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London set to run out of phone numbers as row breaks out

Telecomms watchdog blasted by MPs

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The telecomms watchdog, Oftel, has been accused of mishandling the management of telephone numbers in the UK by MPs sitting on the trade and industry select committee. In a report published yesterday, the group demanded that Oftel delay the overhaul of the country's telephone codes and numbers until further analysis is carried out. The influential group of backbench MPs said Oftel failed to consult widely enough when drawing up its proposals but stopped short of delivering a full-blown condemnation of the industry watchdog. The introduction of the new numbers is already at "an advanced stage", Oftel has warned, and any delay would have a severe impact on the provision of telecomms services in the UK. Oftel director general of telecommunications, Dave Edmonds said: "It is highly unlikely, therefore, that significant change can or should be made to what is now known as The Big Number campaign." While the select committee and Oftel battle it out, time is ticking away for companies who have to decide whether it's worth changing their systems to cope with the number changes, or just to wait and see what the bureaucrats decide. Edmonds also said that "customers need more information about the changes, not less", a view supported by The Register which discovered recently that only half of UK companies are aware that new telephone numbers and codes are being introduced in less than four months' time. The whole affair is rapidly turning into a shambles especially as Oftel maintains that unless the changes go ahead, London will run out of telephone numbers by summer 2000. "It is a mess," said James Murray, director of the telecomms services company Alternative Networks. "It definitely could have been handled better," he said. ® See also 'Phone Bug' could cripple UK businesses

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