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Ofcom fudges consumer protection

0870 rip-off to continue until 2008

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Ofcom is to crack down on rip off 0870 calls in a bid to protect punters - but the new rules that should see the cost of calls slashed while providing greater protection for consumers won't be introduced until 2008.

Last September Ofcom outlined plans to cut the cost of calls to some non-geographic numbers because of concerns that consumers are being taken for a ride. The numbers, which begin with 0870, are commonly used by call centres, banks, and public sector organisations and can cost up to 10p a minute to call - three times the cost of a BT national rate call.

These higher charges can help generate cash for firms and organisations that run the numbers and has led to concerns that some firms deliberately keep people waiting on the line to increase revenue.

Confirming plans to press ahead with its original proposals Ofcom said the measures would require mobile and fixed-line providers (including payphones) to charge the same or less for 0870 calls as they do for national-rate calls to geographic numbers.

If providers wish to charge more for 0870 calls, then they will have to announce the charges at the beginning of the call without charging punters a penny for hearing the recorded message.

Even though Ofcom has acknowledged that it is aware of "consumer concerns about the cost of calling [0870] voice services" the proposals won't come into effect until 2008. Part of this delay is to give telcos and other operators time to make the necessary changes.

But today's announcement has already drawn criticism from Cable & Wireless (C&W). While it's happy that Ofcom is giving firms plenty of time to make the necessary changes, overall, it reckons the new rules are a fudge.

"All in all, this is bad news for our customers and bad news for consumers," said Jim Marsh, chief exec of C&W UK.

"Our corporate customers can't use the money from 0870 to fund good services for consumers - and consumers, while seeing the price of their calls fall a little, won't be much the wiser." ®

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