Friday, 28 March 2014

The new number tax

As you may know, OFCOM are introducing a new number tax which means telcos will have to pay for numbering allocations, even if they are not assigned to customers yet, even if they are the smallest allocation OFCOM give out, and even if they got them before the idea of charging was suggested, and are effectively stuck with them now as they may have one paying customer in an area with 1000 numbers allocated.

The scheme is crazy and will mean some small VoIP providers shut down if it extends beyond the initial trial areas to all area codes. It also means the numbers allocated by such providers even if ported out to other providers will stop working.

IMHO it is a crazy system.

But what is crazier is that they have a discount for numbers that are ported to another telco, and the discount is more than the original cost. 10p/number/year cost, 18p/number/year discount for porting. And the other telco does not pay anything. Very odd. This sadly only works for the in-use ported numbers, not those that are part of the smallest allocation one could get and not yet allocated to a paying customer. Paying customers would cover the 10p/year easily.

What is also interesting is that this only applies to porting, and not a commercial arrangement like reselling numbering or VoIP.

Obvious thing is to port all numbers in such areas to another company. We did that. It was my clear obligation as a company director to act in the best interests of the shareholders and do that. I'd have been negligent not to use this loophole.

Now, they clearly knew this would happen as the rules only apply where ported to telco is not part of the same group of companies.

So I ported to Incoming Numbers Ltd, a separate company that I personally own.

So OFCOM get all the paperwork from us, including the discount claim for the few numbers we have live (and ported to Incoming Numbers Ltd). Of course, Incoming Numbers Limited then have a commercial reseller arrangement to sell usage of the ported numbers back to Andrews & Arnold Ltd, but that is not porting, so does not count. They are ported. The ported to company is not part of the same group of companies. It is all good.

OFCOM said they will check up on discount claims. So today I get a call saying we (A&A) have told them that we ported to Incoming Numbers Ltd but that OFCOM have no contact details for them.

I was tempted to say "not my problem, what am I, directory enquiries?", but no, I said "that's easy, Incoming Numbers Ltd is my company, I am the contact... They are not the same group of companies though - it is a company I personally own..."

It was greeted with an "Oh!" and an obvious unspoken "I see what you did there!".

We'll see what happens. They make these crazy rules, and we follow them.

FYI, I am happy for Incoming Numbers Ltd to be moved to separate shareholders, directors, and registered office at a moments notice if they change the rules to include those aspects, obviously.

I hope every other small and large telco in the country has done likewise.

Your move OFCOM.

6 comments:

  1. As a layperson, I'm actually surprised that number allocations have been free up until now...

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    1. So was I when we got them - but changing from free to charged after the fact when you have them and are stuck with them is almost drug dealer philosophy.

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  2. Allegedly if a telco goes out of business and there are ported numbers in a block then it will be picked up by BT who will route the calls to the right place. How this works in practice and how BT know where to send the calls was never made clear though.

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  3. It seems the rational for making the change is everyone else is doing it, so should we. Herd mentality.

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    1. More efficient allocation was the excuse I thought - which at least makes some sense, but only if you drop the 1000-number block policy first.

      Ofcom really need to think about handling ported numbers - if a hypothetical telco were to find it had lost every customer in a block to other operators, what's to stop them ceasing the block, cutting off a load of ex-customers service from rival telcos?

      A sensible option for smaller operators would be to acquire their numbers from Incoming Numbers Ltd or similar: a lot of small VoIP operators surely have one customer on that area code, a dozen on the next - no sense having a whole 1000-number block, why not just pay a (smaller) fee to someone like RevK to disaggregate one into more sensible portions?

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    2. Indeed, and that is part of the idea for Incoming Numbers Ltd's existence anyway - it only does SIP, but that is fine for lots of providers.

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