The death knell could soon be sounding for so-called lo-call phone numbers after the communications watchdog announced plans to put them under the spotlight.
Many large and small organisations, Government departments and charities use numbers with the prefixes 1800, 1850, 1890, 0818 and 076 with the suggestion being they are entirely to the consumer’s benefit.
However the cost of making calls from a mobile to some of those numbers can be as high as €0.35 a minute and, unlike landline numbers, which are routinely included in bundled “free” minutes offered by phone operators, calls to 1890, 1850 and 0818 numbers are excluded from such deals.
The communications regulator ComReg has announced it is to conduct a full review of all the non-geographic numbers (NGN) and has already made preliminary findings suggesting that there may are issues connected to some of the numbers which are harming consumers.
Among the early concerns highlighted by ComReg are the retail tariffs for calls to some numbers which are not “sufficiently transparent” so “consumers often do not know, or are unable to forecast, the likely cost of a call”.
It also said many consumers do not understand the differences between the five classes of NGNs; and suggested that the retail tariffs “can be relatively high, particularly for NGN calls made from mobile phones, and because most NGN calls are not included in consumers’ “bundles” of “call minutes”.
It has initiated public consultation and proposed two major changes.
The first proposal is to retain the ‘1800’ class as a Freephone number and to introduce a new linked pricing tariff for the 1850’, ‘1890’, ‘0818’, and ‘076’ numbers.
This would mean a call to those four classes of NGN would cost the same as an equivalent call to a geographic area such as 01 for Dublin or 061 for Limerick and if a customer's telephone package included calls made to those geographic locations then all calls made by that customer to NGNs would also be included in the bundle .
The second proposal is to phase out most of the NGN and reduce them to two, so that consumers would more readily understand the cost of the calls they are making. Effectively this would mean the elimination of the ‘1850’, ‘1890’, and ‘076’ classes and the renention of the ‘1800’ and ‘0818’ NGN classes.
The consultation documents, an infographic and an animation that summarises our research findings and proposals are all available at www.comreg.ie/ngnreview.The consultation period will run until October 12th 2017.