The 090 prefix has been designated for premium rate adult/chat services for instant recognition as a premium rate line and easier call barring to protect children. Despite this, these services have been increasingly offered on 0871 prefixes. Not any more.
Topic: Mobile marketing
When: January 2006
Premium rate telephone line regulator, the Independent Committee for the Supervision of Telephone Information Standards ("ICSTIS") released a "Notice to the industry" on "premium rate text charging to 0871 and all other non-premium rate numbers".
What drove the publication of the Notice was the increasing incidence of premium rate sexual entertainment services and chat services being accessed by callers from mobile phones on non-premium rate landline numbers. The access was happening primarily on 0871 prefixes where, in addition to the cost of the call, charges were incurred in the form of high cost reverse-billed text messages.
Designated 090 prefix
Normally, premium rate sexual entertainment services and chat services are placed on 090 prefixes. These have been designated by Ofcom for special premium rate service use. The idea is that the prospective user will instantly recognise the number as a premium rate number and will also be better able to display call barring for those numbers, particularly for the protection of children.
After monitoring of a number of cases in which adjudications were reached, ICSTIS concluded that premium rate sexual entertainment and chat services could not be provided on an 0871 prefixed number and be compliant with the ICSTIS Code of practice.
3 February 2006 deadline
Accordingly, ICSTIS by this Notice told service providers and network operators that such services are in breach of the Code and that they must cease as soon as possible. Any such service identified as being available on or after 3 February 2006 will be subject to the immediate use of ICSTIS's Emergency Procedure.
The concern here was that the practice evaded consumer recognition and diluted consumer understanding of the numbering of premium rate services as a meaningful public indicator of content and charging. The 0871 lines could not be barred by consumers and cannot comply with the provisions in the ICSTIS Code that offer important protection to children.
Serious levels of non-disclosure
In addition, the monitoring conducted by ICSTIS showed a serious level of failure to provide adequate information to enable consumers to know what charges they would be incurring when dialling the 0871 number.
Pungently, ICSTIS reported that its monitoring "plainly showed that the vast majority of advertising for these services was, and continues to be, profoundly misleading". People were being encouraged to ring numbers on non-premium prefixes without any clear and often without any information about what charges would be incurred when making the call and then receiving a related reverse high-billed text messages.
To make matters worse, the reverse high-billed text messages were sent during and/or following a call and some of these were "flashed" messages which were not stored in a caller's inbox and so left no record at all of them being sent.
Why this matters:
Clearly ICSTIS had become seriously concerned about this practice and its instruction to the industry is crystal clear. Time will tell whether their warnings will have been heeded with effect from 3 February 2006.