Select Committee on Trade and Industry Minutes of Evidence




  Between 1984 and 1996-97 BT virtually doubled the number overall of public payphones that it provided. In 1997, as part of a general review of BT's licence, Oftel and BT negotiated an agreement to increase the number of purely social need public payphones (ie boxes that would not otherwise be provided on economic grounds) by up to 500 over five years. This was always a maximum figure rather than a target.

  To enable an objective decision to be made on the extent of social need, BT and Oftel trialled and agreed an assessment scheme. New social provision payphones are now installed (subject to the availability of a suitable site) if they score sufficiently highly in terms of:

    (a)  The number of houses in the proposed payphone catchment area;

    (b)  The type of housing; and

    (c )  the distance to the nearest public payphone.

  Oftel have been updated periodically on progress under this scheme and this is where the figure of 130 quoted in the Director General Telecommunications oral evidence to the committee comes from. This figure specifically does not include any new installations that were justified on economic grounds. Indeed, as indicated below, a total of 356 new boxes were installed between 4 January 2000 and mid November alone.

  The provision of street payphones follows the same process regardless of whether an economic or a social payphone is involved. The lead time between receipt of request to installation is 12 weeks, assuming a site is available. This includes

    —  the drawing up of plans;

    —  four week allowance for Local Planning Authority to grant General Development Order;

    —  arranging electricity and line plant provision.


  The minimum fee remained at 10p for 16 years, during which time both the number of payphones (see above) and their serviceability has increased significantly (the latter to an average of 96 per cent of payphones working at any time).

  Payphone prices have not doubled—the minimum fee has—but calls still continue to be charged in 10p units, with the minimum fee buying two units. 10p now buys 55 seconds for any UK inland call. On a local call this time has decreased by 18 per cent but the time allowed for a long-distance (ie regional/national) call has increased by 28 per cent so that any such calls of two minutes or more duration either cost the same or are actually cheaper than previously. This is important, as research indicates that people who are untelephoned or socially disadvantaged tend to use payphones to make longer calls, as such, they are largely unaffected by the minimum fee, but benefit from the cheaper rate.

  Until a couple of years ago there was a steady decline in payphone use as a result of the growth of mobile phone service. Experience across Europe has shown that, when mobile phones are first introduced, payphones gain because the extra revenue from calls from payphones to mobiles exceeds the loss of revenue as a result of customers making calls on their mobile instead of using a payphone. However, once mobile penetration reaches about 30 per cent, payphones start losing money quite quickly. We are now well past this level of penetration and revenue loss has accelerated dramatically with the advent of pre-paid mobiles, which are particularly suited to potential payphone customers.

  In the last couple of years mobile penetration has increased from 25 per cent to over 60 per cent. Overall, the number of payphone calls declined by 18 per cent in 1999-2000 and the total amount of time spent on calls went down by 20 per cent. This trend has continued this year and the experience of other developed countries is that it is not reversible.


  Only 186 of the street payphone population of 95,000 payphones were ceased between 4 January 2000 and the middle of last month. Many of these will have been replaced by a new box nearby:

    —  84 were removed at the request of the local council, police or other interested parties; typically where there had been serious social disruption or criminal activity, such as drug dealing.

    —  45 were ceased as "out of service" for instance where a kiosk had been destroyed by an accident and there was not demand for its reprovision, or where vandalism or theft had created a situation where continued provision was impractical.

    —  33 were withdrawn as a result of "Site Improvement". This includes where the nature of an area had changed (eg redevelopment had caused the payphone site to be unsuitable or, maybe, in a dangerous position, or maybe the adjacent building use had changed).

    —  24 were taken away because the owner of the site instructed us to do so and there was no other suitable site nearby.

    —  During the same period 356 new boxes were installed—a net gain of 170.


  The 195 service was introduced in 1991 (when we introduced Directory Enquiries charging from non-payphone lines) to enable visually impaired people and others unable to use a phonebook through disability (eg severe arthritis, upper limb disabilities etc) access to a free directory enquiry service. The service also provides customers to both inland and international Directory Enquiries with onward connection of their call upon request. Currently around 233K customers are registered for the service

  Customers apply on a standard application form (often an engineer installing a new line will arrange for this to be sent to the customer). The form certifies that the customer suffers from a relevant disability (this part of the process is being tightened up to ensure that an official stamp of a hospital/GP/Health Centre/etc is also provided on the form).

  Once accepted as eligible for the service, customers are provided with a (four digit) PIN number which, when used on a call, verifies their registration against name and address (but not telephone number). So the service can be used from any line.

  Currently, verified 195 users can obtain up to five numbers per call and can request onward connection (charged to a specified landline number) if required.

  We advertise the service in the following places:

    —  The BT Guide for the Elderly & Disabled;

    —  Posters in doctors' surgeries and at Social Services Offices;

    —  All Social Service Sensory teams are aware of the service;

    —  Contact details are in the Phone Book;

    —  The BT Age & Disability Team give details at presentations;

    —  Our repair service people are aware of the service;

    —  The service is mentioned in BT produced leaflets "BT Services for Older or Disabled People" and services for Customers with "Special Needs".

January 2001

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