Paris, 9 March 2007
- Automatic call-back mechanisms and public phones
The automatic call-back mechanism is one of the means used by service providers using coded prepaid telephone cards to offer their customers competitive call charges.
The caller, the phone card service provider’s customer, dials a number, which is usually a toll-free number, to a service platform. It identifies the call's origin and then automatically calls back the customer to put him or her in contact with the called party and then deduct the call cost from the prepaid card. By transforming the call into a "receiving" call, this mechanism lets the caller completely avoid the retail price grid of the operator connecting him or her to the telephone service for the call being made.
However, and specifically for calls made from France Telecom’s public phones, this automatic call back practice compromises the public phone economic model because it does not participate in the financing of the access infrastructure of public phones. Therefore, it threatens the very viability of a service which is some consumers’ sole means of access to telephone service.
Furthermore, because only France Telecom participates in the financing of the access infrastructures of public phones, the current situation creates competitive conditions which are artificially favourable to its competitors which use public phones to exercise their activity on the phone card market.
In order to end such practices, which could artificially accelerate the decrease in the number of profitable public phones and thereby reduce the public phone offer, ARCEP submitted to a public consultation its analysis of the functioning of the phone card market on the following points, between 26 December 2006 and 25 January 2007:
- the timeliness of halting the use of automatic call-back mechanisms from public phones
- the practical means of reaching this goal
- Practical means of halting the automatic call back practice
The contributions show that the solution which would block automatic call back numbers specifically and solely from public phones is the one which would have the fewest, least negative, consequences.
Once it has been adopted by ARCEP and approved by the Minister of Electronic Communications, in accordance with Article L. 36-6 of the CPCE, the decision regarding value added services will give a legal basis to the refusal to open a number allowing automatic call back from public phones. Collection operators will therefore be responsible for closing these numbers, which they have been assigned, with the card service providers operating them and with which they have signed agreements.
Until the success of this measure can be verified, and since no more suitable alternative solutions could be found, ARCEP takes note of France Telecom’s decision to implement on 1st April 2007 its solution to extend public phone price increase to incoming traffic, announced to operators by mail on 24 July 2006. ARCEP shares France Telecom’s goal to fight against call-back mechanisms in pay phones and to recover access infrastructure costs in order to avoid artificially reducing the public phone offer.
However, ARCEP expects France Telecom to withdraw its price increase on incoming traffic once automatic call-back practices from its public phones have become marginal. Indeed, in this situation, the current price increase on traffic originating on its pay pones should allow it to recover its access costs.