Dispute between ntl and BT about BT’s charge for its Text Direct service

05 July 2006

Dispute between: ntl Ltd ("ntl"), Kingston Communications (Hull) Plc ("Kingston Communications"), T-Mobile (UK) Ltd ("T-Mobile"), Vodafone Ltd ("Vodafone") and British Telecommunications Plc ("BT")
Case opened: 12 July 2005
Case closed: 30 June 2006
Issue: Whether BT's charge for its Text Direct service, effective from 1 April 2005, is inconsistent with BT's obligations under Universal Service Condition 4.3. As a result of failure to resolve the matter through commercial negotiation this matter was referred to Ofcom for resolution.
Relevant instrument: Ofcom intended to resolve this dispute under Chapter 3 of Part 2 of the Communications Act 2003

ntl, Kingston Communications, T-Mobile and Vodafone have withdrawn this dispute. Ofcom therefore closed the case on 30 June 2006.

Text published when the case was opened

Dispute between ntl and BT about BT’s charge for its Text Direct service

Dispute between: ntl Ltd ("ntl"), Kingston Communications (Hull) Plc ("Kingston Communications"), T-Mobile (UK) Ltd ("T-Mobile"), Vodafone Ltd ("Vodafone") and British Telecommunications Plc ("BT")
Case opened: 12 July 2005
Issue: Whether BT's charge for its Text Direct service, effective from 1 April 2005, is inconsistent with BT's obligations under Universal Service Condition 4.3. As a result of failure to resolve the matter through commercial negotiation this matter has been referred to Ofcom for resolution.
Relevant instrument: Ofcom intends to resolve this dispute under Chapter 3 of Part 2 of the Communications Act 2003

Update note – 11 November 2005

Ofcom is of the view that exceptional circumstances have arisen since the acceptance of the dispute for resolution and that the requirement to resolve this dispute in four months, in accordance with Section 188(5) of the Communications Act 2003, will not therefore apply in this case.

Ofcom will publish a further update in respect of this matter in due course.

End of update note

Update note - 8 September 2005

Ofcom received a number of requests from other Communications Providers to be joined as parties to the dispute. Ofcom is satisfied that Kingston Communications, T-Mobile and Vodafone are in dispute with BT regarding BT's charge for its Text Direct service and therefore they have been added as parties to this dispute.

The scope of the dispute remains unchanged.

End of update note

Dispute between: ntl Ltd ("ntl") and British Telecommunications plc ("BT")
Case opened: 12 July 2005
Issue: ntl considers that BT's charge for its Text Direct service, effective from 1 April 2005, is inconsistent with BT's obligations under Universal Service Condition 4.3. As a result of failure to resolve the matter through commercial negotiation, ntl has referred the matter to Ofcom for resolution.
Relevant instrument: Ofcom intends to resolve this dispute under Chapter 3 of Part 2 of the Communications Act 2003

An important element of the UK's universal service obligation is to ensure that text relay services are available to users who need to use textphones in order to be able to communicate (for example, people with hearing or speech impairments).

Under Universal Service Condition 4.1, BT is required to provide funds for the operation of a 'relay service' for end-users on all communications networks who need to use textphones. A relay service enables the translation of text and voice messages into text and their conveyance to and from a textphone.

Under General Condition 15.3, all communications providers are required to ensure that their subscribers are able to access a relay service for textphone users. 'Text Direct' is the name BT uses for the gateway service it provides so that its textphone users and those calling from the networks of other communications providers can utilise the relay service.

Under Universal Service Condition 4.3, BT is able to recover part of the costs of its funding of the relay service from other communications providers, as long as the terms and conditions offered by BT for such access are fair, not unduly discriminatory, based on efficiently incurred costs that are directly attributable to the day-to-day operation of the service, and do not oblige any such communications provider to pay for facilities or services which are not necessary or not requested.

On 22 February 2005 BT notified the industry, via Network Charge Control Notice 599 ("NCCN 599") that its connection charge for the Text Direct service would be increasing from 1 April 2005. BT raised the charge from 20p per call to £3.84 per call.

Following NCCN 599, ntl raised a dispute with BT with regards to this increase, and requested that the charge be deferred until the charge could be agreed between the parties. BT did not defer the introduction of the new charge. Following discussions and an exchange of correspondence between the parties, ntl remained of the view that BT's revised charge for connection to the Text Direct service recovered costs that BT was not permitted to do so under Universal Service Condition 4.3.

Ofcom recognises that on the facts of the matter referred to its attention, there appears to be a genuine dispute between ntl and BT that commercial negotiation has failed to resolve.

Scope of the dispute
The scope of the dispute is to determine whether the level of BT's connection charge for its Text Direct service (£3.84) is consistent with BT's obligations under Universal Service Condition 4.3.

In resolving this dispute, Ofcom will consider the costs that BT is entitled to recover from other communications providers in accordance with Universal Service Condition 4.3, and also the way in which these costs are recovered.

Procedural Matters
Guidance on the resolution of the dispute can be found in Ofcom's Guidelines for the handling of competition complaints, and complaints and disputes about breaches of conditions imposed under the EU Directives. Please see related items.

All representations on the scope of the dispute should be submitted to Ofcom by 21 July 2005. Stakeholders interested in the outcome of this dispute should notify Ofcom by 21 July 2005 describing the relevance of the outcome of the dispute to their business.

Stakeholders with relevant information and evidence in respect of this dispute should submit this to Ofcom by 4 August 2005.

In referring this dispute to Ofcom, ntl has stated that certain other communications providers are in support of the referral. In the event that other communications providers are in dispute with BT on this matter, they should submit relevant information and evidence, by 4 August 2005, demonstrating that this is the case.

Case Leader: Marvin Luttrell (020 7783 4516 e-mail: Marvin.Luttrell@ofcom.org.uk)
Case Reference: CW/00847/06/05