ARCEP confirms the introduction on 1 July 2013 of rules on the use of premium rate numbers by click-to-call services on dedicated websites. Service providers and operators are invited to continue their work on rules of conduct, for which ARCEP will produce a scorecard in late 2013.

Paris, 28 June 2013

Over the past several years, ARCEP’s attention has been drawn on several occasions, by both public services and private sector enterprises, to the development of practices on websites that the parties deemed abusive and likely to detract from their image or violate certain legal obligations.


Practices that raise legal issues

These practices consist notably of listing public services and private business in the form of a directory, including their postal address and a telephone number, and replacing their usual telephone number with a premium rate (i.e. surcharged) contact number.

The development of these practices derives from a business model that combines the internet, as an environment for developing low-cost services and providing an advertising space, and telephony, through a paid service that allows users to click on a button to call their party directly, through a premium rate number. The practices observed have raised serious legal issues.

Indeed, in addition to the resulting price charged to access information on essential public services, the potential damage to these public services’ and businesses’ image, the violation of the law on customer care services and the risks of deceiving internet users, these sites use a great many phone numbers. They assign these numbers to customers who did not ask for one, and who already have a (generally non premium) phone number, to then market a surcharged click-to-call service. These practices are contrary to the proper management of the numbering plan of which ARCEP is the guarantor. It was by virtue of this responsibility that, in our decision of 17 July 2012 on updating the terms of use for special numbers and short numbers[1], we included a provision that stipulates that, “special, premium rate numbers cannot be assigned to a natural or legal person, even temporarily, as their contact number, without having first obtained their explicit permission to be reached at this number”.

 

Implementation postponed to allow vendors to propose self-regulation measures

As requested by service providers, ARCEP decided to postpone the implementation of this provision by a year, i.e. until 1 July 2013.

Nevertheless, during the meeting of the electronic communications advisory committee (commission consultative des communications électroniques) on 22 June 2012, ARCEP invited all stakeholders and their representatives to draft – as soon as possible, and should they so wish – alternative rules approved by all of the parties involved, that would put an end to the observed abuses, especially in terms of the clarity of the information provided to internet users and the proper management of the telephone numbers.

So it was that SVA+, the association created by operators and value-added service (VAS) providers to introduce self-regulation in the sector, submitted a first draft of their rules of conduct to ARCEP on 18 June 2013. These proposals aim, in particular, to improve user information, to prohibit listings of government services and companies’ customer care services, and to implement an opt-out mechanism that allows companies to ask their listing to be removed from these sites.

 

ARCEP confirms the decision’s entry into force and asks stakeholders to continue their work on the matter

These proposals contain significant steps forward, but several points need to go further. This applies as much to the rules themselves (number management rules, informing the listed parties in advance, specific instances of regulated professions: lawyers, bailiffs, notaries, etc.) as the existence and future-proofing of the methods used to ensure their application.

ARCEP also notes that consumer associations and the affected trade associations have not yet had a chance to express their views on the proposals drafted by SVA+. So it appears that the discussions that began late in the process – ARCEP having invited stakeholders to begin drafting their proposals in late June of last year – need to continue.

As a result, ARCEP:

- can only confirm that the rules of use for premium rate numbers by click-to-call services, provided for in our decision of 17 July 2012, will come into force on 1 July;

- and invite service providers and operators to continue their work on defining and implementing a balanced and lasting system of self-regulation, and to provide us with regular progress reports.

ARCEP will produce a summary and scorecard of this work and these discussions in late 2013, with a view to making any necessary changes to the applicable provisions.


[1] ARCEP Decision No. 2012-0856 of 17 July 2012 amending the organisation of the ranges of numbers starting with 08 and short numbers, pursuant to Decision No. 05-1085 of 15 December 2005.


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