Own-initiative enforcement programme into compliance with General Condition 14.2 ("GC14.2")

15 March 2007

Complainant: Ofcom own-initiative
Complaint against: Originating Communications Providers (“OCPs”) who provide access to Premium Rate Services (“PRS ”) and/or Number Translation Services (“NTS”)
Case opened: 15 September 2006
Case Closed: 14 March 2007
Relevant instrument: General Condition 14 of the General Conditions of Entitlement (“GC 14”)

Ofcom has now completed its assessment of industry compliance with General Condition 14.2 (“GC14.2”).

GC14.2 requires all OCPs who bill domestic and small business customers for calls to NTS and PRS to establish, maintain and comply with a Code of Practice for the provision of information relating to PRS and a Code of Practice for NTS calls. GC14.2 requires those codes to be consistent with the guidelines for such codes set out in Annexes to GC14 and for OCPs to comply with the commitments set out in their individual codes.

In this investigation, Ofcom has assessed the steps taken by the largest providers serving residential and small business customers to ensure compliance with GC14.2. Ofcom has required information from the following eleven OCPs:

Fixed providers

Mobile Providers

BT

3

Virgin Media

O2

Carphone Warehouse

Orange

Pipex Homecall

T-mobile

Post Office

Vodafone

 

Virgin Mobile

PRS Codes

Annex 1 of GC14 sets out the Guidelines for codes of practice for handling customer enquiries and complaints about Premium Rate Services. Section 3 of the guidelines lists the information which OCPs should ensure is available to their customers in relation to PRS calls. All eleven OCPs assessed by Ofcom had PRS codes in place which were available on their websites and in hard copy, on request. Ofcom’s view is that the assessed codes are consistent with the guidelines and therefore appear to be compliant with GC14.2.

NTS Codes

Annex 2 of GC14 sets out the Guidelines for codes of practice for the publication of prices of calls to Number Translation Services.

These guidelines require that OCPs publish usage charges for NTS calls on websites and in published price lists in a way that gives the NTS call charges the same prominence in terms of location and format as given to charges for geographic calls, calls to mobiles and call packages.

The guidelines also require OCPs to publish, in their advertising and promotional material which refer to call pricing, the maximum charge for calls to NTS numbers and a clear reference to where customers can find the complete set of NTS charges and to make this information available to any new customers.

Having reviewed the Codes provided by the OCPs listed above, Ofcom identified some gaps in relation to the specific requirements of the guidelines. Most notably, a number of the OCPs had not included within their codes a commitment in relation to NTS call charge information provided in advertising and promotional material (as set out in Section 4 of the guidelines). As such, Ofcom asked those OCPs to amend their codes to ensure they were fully consistent with the requirements set out in the guidelines.

Ofcom has now received commitments from those OCPs regarding amendment of their codes to make them compliant with GC14.2

Ongoing compliance with the Codes

As well as requiring OCPs to produce codes, GC14.2 also requires that the OCPs then ensure compliance with those codes. Ofcom has considered the steps taken by the assessed OCPs to ensure compliance. Specifically, Ofcom required OCPs to provide price lists published by the OCPs and recent promotional and advertising material.

From a review of this material, several of the OCPs do not appear to have taken all steps to ensure that all promotional and advertising material which refers to call pricing also makes specific reference to NTS charges as set out above. This is closely linked to the fact that a number of the OCPs had failed to initially cover this issue in their codes. As commitments to amend the codes have now been received, Ofcom now expects OCPs to take all necessary steps to ensure compliance by reviewing all promotional and advertising material to assess whether it includes the necessary information on NTS charges.

Although this investigation has now ended, Ofcom will monitor ongoing compliance by the industry and raise any concerns with OCPs as necessary. This may result in investigations being opened against individual OCPs or enforcement action against named providers. Ofcom will, in particular, assess any concerns raised by consumers in relation to the availability of information on PRS and NTS calls.

Text published when case opened

Complainant: Ofcom own-initiative
Complaint against: Originating Communications Providers (“OCPs”) who provide access to Premium Rate Services (“ PRS ”) and/or Number Translation Services (”NTS”)
Case opened: 15 September 2006
Relevant instrument: General Condition 14 of the General Conditions of Entitlement (“GC 14”)

On 19 April 2006 and following public consultation, Ofcom issued a statement and notification requiring telephone companies and other communications providers to provide their customers with improved information about calls to NTS and PRS numbers.

Ofcom made modifications to GC 14 which imposed requirements on OCPs from 19 August 2006. GC14.2 now requires all OCPs who bill domestic and small business customers for calls to NTS and PRS to establish, maintain and comply with a Code of Practice for the provision of information relating to PRS and a Code of Practice for NTS calls (See http://www.ofcom.org.uk/consult/condocs/nts_info/statement/statement ).

This investigation will be a program to actively monitor compliance in the industry with amended GC14.2 and respond swiftly and effectively to any failure to comply.

Background on NTS and PRS

NTS and PRS numbers are examples of non-geographic numbers (most start with 08 or 09) that do not relate to a specific geographic location, but instead relate to a particular service.

NTS services include information services, some technical helplines, access to telephone banking, sales and customer service lines and dial-up pay-as-you- go Internet services.

PRS services include TV voting lines, competitions, scratchcards, adult entertainment, chat lines, business information services, technical helplines, mobile phone ringtones and game downloads, horoscopes and interactive TV games. Directory enquiry services (on 118xxx) also fall within the definition of premium rate services for the purposes of the Act.

Case Leader: Tanya Rofani ( e-mail: Tanya.Rofani @ofcom.org.uk )
Case Reference: CW/00918/08/06