Oftel’s new “Price Assurance Standard Scheme” is for on-line telecoms service information aggregators
When: September 2002
After a lengthy consultation period Telecoms watchdog Oftel officially launched its "Price Assurance Standard" scheme for "aggregator" websites providing customers with information about competing telecoms service providers' prices and products.
"PASS" consists of an accreditation scheme whereby a successful applicant website will be entitled to display on its site the "Oftel PASS" logo. Oftel hopes that the scheme will be in keeping with the requirements of the up and coming new directive concerned with the interests of the users of electronic communications networks and services. Amongst other things, this directive requires national regulatory authorities to encourage the provision of services to users allowing them to "make an independent evaluation of the costs for alternative usage patterns".
Aggregator site owners will not be obliged to apply for the Oftel PASS but at a price of £5,000 for obtaining accreditation, Oftel clearly hopes that these sites will find it worth their while in terms of attracting visitors to their sites who are seeking a truly independent comparative pricing service.
To be "awarded" the Oftel PASS, a website must demonstrate that it complies with the PASS Code of Practice for accreditation. This includes requirements that prices and price comparisons must be accurate and updated at least every 8 weeks. The website must also be independent of telecoms suppliers and if any commission is earned from particular telecoms service providers, this must be disclosed clearly to users, who must not be charged for price comparisons of residential telecoms services.
All other applicable legislation including that relating to data protection, must also be complied with and the site must feature a reasonable spread of suppliers. If the website provides price information on fixed telecoms services it must include prices of at least 10 such providers including BT, and preferably, Kingston Communications. A website providing price information on mobile telecoms services must include at least the four main mobile network operators i.e. O2, Orange, T-Mobile and Vodafone. Their site must also present price comparison information in a fair manner which does not in any way favour any telecoms supplier from whom the aggregator earns commission. Websites may also wish to provide links to the Comparable Performance Indicators for fixed services at www.cpi.org.uk and two relevant parts of the Oftel website at www.oftel.gov.uk. As part of the process of obtaining accreditation, they must also co-operate with Analysys Consulting Limited, who have been appointed by Oftel to check whether price tariffs and price comparisons calculated by websites applying for accreditation are accurate and up to date.
Included in the information about the pass scheme on the Oftel site (at www.oftel.gov.uk/publications/consumer/2002/pass0902.htm is a detailed explanation of the role of Analysys in the accreditation process and the numerous categories of information that they will be seeking from those applying for accreditation. These include how tariffs are collected, inputted and interpreted, how bundled packages are treated, what assumptions are made for example about average calling from a typical basket of calls and how price comparisons are calculated. There will also be an annual check and audit of each website which has previously been granted accreditation, the fee for which will be £3,000.
Why this matters:
Bearing in mind the requirements of Directive 2002/22/EC, it is clearly a good move on the part of Oftel to introduce this scheme. As with all on-line consumer confidence enhancing schemes, however, the big challenge will be to raise awareness and use of the system so that it achieves the critical mass of credibility that is essential for such systems to do what they say on the tin.