Telephone calls with special tariffs: restoring trust with consumers, eliminate problems in the short term – reform the system in the medium term

Paris, 7 May 2009

ARCEP has announced its areas of priority for restoring the trust of consumers who call numbers starting with 1, 3 or 08 at a special rate, and is releasing a report entitled, "Value-added services: retail pricing and professional code of conduct" (Les services à valeur ajoutée: tarification de détail et déontologie) which it had commissioned in 2008 from the Committee for information technologies (Conseil général des technologies de l’information).

Growing discontent amongst consumers of VAS

Telephone calls to short numbers starting with 1 or 3, or to ten-digit numbers starting with 08 that connect to service platforms can serve a range of functions for consumers: connect then with different departments in a company or an administration, provide practical information, sell them information or content, allow them to take part in a contest, etc. Calls to these numbers are billed at a special tariff which is chosen by the entity providing the service, and which differs from the rate applied to ordinary person-to-person calls, whether fixed (numbers starting with 01, 02, 03, 04, 05 or 09) or mobile (numbers currently starting with 06 and soon with 06 and 07). This is why they are referred to as calls to special services or value-added services.

Consumers have been expressing their dissatisfaction and growing distrust of this type of telephone call for several years: lack of clarity in the pricing, certain unfair practices, the prohibitive cost of some calls originating on mobile networks. As a result of this, and after having adopted two regulatory decisions in 2007 that clarify the legal framework that applies to operators, but faced with economic stakeholders’ inability to satisfy consumers’ demands, in 2008 the Authority requested that the Committee for information technologies, CGTI (Conseil général des technologies de l’information) carry out a consulting assignment with all of the players along the value chain to provide a complete diagnosis of the situation, along with concrete proposals that would make it possible to restore consumer confidence in these services.

In its report, the CGTI confirms the Authority’s analysis. The system’s sclerosis since its creation has muddied all points of reference for consumers. Designed when the fixed telephony market was a monopoly and unchanged or left to become outmoded since then, the principles of honesty and of fair prices for the consumers of these services have not been applied since the introduction of mobile telephony services and, later, the development of competition on fixed networks.

In light of this serious situation and given the complexity of the industrial organisation of these services, the CGTI recommends a complete reform of the system, taking a global approach to be implemented over several years.

After having presented the report and its conclusions to the sectors’ main players, and to consumer associations, ARCEP is in a position to present its recommendations which are built around:

  • The elimination of several key problems in the short term, under the aegis of the Government and the Authority (see "short term measures" in the appendix)
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      • recreate an unequivocal distinction between calls to surcharged and non-surcharged VAS numbers;
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      • for calls to surcharged numbers, increase the information on pricing given to consumers at the start of the call;
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      • re-establish widespread control of the professional code of conduct applied to VAS numbers: definition of legitimate use of these numbers, fraud prevention, ensuring that consumers are being offered fair and honest services and content, definition of mandatory contractual clauses for players along the value chain, etc.
  • an overhaul of the entire system in the medium term by the economic stakeholders, under the aegis of public authorities, and of ARCEP in particular, in concert with consumers (see "Medium term measures" in the appendix):
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      • define a clear and understandable pricing structure for all VAS numbers, including surcharged ones;
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      • develop transparent pricing: harmonised and mandatory pricing information and display and communication of that information;
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      • instil compliance with a professional code of conduct over time, and adapt it to new consumption habits;
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      • modernise the services offered to businesses.
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