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Promoting efficient use of geographic telephone numbers

Implementing a pilot scheme to charge for certain geographic numbers and making a limited quantity of 100-number blocks available for allocation

Statement published 18|07|12 - * This version contains a small amendment to footnote 132 to correct a typographical error (concerning the title of the statement).

Summary

1.1 This statement concerns geographic telephone numbers - fixed-line telephone numbers that begin with '01' and '02' - and sets out our decisions on measures which seek to ensure that these numbers are used efficiently by communications providers (CPs). This will minimise the need for disruptive and costly measures to address any shortages in supplies of new numbers. Such supplies are needed to support competition and hence enable a wide choice of providers and services for consumers.

1.2 Geographic numbers are an increasingly scarce national resource. Although the total quantity of geographic numbers that CPs already hold exceeds likely demand from end-users, individual CPs nevertheless need new allocations from time to time. Our forecast of CPs' demand shows that, unless we take action, shortages of geographic numbers could occur in some area codes. This would not present a direct risk to the availability of numbers for consumers' use, but could deny local consumers the full benefits of competition because new CPs would not be able to enter the market, and some established CPs may not be able to expand their services in the area codes affected. We therefore consulted in November 2010, September 2011 and March 2012 (-1-) on measures designed to ensure the ongoing availability of geographic numbers across the UK.

1.3 We proposed a set of measures designed to promote more efficient use of geographic numbers and to increase the supply of numbers where they are forecast to run out in the next few years.

1.4 In September 2011 we decided that, where a four-digit area code (-2-) needs more local numbers, we will increase the supply of numbers by closing local dialling. This means that fixed-line phone users in those areas will need to dial the area code when making local calls. This change to local dialling enables us to release new numbers for use without requiring any changes to existing phone numbers. (-3-) If, in the future, more numbers are needed in that area, we would introduce an overlay code - which would mean that two area codes cover the same geographic area.

1.5 Action to increase the supply of numbers in an area code inevitably results in some cost and disruption to consumers, CPs and Ofcom. We have considered how to promote CPs' efficient use of the existing supply of numbers to reduce or avoid the need for such measures and the resulting impacts.

1.6 In March 2012 we consulted on two specific measures to promote more efficient use of numbers by CPs. Having considered stakeholders' responses to that consultation and refined our proposals, this statement sets out our decisions to:

  • introduce number charging in a pilot scheme covering 30 area codes with the fewest number blocks remaining available for allocation; and
  • make 100 blocks of 100 numbers available to allocate to CPs in each of the 11 areas with five-digit area codes. (-4-)

A pilot scheme to charge for numbers in certain area codes

1.7 We expect that charging CPs for their allocated numbers will improve incentives to use numbers efficiently.

1.8 Following refinement of our charging proposals set out in the consultations in November 2010, September 2011 and March 2012, and having taken account of all responses to those consultations, we have decided to introduce charging in a pilot scheme covering 30 area codes with the fewest number blocks remaining available for allocation.

1.9 The pilot scheme will be introduced on 1 April 2013, with the first charging year ending on 31 March 2014, and will be implemented by way of new conditions in the general condition relating to the allocation, adoption and use of telephone numbers ('GC17'). We intend to begin a review of the pilot scheme around two years after launch.

1.10 We have set out the administrative arrangements for implementing the pilot scheme in this statement. Before the launch of the pilot scheme, we will also publish a separate reference document setting out further details on the administrative arrangements so that CPs have all the necessary up-to-date information.

A limited number of smaller number blocks in the 11 five-digit area codes

1.11 New supplies of numbers are particularly scarce in the 11 five-digit area codes because their number structure provides only a tenth of the quantity of numbers available in most other area codes. We have investigated the feasibility of addressing the scarcity without affecting consumers in those areas, by making 100 blocks of 100 numbers in each of those area codes available from our existing supplies to CPs requiring new numbers.

1.12 Legacy telephone networks have limited capacity to analyse dialled digits in phone numbers to route calls and allocation of smaller number blocks has an impact on this resource. We have taken CPs' assumptions on the likely impact on legacy networks into account and anticipate that the limited nature of the roll out of 100-number blocks should be manageable and should result in more efficient use of those numbers.

1.13 We consulted on the general proposition of 100-number block allocations in November 2010 and on the specific proposals in relation to a limited roll out of 100-number blocks in the 11 five-digit area codes in September 2011 and March 2012. Having taken account of all submissions received to the consultations on these proposals, we have decided to proceed with the limited roll out of 100-number blocks in the 11 five-digit area codes. We have modified the National Telephone Numbering Plan ('the Numbering Plan') accordingly and made 100-number blocks in each of the 11 five-digit area codes available for allocation.

1.14 We will monitor the impact of allocation of 100-number blocks on legacy networks and then consider with CPs whether it is desirable and feasible for us to consult on allocating numbers in smaller blocks in other area codes and/or whether any additional numbers in the five-digit area codes should be made available for allocation in 100-number blocks.

Review of our administrative processes for allocating geographic numbers

1.15 Separately, we are undertaking a review of our administrative processes for allocating geographic numbers.

1.16 As part of that review, we intend to consult on the introduction of a time-limited reservation stage before allocation of numbers to those CPs that have not demonstrated operational readiness to put the requested numbers into use. We also plan to consult on changes to the forms that CPs fill in when applying for the allocation of new numbers which require CPs to give more detailed information which will help us to make our allocation decisions.

1.17 We intend to publish a consultation on these proposals later this year.

Footnotes:

  1.- Geographic telephone numbers: Safeguarding the future of geographic numbers: three documents published on 25 November 2010 ('the November 2010 consultation'), 7 September 2011 ('the September 2011 statement and consultation') and 20 March 2012 ('the March 2012 consultation'). All available at http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/consultations/geographic-telephone-numbers/.

  2.- Four-digit area code numbers are in the format 01XXX followed by a six-digit local number. The majority of area codes are in this format.

  3.- We can create new supplies of local numbers (without changing anyone's phone number) by stopping the ability to dial a local number without the area code. Doing so will allow us to make new local numbers beginning with '0' and '1' available for use. For example, closing local dialling in the Bournemouth 01202 area code (which will happen on 1 November 2012) would make 01202 0XXXXX and 01202 1XXXXX numbers available for use. We cannot use such numbers while local calls are dialled without the area code because phone networks can confuse them with dialling codes which start with '0', or with numbers for certain services such as 150, 1471 and 118XXX.

  4.- These are area codes in the format 01XXXX followed by a five-digit local number.

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