ITSPA’s two big issues

The Internet Telephony Services Providers' Association (ITSPA) has embarked on a two pronged project this year - to help unravel the tangled issues around number portability and to push the Government into more effectively combating toll fraud. Here, Chair of ITSPA Eli Katz outlines the big lobbying plan.

Last year was another busy time for the industry and also ITSPA on a regulatory front with a number of key issues coming to the fore, including merger activity (and blocked merger activity), the implementation of Ofcom's Digital Communications Review and the publication of the Government's Cyber Security Strategy - not to mention the referendum. This year promises to be yet another pivotal year for the industry, and ITSPA has already planned significant lobbying work on two key areas that will be led by dedicated task forces made up of members willing to devote resource and time to these efforts. This will accompany our other ongoing initiatives and usual events programme.

The first of these two key areas is what we refer to (for the purposes of this lobbying work) as ‘business switching'. Industry is sadly already well aware of the myriad of ongoing problems and difficulties throughout the fixed line number portability system and the failure of the numerous industry led attempts to reform the system over recent years.

We have decided to refer to this problem as ‘business switching' when engaging with policymakers to highlight the remarkable inefficiency of the fixed line porting system in the UK when compared to both international counterparts and the UK's system for mobile switching. As providers know, while mobile users can switch in an hour it can take fixed line business customers over a year. Often, porting issues result in consumers losing their telephony service or being denied from switching altogether, damaging the competitiveness of the sector. The scale of the difficulties means that providers are forced to devote an inappropriate amount of time and resource to resolve the problems.

In the opinion of ITSPA's Business Switching Task Force, the time for industry-led solutions has passed and the regulator Ofcom must now act to assist in reforming the system. ITSPA had hoped that the ongoing review of Ofcom's General Conditions, the main regulatory regime for communications networks and service providers in the UK, would include significant changes to GC 18, the General Condition which sets out porting requirements. However, this was not the case, with Ofcom instead stating that it is ‘not proposing any significant change to the current rules'.

While many across the industry see a central call routing database as the ultimate long-term solution, ITSPA is emphasising to policymakers and the regulator that there are relatively easy to implement regulatory steps that could provide considerable and immediate improvements to the system. These include getting Ofcom to clarify the ‘reasonable timescales' under which a port should be completed and then taking action if these were not complied with.

Our second key lobbying focus is cyber crime, specifically telecommunications fraud. ITSPA has long had concerns over the level of telecommunications fraud in the UK. Global estimates on the cost of fraud are $46 billion, which we equate to adding two per cent on average to consumers' bills. Other estimates put the UK cost at £953 million, equivalent to 2.4 per cent of total operator revenue.

However, despite the scale and obvious importance of the crime, telephony fraud did not feature as part of the Government's recently published Cyber Security Strategy. Ensuring that this issue receives greater attention from Government (including in the Cyber Security Strategy) and also from the regulator and law enforcement is a key objective of the lobbying work that ITSPA's Cyber Crime Task Force is carrying out.

In recent months, ITSPA has been involved in constructive dialogue with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (including meeting the Digital Minister Matt Hancock MP) and Ofcom on both this issue and also that of number portability. We urge all members of ITSPA to get involved in both the Business Switching and Cyber Crime Task Forces. For further information please contact our Secretariat.