As “non-dial” premium-rate use through the net and digital TV proliferate, there is more unsavoury work at the cross roads for regulator ICSTIS to tackle.
Who: George Kidd, Director of the Independent Committee for the Supervision of Standards of Telephone Information Services ("ICSTIS")
When: January 2002
In an article in the trading standards community's journal "TS Today", George Kidd, director of ICSTIS, highlighted some of the recent challenges faced by this premium rate regulatory body. It is worth remembering that ICSTIS has responsibility in respect of not only the content of premium rate services, but also material promoting them. It also has sharp teeth. In 2001 ICSTIS effectively barred all access to no less than 21 services on grounds that they were either unacceptable, inappropriate or obscene.
Separately, where an individual is shown to be behind a deceptive activity on the part of various different companies, he or she can be branded an "associated individual". The result of this is that no premium rate provider should associate with that person. Seven "associated individuals" have been named to date. ICSTIS also has emergency powers which can deal effectively and extremely quickly with particularly harmful or deceptive scams. At least 3 times, in respect of consumer credit services which were clearly unacceptable, this action has been taken, resulting in the cutting of the relevant line within no more than 3 hours. ICSTIS can also levy fines. In 2000, 92 services were fined a total of £200,000. In 2001 this figure increased to £500,000 with help-line enquiries increasing from 40,000 in 1999 to 95,000 in 2000 and to well over 120,000 in 2001. 50% of those calls are from people with phone bills with a premium rate number relating to an internet server.
Many problems arise out of individuals simply not cottoning on that when they are accessing certain material on the web or digital TV they are paying for it by means of a premium rate call. The absence of any requirement to physically dial the relevant number, for instance for interactive games on TV or the net, voting on TV, or premium chat services, is the key part of the problem, and the problem increases exponentially on-line. ICSTIS is concerned that individuals are simply not being given adequate disclosure, prominently enough, before they effectively “dial” into these lines.
Why This Matters:
In 2001, premium rate services were a £290 million industry. In 2002 it is forecast that this figure will increase to £600 million. Against this backdrop, and with premium rate increasingly being used as a payment incentive for everything from charitable donations to reverse SMS messages, ICSTIS task is hardly likely to diminish.