Numbering: Calls to freephone and local rate numbers—The way forward
The ACMA has received submissions to this discussion paper.
This paper sets out the Australian Communications and Media Authority’s views on future arrangements for call charges to freephone (1800 numbers) and local rate numbers (13 and 1300 numbers). Together these number ranges are known as freephone and local rate numbers (FLRNs).
During 2010–11, the ACMA undertook a program of work (the Numbering Work Program) to examine the regulatory framework for telephone numbers and provide an analysis of reform options. As part of this process, the ACMA assessed a range of issues related to the cost of calls to FLRN services from fixed and mobile phones.
The ACMA invites submissions on the following issues:
- Details of costs, revenues and charges related to the use of FLRNs and costs associated with the proposed changes that might have the effect of materially altering the ACMA’s view.
- Whether the proposed time period for implementing the proposed changes is appropriate and, if not, what reasons there might be for a shorter or longer implementation period.
- Whether there is a preferred mechanism by which the proposed changes are made to the Numbering Plan.
- Specific details of any alternative industry based measures to achieve the desired outcomes.
Submissions should be made:
By email: Numbering.Project@acma.gov.au
Manager, Numbering Project
Australian Communications and Media Authority
PO Box 13112
Melbourne VIC 8010
Submissions were due by close of business on 30 November 2011.
Electronic submissions in Microsoft Word or Rich Text Format are preferred.
During 2010-2011 the ACMA examined telephone number arrangements and sought feedback on short, medium and longer strategies to address issues identified with current telephone numbering.
The ACMA is progressing matters raised during the numbering work program and as an early action plans to update the Telecommunications Numbering Plan 1997 (the Numbering Plan) in six key areas.
The ACMA has decided to take action now on five matters which were explored through the course of the Numbering Work Program consultations and the ACMA’s Numbering Advisory Committee and which received general support through the consultation process. The proposed amendments to the Numbering Plan will be subject to statutory consultation in late 2011. The proposed changes to the Numbering Plan include:
- Remove of sectoral boundaries from geographic numbers in capital cities. This will create additional flexibility for service providers in offering services to consumers and will improve the efficiency of geographic number use.
- Removal of Schedule 12 in the Numbering Plan. Schedule 12 of the Numbering Plan is a list of telephone numbers that were taken to be allocated on the day the Plan commenced in 1997. It is a historical record which no longer has any utility. Its removal will reduce the length of the Numbering Plan by over 300 pages.
Limited use numbers. Of the 40 service types specified in the Numbering Plan, there are six service types for which no numbers are allocated and another six service types to which only limited numbers are allocated (301,000 numbers of fewer). The ACMA proposes to remove the six service types that have no allocations and are no longer required and to remove the unused portions of number ranges from six service types with limited use. These are:
- call information service (5 digit numbers with the prefix 128 and 1282 (a 4 digit number)
- mass calling service (8 digit numbers with the prefix 1140 (except 11409) and with the prefix 1141 and 1149
- public interest service (6 digit number with the prefix 113)
- supplementary control service (4 digit numbers: 1830, 1833, 1834, 1835,1836, 1837, 1838, 1839)
- universal personal telecommunications service (10 digit number with the prefix 0500)
- universal personal telecommunications profile access service (5 digit number with the prefix 185).
- Dictionary. An amendment to the definition of the term ‘country code’ in the Numbering Plan dictionary is needed to allow the use of a country code allocated to a global telecommunications provider by the International Telecommunications Union to be used in connection with a service offered in Australia.
- Expand mobile number capacity. As part of its ongoing planning and management of telephone numbers, the ACMA has identified that if telecommunications service providers continue to apply for mobile numbers at the rate experienced over the previous 18 months, then the current supply of mobile numbers could be exhausted earlier than previously forecast. Consultation with carriage service providers about improving the efficiency of mobile number use and planning and to consider new number ranges in the Numbering Plan for mobile services is proposed.
Freephone and local rate numbers
The ACMA also assessed a range of issues related to the cost of calls to freephone (1800) and local rate (13/1300) numbers (FLRNs).
Historically, the use of distinct number ranges meant that the prefixes (1800 and 13/1300) associated with FLRN services operated as powerful indicators of the cost of calls. This recognition assisted businesses and other organisations using these numbers to attract calls, on the basis that they were more affordable than alternative means of contact, particularly for rural or regional callers or for interstate callers who might otherwise have needed to make a long distance call. The decline in distance-based charging for calls from landline phones and the use of time-based charging for calls from mobile phones means that this original rationale for the separate number ranges is less relevant today.
From the evidence available to the ACMA, it appears that only a minority of calls to local rate numbers from landline phones are today charged the same amount that the customer making the call would be charged for a local call. Again, this represents a substantial shift from the period when local rate services were introduced, when the charge incurred by a customer making a call to a local rate number was the same as the charge incurred for a local call.
Against this backdrop, the ACMA has formed the view that the current arrangements in the Numbering Plan require change. Three key drivers for change have been identified:
- the desirability of reflecting changes in consumer usage of telecommunications services;
- the need for the arrangements to reflect the intent of the legislative scheme, including the objects of the Numbering Plan; and
- the desirability of increasing the degree of price transparency for consumers.
The ACMA proposes that the Telecommunications Numbering Plan 1997 be varied in such a way that:
- calls from mobile phones to freephone numbers are free of charge to the calling party so that ‘free’ means free; and
- calls from mobile phones to local rate numbers are limited to the amount that a consumer would expect to pay for a local call made from a fixed line phone.
These measures are designed to make the Numbering Plan better reflect current consumer preferences and market realities.
In making these proposals, the ACMA is aware that such changes will have an impact on a range of commercial arrangements such as the contractual arrangements between mobile service providers and individual subscribers and arrangements between freephone and local rate number service providers and subscribers to those services. The ACMA acknowledges that such changes may also have an effect on the payment arrangements between carriers and carriage service providers.
All of these matters mean that a reasonably lengthy implementation period preceding changes to the Numbering Plan may be required. The ACMA proposes that 12 months would be an appropriate lead time before changes were made. The ACMA continues to be open to receiving information about the extent to which the proposed changes would be in the public interest and the appropriate lead times to apply to them.
As an alternative to the regulatory changes proposed, ACMA would welcome other proposals from industry which would have the same effect for consumers.
Publication of submissions
In general, the ACMA publishes all submissions it receives. The ACMA prefers to receive submissions that are not claimed to be confidential. However, the ACMA accepts that a submitter may sometimes wish to provide information in confidence. In these circumstances, submitters are asked to identify the material over which confidentiality is claimed and provide a written explanation for the claim.
The ACMA will consider each confidentiality claim on a case-by-case basis. If the ACMA accepts a claim, it will not publish the confidential information unless authorised or required by law to do so.
Release of submissions where authorised or required by law
Any submissions provided to the ACMA may be released under the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (unless an exemption applies) or shared with other Commonwealth Government agencies under Part 7A of the Australian Communications and Media Authority Act 2005. The ACMA may also be required to release submissions for other reasons including for the purpose of parliamentary processes or where otherwise required by law (for example, under a court subpoena). While the ACMA seeks to consult submitters of confidential information before that information is provided to another party, the ACMA cannot guarantee that confidential information will not be released through these or other legal means.