Select Committee on Trade and Industry Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witnesses (Questions 140 - 159)



Mr Butterfill

  140. When they say they are haemorrhaging profits on call boxes, what reason are they giving? Is it the cost of maintaining the call boxes, the capital costs, the maintenance costs?
  (Mr Edmonds) It is that and, again, I think this is the only time I would have said this in this session—perhaps ever—to be fair to BT the standard of maintenance and the standard of provision of service of call boxes has hugely increased. All of us can remember when you could never find a phone box that worked, that is, I am told now, quite rare, there is a much higher percentage operating. The main reason is competition from mobiles. The pre-paying mobile and the availability of those, a huge percentage of the young population of this country are now using them as a substitute for the call box.

  141. Is there anything that inhibits them, for example, from getting more revenue from advertising within the call box? Given the amount of unauthorised advertising there seems to be in many of them, are they missing out on a source of revenue?
  (Mr Edmonds) There is nothing to stop them advertising in their call boxes. One of the problems they have is what they are advertising is obscured too often by the kind of unauthorised advertising you have just referred to.


  142. It is a phenomenon that is almost exclusive to London in that respect, the world does exist outside of London.
  (Mr Edmonds) Indeed.

  143. There are people who need phones rather more than these folk.
  (Mr Edmonds) Sure.

Mr Hoyle

  144. Obviously we see 10p to 20p, what happens two years from now, three years, is it 20p to 50p, because that is the danger, there will always be an argument and BT will be able to put up an argument to say "Well, we ought to double it again. We are not getting a return. We cannot sustain this." Is there a way we can get the competitors to help and assist to ensure there is a universal provision of phone boxes throughout the country? I think there is a danger that we may end up seeing it becoming 50p a call or a £1 a call.
  (Mr Edmonds) I think the honest answer to your question is if this is going to be left to market forces, no.


  145. There is not a market.
  (Mr Edmonds) There is not a market.

Mr Hoyle

  146. What can you do?
  (Mr Edmonds) What can we do? All we can do is to insist that BT maintain the wide geographic spread that they do. Pricing then, Sir, is down to BT.

  147. Can BT remove a phone box or can you ensure that phone box remains there? What stops BT from closing a phone box?
  (Mr Edmonds) BT has closed some phone boxes but, on the whole, BT retains the call boxes because it is obliged so to do with its Universal Service Obligation. This is not even in prospect, as I said they are building new phone boxes rather than losing them. If they were to seek to remove them we would insist under the Universal Service Obligation that proper geographic spread is maintained.

  148. Do they have to come to you and say "Look, this phone box in Rimington in Chorley on the hillside, we have decided that we no longer want this phone box", do they come to you and say "Can we remove it" or is it just up to them?
  (Mr Edmonds) It is up to them. We would be looking at this thing in the round.

  149. What does the Universal Service Provision mean? You must have a geographical spread between phone boxes?
  (Mr Edmonds) Yes, it does. It does say there must be geographic spread. It does say they must be available for people with wheelchair access. It is a quite specific provision. Clearly, you in your constituency or a member of the public could come and say "BT is not providing a Universal Service of an appropriate standard here" and at that point we would do something about it. I think one or two phone boxes is not going to substantiate that kind of case. I think you have to look at the area as a whole.

Mr Laxton

  150. Even in Chorley?
  (Mr Edmonds) Even in Chorley.

  Chairman: You do that at your peril.

Helen Southworth

  151. I am getting increasingly concerned by your answer. Elasticity would surely say that if there is a decrease in usage each time the price is doubled then there is going to be a consequent decrease in usage which will make it even less reasonable in BT terms to put a box there. I think the thing that really most concerns me is did you actually say they promised to put in 500 boxes and they have put in 130?
  (Mr Edmonds) Yes. They promised in 1997 that 500 additional call boxes will be installed. They did not give a commitment to the time period during which they would be installed and they have done 130 so far.

  152. That is precisely my experience of BT in terms of their ability to repair telephones or take action necessary. I do not think that is good enough, that was three years ago.
  (Mr Edmonds) Yes.


  153. Maybe they have diverted the people from the telephone box construction to the unbundling.
  (Mr Edmonds) They certainly had not done by the middle of the year.

Helen Southworth

  154. 130 in three years is a pretty poor performance.
  (Mr Edmonds) I have to say, I am not here to defend BT. I am giving you the facts I have.


  155. You have a Universal Service Obligation which you are not fulfilling.
  (Mr Edmonds) No, I am.

  156. You are not requiring them to fulfil it in a reasonable way and at a speed which will defend the public. You are not doing that and your answers keep coming across like that. It is just not good enough.
  (Mr Edmonds) I am sorry, Sir.

  157. Your complacency is quite appalling.
  (Mr Edmonds) It is not complacent. I have with the call boxes in BT an obligation, a duty, to make sure they keep to the Universal Standard—

  158. Putting up less than one a week.
  (Mr Edmonds) We have got more call boxes per head of the population than most, if not all, other European countries.

  159. So what. It is what we want in Britain not these spacious comparisons, largely irrelevant comparisons. Our constituents require a degree of service. We do not know how many have closed because you cannot tell us, all you have been able to tell us is that when 500 were promised, 130 have been constructed in three years which tends to suggest it is barely one a week.
  (Mr Edmonds) Yes.

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