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Ofcom Safeguarding the Future of Telephone Numbering

Ofcom, the regulator for the UK communications industries, with responsibilities across television, radio, telecommunications and wireless communications services, made public its future approach to telephone numbering in the UK. Ofcom is responsible for managing the UK National Telephone Numbering system. Telephone numbers are a critical national resource, for consumers, businesses and the delivery of key public services.

Ofcom’s statement follows a full public consultation earlier this year and sets out the strategic decisions about how telephone numbers will be managed over the next five to ten years.

Some of the most important goals to be fulfilled by Ofcom’s approach are: no changes to be made to geographic numbers, a single national point to be offered by new UK-wide 03 number range, clearer and simpler prices for 08 numbers and assuring protection for consumers from telephone scams.

Ofcom does not intend to change the geographic telephone numbers starting with 01 and 02 traditionally used by most households and businesses and further more Ofcom will simplify the non-geographic numbers currently beginning with ‘08’ and ‘09’ that are used by certain businesses and public services. This will be achieved by improving the efficiency with which numbers are allocated as from now on Ofcom allocates blocks of numbers to communications providers, who in turn allocate them to customers.

Another thing Ofcom will take in consideration is to assess five years in advance where numbers will be in most demand and allocate numbers in blocks of one thousand instead of ten thousand numbers. It will also avoid the waste of numbers by reclaiming the unused ones.

Trying to fulfil the need of the customers no matter if they are businesses, public services or voluntary services, that want a common national number, but who do not wish to charge consumers a premium for contacting them’ Ofcom will allocate a new type of number– starting with ‘03’. Calls to 03 numbers will cost the same as calls to geographic numbers, and be included as part of any inclusive call minutes or discount schemes for geographic calls. This will apply to calls from any line and no revenue sharing will be permitted on calls to 03 numbers.

The pricing for numbers beginning 08 will be clarified in a more understandable manner for callers too. Ofcom will move to three clear categories of 08 numbers: 080 - Freephone (including current 0800 and 0808 numbers); 084 - Up to a lower rate (5p per minute from BT lines); 087 - Up to a higher rate (10p per minute from BT lines). One of the Ofcom’s goals is to reclassify premium rate 09 numbers so people can tell how much they will be charged by different services by looking at the number immediately after the 9.
Maybe one of the most important policies Ofcom will apply is the process for allocating numbers to communications providers to increase consumer protection. Ofcom will be using a consumer protection test when allocating telephone numbers, which should permit to cut off the supply of telephone numbers to those communications providers that persistently and/or seriously abuse consumers.

Ofcom is also taking specific action to protect against abuse of existing ‘personal numbering’ services by applying a ceiling to call prices for all calls, whether from fixed lines, mobiles or payphones. Calls costing more than this will require a free announcement to the caller before the call begins. Ofcom will end 070 personal numbering allocations from the end of 2007 in order to avoid confusion with mobile numbers. Next year Ofcom will review what genuine personal numbering services exist, and may at that point enable them to be provided on numbers starting with ‘06’. The 06 numbers will also be reserved for potential use for ‘individual numbers’ and for direct allocation to consumers.

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