Select Committee on Trade and Industry Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witnesses (Questions 120 - 139)



  120. Particularly in London.
  (Mr Edmonds) Yes. A serial miscalculation, certainly, but a miscalculation that I think in 1995 was probably recognised and an alternative way of changing London numbers was then put forward which would have had an overlay which at the time was rejected following a consultation. I think we have under-estimated, yes, quite clearly.

  121. With the latest change to 020 has that gone smoothly as far as you are aware?
  (Mr Edmonds) I am aware it went very smoothly indeed. The changeover on 22 April was technically almost flawless. The changeover in terms of the number of misdials, apparently there were 18 per cent misdials on the first day of the changeover compared with 25 per cent in 1995 when the Big Number change happened. Apparently 80 per cent of the population were using the new numbers by the end of the parallel running and by the end of two days after the changeover five per cent of calls were being misdialled. I think by any standards it was a remarkably successful enterprise.

  122. With the misdialling, I will admit I do that myself now because you have to remember to put the "8" or "7" in front of the seven digits, is that going to be continued?
  (Mr Edmonds) Yes.

  123. The voice comes over, how long will that go on and how long will you go on keeping statistics?
  (Mr Edmonds) It goes on for the foreseeable future. I am afraid I do not know when it stops. I will find out and I promise to let you know.

  124. About the number changes for mobiles, we had a report that Orange were looking to be struggling to update their system for new mobile codes. Are you confident operators are ready for the changes?
  (Mr Edmonds) Yes, I am. This is an example of the industry working together. I think the industry worked together very well on fixed number transfer and I think they are working very well together now on mobile number transfer. I have no evidence there is any problem within a company that should produce problems in terms of implementation but, again, I had not heard about Orange, I will check on them.

  125. Publicising the changes to mobile, I am sure I have heard radio announcements about the "07" changes but is that something the companies are doing? Are you doing that as well?
  (Mr Edmonds) No. The companies will do it again. The companies spent £22 million on the change which happened in April. They will spend a considerable amount of money on the changes that will take place on the mobile. There is regular advertising as you say. There is also some hefty press advertising which has started.

  126. Do you have any control over that?
  (Mr Edmonds) No.

  127. Is it left to the operators?
  (Mr Edmonds) It is left to the operators but Oftel sits in an interventionary way on the steering committee that runs the campaign, so we were consulted at all stages of the previous campaign and we will be involved in all stages of this campaign. It is an operator decision. It is their money they are spending and it is the number they are having to switch for their own customers that they are responsible for.

Helen Southworth

  128. Are there going to be free information lines for customers to find out what will be happening about mobile number changes?
  (Mr Edmonds) I do not know. Again, I will find out.

  129. Have you got any information as to what profits were made on the information lines for the Big Number change?
  (Mr Edmonds) No, I thought they were 0800 numbers which people dialled free.

  130. Were they all?
  (Mr Edmonds) Again, I do not know, but that was my broad assumption, that you did not get charged for phoning to find out what was happening. In fact, I am sure it was an 0800 number.

Mr Butterfill

  131. Do you know how much the whole exercise cost the consumers?
  (Mr Edmonds) No.

  132. Has anybody made an estimate?
  (Mr Edmonds) No. The one statistic I do know was apparently calculated at £550 million in 1995 for Phone Day. As the Chairman knows, as the Committee knows, I was faced with the situation that this was going to happen, the decision had been taken and it was the responsibility of Oftel to drive it through as best it could. I do think it has gone very well. We clearly faced some anxieties in advance of the number change but in reality, with the exception of a problem in Bodmin, I think, which has got the code 01208 where calls have been misdirected, it went smoothly.

Mr Laxton

  133. On 26 August in The FT and The Independent there were two comments about BT intending to double the minimum cost of pay phone calls.
  (Mr Edmonds) Yes.

  134. Were you aware of this? Were you consulted upon it? What was BT's justification for that?
  (Mr Edmonds) Oftel does not price control or has no control over the prices of pay phones. BT notified us in advance that they were going to double the charges, BT then proceeded to double the charges. I am not going to sit here today and defend BT on decisions they took. I can report to you the reasons they gave to me are quite simple, that there has been an 18 per cent reduction in their call volume over the last year, there has been a 20 per cent decrease apparently in call minutes. The phrase used by the Managing Director of BT(UK) when I asked him about it was that they were haemorrhaging money from their call box service and, therefore, they took a commercial decision to double the charges.

  135. It is not one of your briefs to look at the area of competition between street call boxes, I would have assumed it was. At one stage there was quite a lot of competition, basically it seemed more like a clutter to me, on the high street between competing companies.
  (Mr Edmonds) Yes.

  136. A good proportion of whom seemed to have dipped into the market and got out of it quickly.
  (Mr Edmonds) Without wishing to defend BT, perhaps one sentence indicates why BT took the decision it did: because the profits were simply not there. The first part of your question, yes, we do have a responsibility, we have a responsibility under making sure that the Universal Service Obligation, of which providing access to call boxes is one element, is delivered by BT. We do in effect have in the UK a very good coverage of pay call boxes. We have one of the highest ratios of pay call boxes per head of population of any European country. What we are going to do is another market analysis, we are looking at this in the next few months. In the middle part of next year we will produce a document on pay phones, call boxes in the UK, to pick up the points that you have made: is there competition, why is there not competition, what, if anything, should happen in regulatory terms to remedy competition if anything can be done?

  137. What about if you find within that survey there are gaps? I accept there is a wide coverage across the UK but if there are gaps in the provision in any particular geographical location, is that something you will address with BT or BT's competitors, for example?
  (Mr Edmonds) Yes, indeed. In 1997 BT agreed to build an additional 500 call boxes through the UK, many of them I think in more isolated areas. Of those they have installed 130 I am told, as of yesterday, so clearly the geographic spread is an issue we will look at. There is a geographic averaging of charging so there are very expensive call boxes in remote areas of the country, you pay the same charge that you do in London.

  138. What are your powers? What powers do you have if, for example, to use the words of the Managing Director of BT(UK) when he was saying they were haemorrhaging business, being beaten to death and not with golf clubs on this occasion but by customers presumably using mobile phones more extensively than they ever have?
  (Mr Edmonds) Absolutely.

  139. If they are being beaten to death financially, what powers have you got to say under the Universal Service Obligation "You will live with that, BT, and you will live with it across the UK"?
  (Mr Edmonds) That is exactly what we will say to them. We will set out the criteria for the provision of uneconomic call boxes and we will say "It is part of the Universal Service Obligation that you provide those call boxes". We have to use the power to do that under the USO.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 20 March 2001