Is your business phone system Ofcom compliant?

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Following on from our last article “Compliance – who gives an FCA?!” we’re taking a look at another regulator, this time it’s Ofcom. Ofcom is a huge independent regulator and competition authority, covering the whole of UK communications.

In this article we will look at a few key areas that we feel all IT managers/telecom decision makers need to be aware of, (thankfully) this is NOT a complete guide to all things Ofcom!

We know that compliance is not the sexiest of subjects, but ignorance or misunderstanding that leads to non-compliance can be very costly indeed, so stick with us!

Just like the FCA, Ofcom have teeth. Teeth that can take a big bite out of your business’ profit by a financial fine. These fines can be issued to both communication providers and end-user businesses alike.

What is Ofcom?

Ofcom is the communications regulator in the UK. They regulate many types of communication from TV, radio, video and on-demand services to fixed-line telecoms, mobiles, postal services and the airwaves over which wireless devices operate.

They’re not responsible for disputes with telecoms providers, premium rate services (such as ringtones), TV advert content, the BBC licence fee or anything to do with newspapers or magazines.

Ofcom say: “We make sure that people in the UK get the best from their communications services and are protected from scams and sharp practices, while ensuring that competition can thrive.”

How does this relate to UK telecommunications businesses?

Ofcom are responsible for regulations relating to ethernet and leased lines, mobile call termination and business broadband access amongst many other things. They conduct market reviews and implement charge controls as well as review competition in communications markets.

Penalties for non-compliance

From March 2015 to April 2016, Ofcom imposed penalties for non-compliance totalled £1.42 million. No small potatoes, certainly an amount any UK business wants to avoid being liable for!

Four key areas of Ofcom for IT Managers to be aware

1. The UK Communications Act 2003

This is the natural starting place as this was how Ofcom was born! The Communications Act 2003 is an act of Parliament which came into force on 25 July 2003, superseding the Telecommunications Act 1984.

The act consolidated all telecommunication and broadcasting regulators in the UK, resulting in providers operating within the legislative framework set.

A few things introduced by the act that you might not know:

  • It is illegal to use other people’s Wi-Fi connections without their permission.
  • Obtaining access to the Internet with no intention to pay for the service was made a criminal offence.
  • Sending a malicious communication using social media was made a criminal offence.
  • Broadcasters were required to make a proportion of television programmes outside the London area.
  • Political advertising on television or radio was prohibited.

The act covers a wide range of areas (as you might have guessed from the above) but crucially it gave Ofcom its full regulatory powers, inheriting the duties of the Office of Telecommunications (Oftel).

2. Consumer Contracts Regulations 2013

In 2014 there were significant changes to the regulations governing inbound phone numbers used by businesses, relating to the number type and above basic rate charging for customer helplines. The regulations can be seen in full here but we’ve summarised them below:

  • The Consumer Contracts Regulations specifically target customer helplines.
  • Where a telephone helpline is provided, the basic rate (cost for the call) must not be more than a geographic or mobile rate.
  • Where an above geographic or mobile rate is used, the business is to pay back the consumer for any charge paid for the call.

Why?

Consumers should generally expect to pay no more to phone a business about something they have bought than to call a friend or relative. The telephone number provided should not provide the business with a contribution to their costs.

Sounds fair enough? You must ensure that any phone numbers your business uses for customer helplines meets the requirements of the regulation or face potential penalty.

More information

Way back in May 2014, we created an eBook covering the regulations which can be viewed here.

3. Simplifying Non-Geographic Numbers Regulations

These regulations respond to concerns that consumers were confused about what non-geographic numbers (08, 09, 03, 118) mean and how much calls to them cost. The regulations changed how much a call to a specific number type can cost, which numbers are free from mobile phones and how particular number types are marketed and advertised.

Key Points

  • Clearer pricing for all 08, 09 and 118 numbers
  • Premium rate charges capped
  • 03 range introduced for business wanting a local rate non-geo phone number ‘Access’ & ‘Service’ charges and compliant messaging text must be displayed wherever 08, 09 & 118 numbers are advertised
  • 080 phone numbers are to be free from mobiles as well as landlines

More information

We wrote a complete guide to the regulations back in 2014. Ofcom also released a site solely dedicated to these regulations.

We are always happy to conduct a call profile review on your behalf and make recommendations accordingly.

4. Regulation of VoIP Services

Access to the Emergency Services; Calling 999

One of the most important features of traditional phone services is enabling users to call the emergency services, regardless of power to the building.

Pre-regulation VoIP services did not necessarily give access to emergency numbers (999 & 112) which lead to much confusion. Since regulation implementation it is mandatory that all VoIP services are able to access emergency numbers at no charge.

What if the power fails?

Further to this, VoIP operators must confirm and communicate to the end customer if the VoIP service will fail to function if either the building’s power or broadband connection (over which the voice service operates) fails, as this will prevent access to the emergency services. All end customers will need to sign acknowledgement of this to adhere to regulations.

Caller location

Due to VoIP’s limitations on availability of location information, all end users must update their service provider if they change location, as the original installation address with be logged and kept as the location calls are originating from.

This is to aid the emergency services to locate the site in the event of an emergency call.

What now

Hopefully you have learnt a few things about how Ofcom regulations have a direct impact on the services we all use and any actions you need to take as a result.

It’s not the most glamourous of topics but certainly one that all IT managers need be aware of. I’m sure you would like to know if your phones can dial the emergency services or if a business phone number could get you in trouble with the regulator – don’t get offed by Ofcom!

Legal bit

The information contained in this article should never replace advice from a trained legal professional. We always recommend you seek advice from a legal professional especially for specific situations.

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