OFCOM have advised us today, for the first time, that, since 1st April, we are running up a bill for some of the telephone number blocks we have in some 30 area codes.
This is a slight shock - whist I try and keep a rough eye on some of the consultations it seems a document published on 27th March states a pilot scheme starts 1st April, yet instead of contacted anyone affected in advance they have left it until a month after it started to mention it directly.
It may surprise people to know that telephone number blocks don't have a cost, or didn't until now. Only telcos can get them, and we have a block in all area codes (which is a lot). The blocks are at least 1,000 numbers and some are 10,000.
OFCOM have decided to charge 10p/year/number for some 30 area codes. If this was just for numbers in use for which we had paying customers it might be viable, but it is not. It is for the whole block, and we can't get under 1,000 in each area. The 30 areas are a pilot, and I cannot see anything to stop OFCOM charging for the whole country if they want to screw up small telcos.
As a small telco getting even the smallest block for each area to provide a national service, that is about 650 area codes each costing at least £100/yea, so a minimum of £65,000/year for the smallest of telcos offering geographic numbers if OFCOM did all area codes. In practice, for many areas, we have 10,000 number blocks. So this is scary if it grows.
It is a pilot now, but we have to tell OFCOM what we think. If we allow the pilot to work it will grow to more areas and screw up a lot more telcos.
But this is a fundamental change!
Why? Well, until now, a telco had no reason to hand a block back. Even a telco that was sold or went bust could sell its blocks and paying customers to another telco. A block had some value if only because it was already allocated and saved applying for it.
Once blocks have an ongoing cost then they are a liability. This means, for the first time, it is commercial viable to hand blocks back to OFCOM. This is new. This is serious.
The main reason it is serious is the way numbers work, and especially ported numbers. If you have number from a small telco, even if ported away, if that block is handed back your number stops working. Simple as that. It is a stupid system, but as long as numbers were never handed back it sort of works. OFCOM are making a system that will mean numbers are handed back.
We are looking in to what to do. We may be giving customers 30 days notice on some numbers, and porting away will not help them. Any of the few customers that have ported away will simply find they stop working and nothing they can do.
One option is to stop doing VoIP at all. I hope it does not come to that.
This is somehow in the interests of consumers, is it? OFCOM?