Following Sir George's debate in the House of Commons on June 29th about "rogue diallers" - a scam whereby, unknown to the subscriber, expensive telephone calls are made to his account - the regulator has written to Sir George to outline progress.
"I am pleased that action is being taken to stop this rip-off, and will be keeping a close watch on the position"
This is the text of the letter.
PREMIUM RATE-CHARGED CONTENT ON THE INTERNET (DIALLERS)
I write to follow up May's letter on the subject of diallers to tell you about the tough new measures in place to deal with dialler services, which have been causing problems for consumers across the UK.
You will see that many of the solutions we cover below pick up on the Westminster Hall debate on 29 June, which we found both timely and well-informed. The issues highlighted at that debate were also in large part behind the decision by DTI, Ofcom and IOSTIS that there should be a review of premium rate regulation, with a view to strengthening ICSTIS' powers and improving the public services we offer to complainants and those with enquiries.
The review will allow the structural issues with premium rate regulation to be looked at, especially the operation and regulation of the value chain of originating (billing) phone networks, terminating phone networks, service providers, content providers, broadcasters and others. This is a great opportunity to improve the regulation of premium rate services - boosting consumer confidence in the entirely legitimate premium rate industry (the vast majority) and making sure that we can better stop those who would rip-off the consumer and damage the reputation of premium rate as a payment mechanism.
To return to diallers specifically; the first key feature of our solution is instituting, this week, a prior permission regime for dialler software. This means that no network should provide numbers for dialler services unless the service provider and dialler has a permission certificate from ICSTIS. The conditions attached to this certificate are tough and additional to those in our Code of Practice. Key new requirements include:
* the guaranteed withholding by networks of 50% of the revenue on a service (up to a maximum amount) as a sort of bond against misconduct or a full guarantee from the network involved that it will underwrite any fines and redress payments if its service provider partner is found guilty of misconduct
* a maximum spend of £20 for any single use of an premium rate Internet service
* arrangements to ensure that any dialler approved by ICSTIS is tamperproof - that the software cannot subsequently be changed to allow it to misbehave
* the requirement that any downloaded dialler and its icon can be deleted from a PC without difficulty.
A summary of some of the other actions on the part of ICSTIS (with partners) include:
* strengthening our registration scheme for all service providers, making it clear that we will assume intent on the part of any service providers who is unregistered, allowing us to act against them firmly and rapidly
* As no-one has registered services involving the use of international or satellite numbers we have written to phone companies asking that they cut access immediately to any such number we or they find attached to a dialler
* terminating networks have said that they plan to move away from the short (weekly or less) outpayment cycles which are so appealing to the unscrupulous keen to get their money before suspicions surface and action can be taken
* we have supported originating phone networks and ISPs' consumer education and information on how to protect themselves from harm
We have also been working to improve our public services. We have made improvements to our web-site, which allows the public (and phone companies on behalf of consumers) to search for specific numbers and for information on the services on these numbers. We have further automated complaint registration and aim to give responses to web-complainants 'by return'. We are introducing more voice messaging on our system to ensure that every caller can get basic advice on premium rate services problems. This is something of a quick fix to deal with the 20,000 plus callers we have each week. We are reviewing our whole public information service as part of our planning for 2005.
There may still be those who will seek to find ways of deceiving the public but we are confident these measures will result is a decline in problems with dialler services and this will be reflected in a fall in the harm to your constituents.
This letter has gone to all MPs, but I particularly appreciate your interest and support. As you know we are looking for a chance to meet you to discuss these issues in more detail.