25 October 2010
ACMA asks, do phone numbers add up?
The increasing use of mobiles, the impact of VoIP and the very wide utilisation of capped plans and bundling marketing practices are posing important questions for the way traditional telephone numbers are managed, according to the first of a series of issues papers released today by the Australian Communications and Media Authority.
The ACMA administers the Numbering Plan, which sets out the rules for the use and administration of telephone numbers in Australia. This was last substantively reviewed in the lead up to 1997, when mobile phones were being introduced and Australia moved to ten digit phone numbers.
‘Numbering is a key issue as we move to a more converged world,’ said ACMA Chairman, Chris Chapman.
‘While the existing Numbering Plan has served Australia extremely well, it is now starting to fray around the edges. Many of its features date back well over ten years, during which time there has been tremendous change in the telecommunications and broadband market.’
The issues paper looks at the underlying structure of the Numbering Plan and several areas where service evolution is already putting pressure on traditional numbering-based approaches. Some examples include :
- VoIP (and other broadband-enabled services) now make it relatively easy to move a phone service across traditional number boundaries, a trend that is likely to increase as telephone services become broadband applications
- charging based on location and distance is declining in relative importance as many consumers move to bundled and capped plans
- mobile phones are increasingly the preferred device for phone calls, rather than landline phones (which phenomena raises questions about the treatment of calls to 1800 and 13 phone numbers, where mobile callers incur a higher charge, meaning that they are not free or ‘local rate’—which charges are significant now that there are many more mobile than fixed services).
‘The pace of change is if anything picking up. It is possible that the service provision environment may look significantly different in just a few years,’ Mr Chapman said.
‘This will enable us to take full advantage of the many exciting new products, services and opportunities coming over the horizon, while ensuring appropriate safeguards for all users.
‘I am determined we deal with this complex, but vital issue now so that we and our stakeholders have a keen awareness of this issue and hopefully a useful roadmap, as we all head into the broadbanded, fully digital world.’
For this reason, the ACMA has commenced a work program that looks at various aspects of numbering and the Numbering Plan and will be progressively releasing four papers over the coming months.
The ACMA will hold workshops in November as part of broad consultations on its work program.
Numbering has been central to the regulation and management of the telecommunications system and underpins many of the consumer safeguards in the sector. In the past, consumers have relied on phone numbers to tell them about the cost of calls and the location of the person they’re ringing. Call billing, the Do Not Call Register, handling of triple zero calls, security and policing, as well as premium number sales are all affected by the Numbering Plan.
The paper identifies the pressures on the Numbering Plan and the impact this is having on ordinary Australians and the communications industry.
It suggests the need to build a bridge between current uses and how communications services will be used in the near future, and asks what changes to the Numbering Plan may be needed.
As part of the study, the ACMA is seeking views on ways that the Numbering Plan can or should be adapted to Australia’s 21st century requirements, including:
- asking some basic questions about the role that numbers can and should play going forward as a strategy for addressing policy concerns and issues in the convergent environment
- simplifying the present division of Australian phone numbers between more than 40 different types of communications services, including for mobile phones, landline phones, satellite phones and VoIP phones
- simplifying the geographic division of phone numbers for landline phones, historically used for calculating the cost of long distance/STD calls
- addressing concerns about the use of shared numbers and
- giving consumers an ability to recognise the cost of calls, whether from the number they are calling or by other means.
The ACMA is seeking responses by 3 December 2010 to this paper, the first in a series of four dealing with pressures on numbering arrangements from users and providers of communications services. The paper is available on the ACMA website.
Provisionally, the other three papers will seek to address numbering administration and institutional arrangements, including the role of numbers in industry taxation and charging arrangements; derivation of customer, location and service provider information from numbers; and information in numbers utilised by end-users.
For more information or to arrange an interview please contact: Donald Robertson, Media Manager, on (02) 9334 7980, 0418 86 1766 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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The ACMA is Australia’s regulator for broadcasting, the internet, radiocommunications and telecommunications. The ACMA’s strategic intent is to make communications and media work in Australia’s public interest. For more information: www.acma.gov.au.