116000 more important than 999?

OFCOM GC20 is not that new, but I had not spotted it before (not good). Thanks to the couple of customers that asked about 116000, and we're routing 116 numbers now. However, reading it has opened a new can of worms.

Oddly it seems to provide some rather onerous and even impossible requirements on a lot of people, and even give OFCOM some powers that seem rather far reaching.

GC20.1 is not too bad as it has a caveat of "technically and economically feasible", and basically means allowing numbers in EU to be called.

GC20.2 is hard to parse, sorry. I'll update when I understand it.

GC20.3 seems to give OFCOM super powers. It allows them to require any telephone number to be blocked for fraud or misuse, but also allows any Public Electronic Communications Services to be blocked for fraud or misuse. Now, PECS covers a mess of definitions, but reading the comms act that covers quite a few things - it could, I think, cover email, for example. This means OFCOM could block email addresses or other things.

This sounds like OFCOM could block any broadband or phone line even as they can block a whole service if they like, for something as vaguely defined as "misuse". That is quite a power OFCOM have granted themselves!

GC20.4 covers international call pricing.

GC20.5 is an issue though: "The Communications Provider shall ensure that any End-User can access a hotline for missing children by using the number “116000”".

GC20.6 is a huge problem: "For the purposes of this Condition, “Communications Provider” means a person who provides an Electronic Communications Network or an Electronic Communications Service."

It is these last two that are the problem - the whole of GC20 only makes sense for public telephone service providers, but GC20.6 means it applies to anybody that provides electronic networks or services even if not to the public. It applies to all types of network and services, not just telephone.

Even the requirements for 999/112 calling only apply where someone provides telephone service that allows calls to numbers in the national dialling plan. i.e. a naked DSL does not have to do 999. An incoming calls only line with no dial tone does not have to allow 999. This seems to mean that access to 116000 is massively more important than access to 999/112 in OFCOMs eyes.

And to be honest I am not sure what the hell 116000 is meant to be for - if I had a missing child I'd call the police. Why the hell is a special number needed for this? Will there be a stolen bike helpline next? This is not even the equivalent of childline for kids to call, which might make sense as a special EU wide number. Why the hell is 116000 so special that it has to be callable even from lines and services that would not have to allow 999/112 calls?

This also means that broadband only lines are no longer valid - we have to allow 116000. It means SDSL, EFM, fibre Ethernet are not allowed as they all have to ensure access to 116000. It means BT's new single order GEA (FTTC without phone line) will not be allowed as it has to allow 116000. It means a wifi provider (even if not providing to the public) has to ensure access to 116000. Does your wifi at home (assuming you "provide" it to others in the house) ensure they can call 116000?

What the hell are OFCOM thinking this time???

We're all big fans of the IT Crowd at A&A :-)
Posted by AAISP on Thursday, 23 July 2015


  1. Aside from the other bits you mention:

    I wonder if the number meant to be so a missing child can pick up any phone and dial it and be put through to someone who'll then instigate a process of tracing and recovering the child from wherever they are?

    1. Well, I don't know, but surely that too is better as 999 or 112?

    2. Not just children. Anyone. Being missing, or losing an adult is not a police matter. Ask the police if you like, they don't want to be bothered with this stuff, no crime was committed, there's no risk of any disorder or anything, so it's a waste of their time.

      Charities exist to handle the interface between those who choose to go missing and those looking for them. Mostly to persuade the latter that all is well and they ought to call off the search. So say you Adrian, get sick of running an ISP. You ensure there's money in the bank to pay immediate bills, you pack warm clothes and a few personal things, and you just get on a train and leave for Paris.

      The police don't care. Neither the English nor the French police care about your decision to move to Paris, nor the fact that your relatives, employees or friends are worried about you. If they didn't see you bundled into a car by masked men, or get your ear in the post, you are 99% likely to be just fine, no need to do anything.

      But friends, family, employees are still worried. They can call 116000 and talk to someone who understands. That person can reassure them that usually the missing person is fine. And maybe after a day or two you feel guilty. You don't call home, where they'll probably try to make you agree to come back. You call 116000. They understand, they make a note that you're OK and give advice about things you can do to stay missing if you want to, without putting yourself at risk. And they can tell family and friends you're fine, without revealing where you are.

    3. The number is specifically for reporting missing children and passing details to the police and counselling those that have lost children, and that is all. For that purpose is seems pointless having a special number. If a child is missing I am sure the police will be interested, and indeed passing details to the police is the primary function. I am sure that the charity actually chosen (how was it chosen) actually does a lot more and does help missing adults and facility some reassuring communication both ways but that is not what this number is actually defined for.

    4. Have you looked at http://www.missingpeople.org.uk/how-we-can-help/116-000.html

      "116 000 is the number to call, text or email for advice, support and options if you, or someone you love, goes missing or runs away - it’s free, 24 hour and confidential. We provide around the clock emotional support for the duration of a disappearance."

      No mention of children - given GC20.5 one wonders why the number was allocated to this organisation.

      They do agree with one of your points - call the police first:

      "Our caring and highly trained staff and volunteers will discuss your options and try to get you the support you need. If you’re worried about the safety of a missing person, we would encourage you to contact the police as a first point of call."

  2. "Name of service:
    Hotline for missing children
    The service (a) takes calls reporting missing children and passes them on to the Police; (b) offers guidance to and supports the persons responsible for the missing child; (c) supports the investigation."


    1. For (a) why not call the police directly? Why add any delay and miscommunications. Madness.
      For (b) OK, the police could advise the number for one or more charities that offer advice and guidance. The police seem actually quite good at this with "victims of crime" leaflets and all sorts, so does not need a special number.
      Not sure what (c) is for really, do the police need "support"? If so, surely the police simply need a bigger budget not help from a charity
      (I say charity as calling the number gets me "The charity: Missing people")

    2. Actually, surely there must be more than one charity - How was one charity chosen? Was there some bidding to get to be the one that is routed on 116000?

    3. Can of worms well and truly opened here, it seems :)

    4. Just to check - that is not a number for the kids that are lost to call - all there of those appear to be for the people that have mislaid their children to call - adults - that are capable of either calling police for the urgent first call or looking up a charity number for support. WTF is the EU on!!??

    5. Yep — and, if it were a number for a child to call, chances are a child is going to remember "call 999 in an emergency" rather than "call 999 in an emergency, except when you are lost, in which case call 0118999881 I mean 116000".

    6. Have you ever tried 01189998819991197253 on our VoIP service :-)

    7. Ah. No. I would need to rectify what is undoubtedly an oversight on my part and be a subscriber to your VoIP service :)

    8. At least based on the 116000 site I found in .gr it seems that this number "The staff of the European Hotline 116000 is able to provide assistance in the given country's language or in English."

      So in that way I suppose it does make a bit of sense although I'm not sure why it isn't just an "emergency number when you're in a country where you cannot speak the language" which will then find someone able to translate.

      Although it's not particularly useful for visitors to the UK as, presumably, the person who answers the call can speak English or English so you might just as well start with 999 and cut out the middle man.

      Better would have been a free number 1160xx where xx is the country code - so you could dial 116044 in any country and get connected to someone who could speak English and the language of the country in which the call was made.

  3. The link in the piece to the General Conditions is a link to an old copy, btw — they were updated in May this year.

    The updated copy is available on Ofcom's site (http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/binaries/telecoms/ga/CONSOLIDATED_VERSION_OF_GENERAL_CONDITIONS_AS_AT_28_MAY_2015.pdf), and I host a version with a proper table of contents for easy skipping between GCs (http://neilzone.co.uk/general_conditions_as_at_may_2015.pdf).

    1. Ah, updated, but still the same wording. Thanks.

    2. Same wording for GC20; the update was to GC23, I think.

  4. A quick canvas of people here reveals literally zero people had heard of the other number, until now.

  5. I'd suggest that technically data only lines could be used to call the number using a voip phone or other internet calling, I would though have thought that the wording "Electronic Communications Service." Would include an intercom system and railway station tannoys, seems a little broad if so.


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