Changes to making local calls in five area codes
1.1 This consultation concerns proposals to introduce changes on 1 October 2014 to the way local calls are dialled in five areas of the UK in order to release more numbers as supplies are running low. The proposals affect the following areas and area codes: Aberdeen (01224), Bradford (01274), Brighton (01273), Middlesbrough (01642) and Milton Keynes (01908).
1.2 Ofcom administers the UK's telephone numbers and seeks to ensure that sufficient numbers are available to allocate to communications providers ('CPs') so that they can provide a choice of services to local residents and businesses.
1.3 Geographic telephone numbers are an increasingly scarce resource. We allocate these numbers in large blocks to CPs. Although the quantity of geographic numbers that CPs already hold in total exceeds likely demand from end-users, individual CPs nevertheless need new allocations of geographic numbers from time to time. Our forecast of CPs' demand shows that, unless we take action, we risk running out of geographic numbers to allocate to CPs in some areas, including the five areas set out above. While this does not present a direct risk to the availability of numbers for consumers' use, a lack of number blocks for allocation to CPs could restrict the provision of services and deny local consumers the full benefits of competition. We therefore consulted in November 2010, September 2011 and March 2012 on measures designed to ensure the ongoing availability of geographic numbers across the UK.
1.4 In September 2011 we decided that where an area with a four-digit area code (i.e. in the format 01XXX) needs more local numbers, we will increase supplies by stopping the ability to dial a local number without the area code when our existing supplies approach exhaustion in that area code. This means that, from the date we make this change, landline users in that area will need to dial the area code when making calls to phone numbers with the same area code (i.e. when making a 'local call'). This change in local dialling (known as 'closing local dialling') enables us to release new local numbers to CPs without requiring any changes to existing phone numbers. Dialling local calls with or without the area code does not affect the price of the call.
1.5 Closing local dialling allows us to make local numbers beginning with '0' and '1' available for use. For example, closing local dialling in the Aberdeen (01224) area code would make just over 200,000 new 01224 0XXXXX and 01224 1XXXXX numbers available for use, extending our supply of number blocks in Aberdeen for a further ten years. We cannot use such numbers while local calls are dialled without the area code because telephone networks can confuse them with dialling codes which start with '0', or with numbers for certain services which start with '1', such as 100 (operator assistance), 1471 (call return) and 118XXX (directory enquiries).
1.6 Following the September 2011 decision, the first area code in which our supplies of geographic numbers approached exhaustion was Bournemouth (01202). In May 2012 we concluded, following consultation, that local dialling would be closed in that area code on 1 November 2012. We worked with an industry group to plan the implementation of the change, which was completed successfully with apparently minimal disruption to consumers.
1.7 We consider it will generally be appropriate to address number shortage in small batches of area codes at the same time and to consult on introducing the necessary measures to increase number supply periodically (e.g. every two to three years as required). A single date for local dialling changes across the area codes affected should enable a clear message to be communicated to consumers and would support cost-effective implementation by CPs and Ofcom.
1.8 We now forecast that we will exhaust our existing supplies of geographic telephone numbers in the Aberdeen (01224), Bradford (01274), Brighton (01273), Middlesbrough (01642) and Milton Keynes (01908) area codes in the period February 2015 to September 2016. Consistent with our September 2011 decision, and the approach followed in Bournemouth, we propose to close local dialling in these area codes to address the forecast shortages.
1.9 In this consultation we propose 1 October 2014 as the date on which local dialling in those area codes will be closed. We consider that 1 October 2014 is the most appropriate date for the change in local dialling in the affected area codes because:
- it would release the new numbers for allocation ahead of the forecast for when we would run out of blocks to allocate to CPs in the first area (Brighton in February 2015) thus ensuring uninterrupted availability of supply of geographic numbers to CPs; and
- it would allow us to provide stakeholders with approximately a year's notice of the change, which would help CPs and Ofcom to plan implementation with minimal disruption to consumers.
1.10 We are consulting on these proposals now so that we can consider stakeholders' views about the date and make a final decision early enough to give CPs sufficient notice to plan the implementation with us thereafter.
1.11 We are likely to need to close local dialling in additional area codes in the future. Our current forecasts show that exhaustion of our existing supplies of geographic numbers is likely to occur in other area codes after 2018, although our forecasts are subject to change as patterns of demand change over time. If our current forecasts continue to hold, further closure of local dialling is likely to be required in 2017 or 2018. We will consult on the proposed area codes and date of any such further closures of local dialling, with a view to deciding on the date with sufficient notice before implementation.
1.12 The deadline for responses to this consultation is 13 September 2013. Subject to consultation responses, we plan to publish our conclusions shortly thereafter, and to work with industry regarding communication plans and implementing the change.