Examination of witnesses (Questions 120
TUESDAY 14 NOVEMBER 2000
and MR JIM
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
(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
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.
128. Are there going to be free information
lines for customers to find out what will be happening about mobile
(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
(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
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.
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
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,
(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
(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.