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Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Ofcom and industry approve of Silent Calls - I propose to sack Ofcom

Consultation and responses

Responses to the recently concluded Ofcom consultation on changes to its policy on Silent Calls have been published.

Ofcom proposes to formally permit Silent Calls, so long as only one such call is made per caller per day to any one person.


Published responses from industry players including BT, Cable & Wireless, the CBI, The Direct Marketing Association, The Market Research Society and even Ofcom's own watchdog on consumer issues, The Communications Consumer Panel, all support Ofcom's approach to authorising the making of Silent Calls.

My response laments the fact that after having implicitly authorised the making of Silent Calls for many years, Ofcom has now for the first time made this clear and formal.

Ofcom is thereby in breach of the clearly expressed will of parliament, regarding how it should properly use the powers that it holds to address this type of nuisance -

"We expect you to use your powers to eradicate the nuisance of Silent Calls" [Hansard, Sound clips].

Sacking Ofcom for failing to do its duty

Ofcom is clearly too close with industry when using powers that have nothing to do with general regulation of any particular group.

Unlike Ofcom’s powers as a regulator, the persistent misuse powers are simply in force to protect citizens from anyone who misuses the telephone network. Habitually hanging up in Silence on an answered call is unnecessary and unquestionably persistent misuse of the telephone network, regardless of who does it and why.

For this reason, my consultation response includes an outline proposal for these powers to be removed from Ofcom, to be exercised by a "citizens agency" . In the spirit of the "Big Society", I have offered to commit my own efforts to this project. (see Notes below.)

Silent Calls continue to be a major problem, and recognition that Ofcom does nothing effective inevitably causes the number of complaints it receives to fall - that is Ofcom's declared objective.

In the consultation document, Ofcom reports receiving evidence of around 100,000 attributable Silent Calls in 2009 - it did not use its powers once to deal with any of these cases.

Ofcom appears to be admitting defeat; I will continue to argue that the powers do enable effective action to be taken, and I am now prepared to prove it.

I have presented my proposal to Dr Vincent Cable, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and await his response. No fundamental change to the law is necessary.

Further discussion

Please contact me for further information and comment. I would be delighted to dispute any justification offered by the organisations listed above.

(In the Autumn, a House of Commons committee will be debating the proposal for the maximum penalty available to Ofcom in connection with these powers to be increased by a factor of 40. I believe that it is vital for public opinion on the issue of how Ofcom is using its powers to have been clearly expressed well before that time. My proposal is serious, but most of all I want to stimulate public debate on the question of whether Silent Calls should be allowed or prohibited. The number and the frequency should only affect the level of any penalty.)


My proposal is briefly outlined in this media release and covered more fully in the final section of my consultation response (pages 13-15, or use bookmarks in the document)

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