FOLLOWING LAST WEEK'S announcement that Ofcom has placed caps on directory enquiries call costs, the worst offender has hit out, saying that the measures don't go far enough, and it was all Ofcom's fault anyway.
Telecom2 topped the hall of shame, charging a few pennies shy of £20 for a 90-second call. This is even more than the abhorrent £11.23 charged by market leader TNUK (the one with the running people).
But now it has hit out saying that it was Ofcom who approved the charges in the first place and that more should be done than simply cap the price of a call at £3.65.
It points out that the tariff structure was agreed by Ofcom in 2016. Worse still, it says, Ofcom "encouraged carriers to apply for them." But the cost of the call is not the biggest issue, it claims.
"(The primary cost) is not, in fact, DQ services but excessive "Access Charges" imposed by Mobile Network Operators as a result of the Ofcom NGCS review in July 2016. The negative economic impact of excessive access charges far outweighs any harm from DQ services, the 118 market by Ofcom's own admission is a declining one."
It shows details on the Ofcom website of these access charges, with O2, Vodafone and Hull landline provider KCOM (nee Kingston Communications) as the worst offenders, with a charge of up to 55p a minute for non-geographic numbers. Many others charge 50p a minute and these charges are passed on to the customer.
This is the same reasoning that mobile providers used prior to EU caps on data roaming charges - the access fee far outweighs the call costs and that there's little under the current structure they can do about it.
The statement continues: "We look forward to Ofcom taking action on excessive access charges which can be up to 5000 per cent higher on a 1 pence per minute call than the service charge. An easy solution would be to enforce a regime where the access charge cannot exceed the service charge."
Since we first reported this on Friday, Ofcom has been in touch with a retort:
"We don't set individual 118 providers' prices, nor have we approved their current charging levels - these were agreed and set by the providers themselves. But because some 118 firms have increased their charges sharply, we've stepped in to protect callers by capping prices."
It adds that the prices being charged by the companies are far higher than the access charges, and that if needs be, they will step in and take action, just as they have here (though £3.65 is still a massive price for a short call.
118 services took over from the old BT run 192 directories in 2002, when we were but spring chickens and all this was fields, at which time the price of a lookup was a mere 35p, less than a tenth of the runners' service.
Directories services have been human-led but highly automated for over 20 years, which should have driven costs down, not up, if it wasn't for that pesky internet.
Customers with special needs should note that there is a free directories service still available on 195. Contact your provider to arrange access. μ
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