UK: Ofcom consultation paper on safeguarding the future of telephone numbering

Last Updated: 9 March 2006
Article by David Roberts

On 23 February 2006 the Office of Communications, the UK’s telephone number regulator, published a consultation paper on the future of telephone numbering in response to growing demand for numbers and mounting concerns about enforced number changes.

The main aim of the consultation is to ensure long-term number continuity by finding more efficient mechanisms for allocating numbers and managing the number system and to restore consumer trust and confidence in telephone numbering.

Ofcom’s proposals include changes to the way in which numbers are allocated, changes in number management, the introduction of consumer tests, changes to existing number ranges and the introduction of new number ranges.

The consultation ends May 2006 and Ofcom invites written views and comments on issues raised in the consultation paper by 5pm, 4 May 2006 with a view to publishing the final outcome by the end of 2006.

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Full Article

On 23 February 2006 the Office of Communications, the UK’s telephone number regulator, published a consultation paper on the future of telephone numbering in response to growing demand for numbers and mounting concerns about enforced number changes.

The main aim of the consultation is to ensure long-term number continuity by finding more efficient mechanisms for allocating numbers and managing the number system and to restore consumer trust and confidence in telephone numbering.

Ofcom’s proposals include changes to the way in which numbers are allocated, changes in number management, the introduction of consumer tests, changes to existing number ranges and the introduction of new number ranges.

The consultation ends May 2006 and Ofcom invites written views and comments on issues raised in the consultation paper by 5pm, 4 May 2006 with a view to publishing the final outcome by the end of 2006.

On 23 February 2006 the Office of Communications, the UK’s telephone number regulator, published a consultation paper on the future of telephone numbering in response to growing demand for numbers and mounting concerns about enforced number changes.

The main aim of the consultation is to ensure long-term number continuity by finding more efficient mechanisms for allocating numbers and managing the number system and to restore consumer trust and confidence in telephone numbering.

Ofcom’s proposals include changes to the way in which numbers are allocated, changes in number management, the introduction of consumer tests, changes to existing numbers ranges and the introduction of new number ranges.

The consultation ends May 2006 and Ofcom invites written views and comments on issues raised in the consultation aper by 5pm, 4 May 2006 with a view to publishing the final outcome by the end of 2006.

A growing demand for numbers, increased concerns with the existing allocation of telephone numbers and rapid technological change affecting the way in which we use numbers has prompted Ofcom, the UK’s telephone number regulator, to publish a consultation paper addressing these issues.

Short term solutions have led to disruptive enforced number changes resulting in a lack of confidence and trust in telephone numbering. Ofcom’s consultation paper attempts to provide long term solutions to these issues. In particular, it seeks to find more efficient mechanisms for allocating numbers and managing the numbering system.

Ofcom aims to provide solutions to three main issues;

  • shortages of geographic numbers requiring enforced number changes and future shortages of non-geographic numbers;
  • the effect of these changes on consumer and business confidence; and
  • the misuse of certain number ranges by some providers creating confusion and distrust.

The long term strategic principles set out by Ofcom are to;

  • maintain the availability of telephone numbers;
  • maintain the continuity and protect the meaning of numbers;
  • allocate numbers in such a way that the benefits of competition are delivered to consumers without discriminating number providers; and
  • to allocate and manage numbers in such a way as to minimise exposing consumers to abuse.

As a result of a drawn out analysis of the market Ofcom has put forward a number of proposals:

Reducing the need for geographic number changes

Ofcom recognises that for consumers and businesses the primary concern is number continuity. Currently geographic numbers are inefficiently utilised due to their allocation in blocks of 10,000. To face growing demand Ofcom proposes allocating smaller blocks of 1,000 in all areas that are at risk of number exhaustion within 5 years. This will ensure that numbers are better utilised and less risk of number exhaustion inducing number changes.

In the event that numbers do run out in specific areas Ofcom proposes making additional numbers available in targeted areas by way of ‘overlay codes’, this being the introduction of second area codes for the specific area in question. In the long term the emergence of technological advances such as ‘Voice over IP’ (VoIP) and in particular Internet Protocol (IP) based ‘Next Generation Networks’ (NGNs) which fundamentally change the way in which calls are routed will substantially reduce the demand on number capacity.

Effective number management

To encourage efficient number allocation, Ofcom proposes changing its current administrative based management of numbers to market based mechanisms. For example, charging service providers a nominal sum to allocate numbers, which will encourage them to utilise their numbers more effectively.

Ofcom recognises however that the earliest this could be effectively introduced is 2007. It stresses that any attempts by service providers to apply for large amounts of numbers prior to the introduction of the fee will not work as any charge would cover all allocated numbers.

Changes to number ranges

  • Ofcom proposes the introduction of a new nation-wide number 03 for providers who do not wish to make additional charges to customers for calling them. Premium charges to this number range will be forbidden and call charges will be at geographic rates to ensure consumer confidence in the meaning of number ranges.
  • It is proposed that the ability to charge premiums on nation-wide numbers be restricted to the existing nation-wide number range 08. Price confusion will be further reduced by relating price to a two-digit number range from 080 to 089, the former being free and the latter the most expensive. Additional numbers will be allocated to the range as and when demand requires it but Ofcom expects that any increases in demand will be offset by the creation of the new 03 range.
  • Ofcom proposes that the 09 range be simplified in structure similarly to the 08 range with a two-digit range between 090 and 099 representing different types of services. For example, 090 being designated to charities and 099 to adult numbers. Of significance to consumers concerned with number continuation the consultation paper does not propose forced migration from the existing three-digit service provision of 08 and 09 numbers to two-digit number provisions but hopes that the success of these proposals will encourage voluntary migration.
  • The 0800 number range will be left alone as research shows that there is no danger of number exhaustion in this range and it is a range in which consumer confidence is strong.
  • Finally Ofcom proposes that the 07 range become solely a mobile services range and to transfer existing personal numbers from the 07 range into a newly created 06 range. Ofcom’s research has shown that the current existence of personal number services in the 07 range confuses consumers and is open to abuse by service providers. Ofcom proposes that personal number services be allowed to migrate to the new 06 range within three years and the imposition of charge ceiling on personal number calls. It is therefore proposed that the 06 range consist of these numbers and any subsequently created personal numbers. Ofcom provisionally suggests that in the long term the 06 range be made available to individual numbers.

Consumer protection tests

To restore consumer and business trust in numbers and prevent abuse by providers of the market, Ofcom proposes putting in place a system to ensure that where there is persistent and/or serious abuse of consumers by an applicant they will not be allocated numbers. It is recommended that these tests be objective and based on specific consumer protection standards that must not be breached more than once in the year prior to application. Ofcom proposes each case be judged on a case by case basis.

Consultation will end in May 2006 and Ofcom invites written views and comments on issues raised in the consultation paper by 5pm, 4 May 2006. Ofcom will consult further on all the above issues in the summer of 2006 with a view to publishing the final outcome by the end of 2006.

To access the consultation paper, please click here.

This article was written for Law-Now, CMS Cameron McKenna's free online information service. To register for Law-Now, please go to www.law-now.com/law-now/mondaq

Law-Now information is for general purposes and guidance only. The information and opinions expressed in all Law-Now articles are not necessarily comprehensive and do not purport to give professional or legal advice. All Law-Now information relates to circumstances prevailing at the date of its original publication and may not have been updated to reflect subsequent developments.

The original publication date for this article was 09/03/2006.

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