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Thursday, 7 July 2011

Ofcom misuses its persistent misuse powers against Silent Callers, again

Ofcom has today announced a further misuse of the powers it holds to take action against all those found to be causing unnecessary inconvenience annoyance or anxiety by misuse of the telephone network. (See update notes (i) and (ii) - 7 July 2011 on this "Competition Bulletin".)

Sadly, Ofcom only uses these powers against those who breach a formal tolerance limit, based not on the amount of nuisance caused, but as a proportion of other activity by the same company on the same day.

The action by Ofcom against nPower and Homeserve is to be welcomed, if only because it draws attention to the nuisance which they will be permitting to continue causing. This only amounts to the issuing of Notifications and the consequent public shaming at this stage. Looking at previous cases, precedent and proportionality make it unlikely that the previous limit of £50,000 for a fine will be exceeded.

The limited detail of these cases which has been revealed so far demonstrates how Ofcom is tolerating the practice of hanging up in Silence when a call is answered - only intervening when an offender tells Ofcom that it has breached the rules. Furthermore, the Silent Calls made by nPower are not covered by the action and only some of those made by HomeServe are deemed to be in breach of the Ofcom tolerance "rules".

Silent Calls are totally unnecessary

If no agent is free to handle an answered call a very simple message, simply naming the caller and apologising, could be played. Ofcom suggests a far more elaborate version of this, but does not demand its use, so long as the 3% allowance of abandoned calls is not exceeded.

Many companies, including BT and British Gas publicly declare that they make Silent Calls up to this limit. They will not however say how many calls and how much nuisance they are knowingly causing to their customers and others.

The only acceptable limit for SILENT calls is 0%. Those who are prepared to say who they are when they abandon calls can take the consequences!!

Answering Machine Detection

Ofcom has muddied the waters with new rules covering the use of this obsolete equipment, designed to detect the clicks and whirrs of a mechanical answering machine.

Ofcom now declares that when this notoriously inaccurate equipment detects an answering service it is acceptable to hang up in Silence, but callers must wait until the next day before repeating the call - probably with the same effect if the detection was erroneous.

Many in the Call Centre industry would wish for providers of network answering services to provide a clear signal of some sort whenever the answering service is engaged. This would enable 100% accurate detection of use of such services, rather than the present unacceptable method of listening to the tone of voice and mode of speech from the answer.

Ofcom has explicitly rejected this option, known as Answering Service Detection, firmly supporting the use of a technology that became obsolete when mechanical tape recorders ceased to be the primary way of applying an answering service.

The present method of AMD is obsolete and wholly unacceptable, as it is perhaps the primary cause of Silent Calls. Requiring a Silent Call to be repeated on the next day, rather than the same day is no answer.

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