Ofcom has today fined BT £800,000 for failing to provide an improved text-to-voice service for its customers with hearing or speech impairments between April and September last year.
The service, called ‘Next Generation Text Service’, helps users have more natural conversations using speech as well as text, and is accessible on devices such as PCs, laptops, tablets and smartphones.
In October 2012, Ofcom told all UK landline and mobile phone providers to launch their service by 18 April 2014.
BT missed the deadline having encountered technical problems with the sound quality of emergency calls. It launched Next Generation Text on 24 September 20141.
In June 2014, Ofcom opened an investigation into why the improved text relay service was not available as required from April.
BT said that the delay was a one-off incident, which was caused by problems identified with the sound quality of emergency calls.
Ofcom acknowledges that the emergency calls problem became apparent late on and the level of financial harm to consumers was limited.
However, providing an improved text relay service is an important requirement designed to ensure that people with hearing or speech impairments have equivalent access to phone services. BT had 18 months to meet that requirement and did not do so for five months after the deadline for complying.
Claudio Pollack, Ofcom’s Consumer and Content Group Director, said: “The size of the penalty imposed on BT reflects the importance of providing an improved text relay service to its customers with hearing and speech impairments.
“However, BT has invested significantly in launching the new text relay service, which allows users to have conversations more easily and fluently and on new devices. We welcome the fact the service is now operating successfully.”
BT must pay the £800,000 financial penalty to Ofcom and it will then be passed on to HM Treasury.
Consumer guide to next generation text relay
Ofcom has published a consumer guide to text relay to help users make the most of the additional benefits offered by the next generation service.
BT’s text relay website also provides advice and instructional videos on next generation text relay.
NOTES FOR EDITORS
1. The new service was developed by BT, but all landline and mobile telephone providers have made it available to their customers under wholesale deals with BT. All UK landline and mobile providers are required to give their customers access to an Ofcom approved enhanced text relay service where they need to make calls using it because of their disability.
2. Under section 3(4) of the Communications Act 2003, Ofcom has a duty to have regard to the needs of disabled and elderly people when carrying out its functions. General Condition 15 requires communications providers (both fixed and mobile) to provide access to their subscribers to an improved form of relay service.
3. Ofcom is the independent regulator and competition authority for the UK communications industries, with responsibilities across television, radio, telecommunications, wireless communications and postal services.
4. For further information about Ofcom please visit: www.ofcom.org.uk. Ofcom’s news releases can be found at: media.ofcom.org.uk.