Telcos In Need – please give generously
Are you sitting comfortably? Then beam into
The BT website is full of goodies like this, but few are as scary
as this one. This is the list of the numerous ways in which your
phone bill still manages to put on weight, even though regular calls
to next door or Australia become ever less expensive.
The first thing to bear in mind is that although the rates may be
shown a 1p a minute, there is a minimum charge of 5p.
The next thing to note is the now vast range of premium rate call
schemes that are in place, it is truly humungous, and just as we
lead the world in speed camera technology, we appear to leads the
world in confusing phone billing technology, too. Although the
chances are that most of the software is now written and maintained
It is a given that the marginal cost of a phone call these days
is almost nothing, so that anything the telco can charge is going to
drop rapidly through to the bottom line once fixed costs have been
covered. There are various regulatory bodies in place to keep the
companies in this market on the straight and narrow, and not
unsurprisingly most of that focus is on BT who still own monopoly
sized slice of the business and always will.
I am puzzled why the time of day and week should have a bearing
on the cost of a call. This weird notion probably has its roots in
the days of operators when the tariff was fiddled to try and spread
the load through the day to match the numbers of operators. It is
now mostly meaningless and should be summarily done away with.
There is now a massive effort to conceal the cost telephone calls
to avoid simple comparisons between the competing telcos. This is
particularly the case with cellular operators who produce the most
specious tariff “packages” in an attempt to present the consumer
with so much choice that they can’t compare one service with another
– but then most people will end up confused, and do nothing.
But when we move onto the area of premium rate call, blood starts
to boil. This particular vent of spleen arises because I am being
reminded by the BBC during the present Children in Need bash that
“Calls cost 50p, 25p goes to Children in Need”.
Errr…. but surely that means that the other 25p goes to “Telcos
in Need”..? So what’s going on here?
On the face of it, this is outrageous and the BBC is being naïve,
or maybe worse. If a telco can process a phone call for 5p minimum
(they actually do it for a lot less but I’ll give them a generous
margin of doubt here) then what are they doing robbing the kids in
need of 20p?
Moreover, what is the BBC doing allowing them to do it? Maybe
that 20p is actually going to the BBC pension fund and I am doing
the telcos a terrible disservice, but in view of the “unique way
that the BBC is funded” and the nature of charity events, I would
like to see a chapter and verse and syllable breakdown of that 50p
so we know exactly where and how the money goes. Some impressive
fortunes have been made on the back of the premium rate call
services. From porn to ringtones, this is fabulous business where
you can deal with thousands of customers for piddling amounts of
money, and have no hassle collecting it, because it all gets stuck
on the phone bill, and the operator of the service gets a lovely
cheque once a month. Business efficiency heaven.
This service is widely abused, and a great example I once saw was
an irritating fax shot with instructions on how to be removed from
the fax distribution list. You write you number on the sheet and fax
it back to the number given. The design on the paper must have been
mathematically calculated to go as slowly as possible through a fax,
while the punter is being charge £1 minute.
There are numerous scam that involve send an SMS message with an
intriguing request to “call bob on 079654XXXX”. You call and there’s
an answering machine that does its best to sound like a real person
who after a very enthusiastic start, such as “Oh thanks – I’ve been
waiting for you to call back – this is really important… “ and he
then gets a call on another line and asks you to hold for moment.
You hear the other conversation in the background, and human
nosiness is such that you earwig away for several minutes (the
conversation gets quite exciting), without actually realising that
you being charged a fortune for this scam.
Never mind hanging up the call, hanging by the neck is too good
for these people.
Of course all phone costs should (and could) be displayed on an
LCD on the handset be it DECT or cellular, but there is strangely
little effort to insert this feature.
However, all telcos are about to have their fun ruined in a big
way as public access to Voice over IP is about to start to make a
push, watch www.intervivo.com for the first signs of the revolution.
I just hope that no one manages to work out how to instigate premium
rate IP numbers…