN it’s standard call charge. This is because BT is inflating the unregulated cost of standard calls to persuade customers to subscribe to inclusive packages, from which calls to the expensive revenue sharing numbers are excluded.

By using BT as an example, it is suggested that calls to revenue sharing numbers are cheaper than calls to ordinary numbers. This grossly distorts the actual general reality.

** There is no clear description of the various package structures used by mobile (and landline) companies. Some packages are “limited” whereas others are not, some types of call are typically included whereas others are not. The loose and selective specific detailed references to the latter element are not strictly accurate.

** In referring to 0800, “Childline” is the only named example. This is the most atypical example that there could be. Numbers used by “Helplines” under the Telephone Helplines Association scheme are in the 0808 80 range and provided free by most mobile operators. Childline is one of very few organisations for which a separate arrangement has been negotiated for mobile operators to provide free calls on 0800 numbers.

There are many other points that could be made – in time, I may prepare and release my own alternative version of a simlar document.

The idea is excellent, some of the information is useful, but overall the execution is very poor.

In aiming to produce a simple guide, one must not attempt to give all of the detail, or enter into areas that require confusing qualifications. Examples selected must however be truly illustrative and not misleading, rather than just convenient. I fear that convenience has overridden these other vital points. To suggest that accuracy is achieved by qualifications and references to other material is to deny that a simple accurate guide has been produced.

I regret that I can foresee this authoritative document being used to justify various rip-offs, and the improper use of revenue sharing numbers by public service providers (notably in the NHS), against which I am campaigning. I can provide many examples from the past where information very similar to that published here has been improperly quoted for the purpose of creating confusion and to deliberately mislead consumers.

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