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OPTA to monitor issue of premium rate telephone numbers more closely

New legislation and regulations came into effect on 1 July, which allow OPTA, the Dutch Independent Post and Telecommunications Authority, to monitor the issue of premium rate telephone numbers in the 0900, 0906, 0909 and 18xy series more closely. Many businesses use these telephone numbers to provide telephone services to consumers, for example, in the form of help desks, erotic content calls and directory inquiries. Unfortunately, these numbers are used by malafide entrepreneurs, who cause consumers to make long telephone calls by presenting them with splendid offers. OPTA will therefore be more strict when considering applications for premium rate telephone numbers. If OPTA has any doubts about an applicant’s intentions, it will seek the advice of the Bureau Integriteit Bevordering Openbaar Bestuur [Public Administration Probity Screening Agency] (BIBOB) in the Ministry of Justice. OPTA may refuse to allot a telephone number, if that agency issues an adverse recommendation.

Prompt action
A single misuser of premium rate telephone numbers is capable of hoodwinking numerous consumers within a short span of time. For this reason prompt action is important and OPTA needs to know who is actually using the number concerned. OPTA issues a telephone number to a number holder. The latter may allow a number user to use that number, if he does not use it himself. As of 1 July it is mandatory for number holders to keep records of the details of their number users and to submit this information to OPTA immediately in the event that there is any suspicion that a premium rate number is being misused.

Misuse
Later this year [1] a number of other measures will also come into effect, which will enable OPTA to take action against the misuse of 0900 numbers. Misuse may occur, if no information is provided before a call or incorrect information is supplied, for example about the cost of the call, or if callers are kept on the line without eventually being able to speak to anyone or a service being provided. Unexpected waiting times in excess of 10 minutes represent grounds for OPTA to suspect misuse. In such cases OPTA may freeze payments to the person misusing the number or may arrange for the number to be disconnected. Consumer complaints are an important source of information for OPTA to monitor if companies comply with applicable duties. Consumers may file their complaints at www.consuwijzer.nl.

Tariff transparency

If a consumer calls a paid number, at the outset he must hear what tariff is to be charged. A distinction will later be drawn between the 0900 and the 0906, 0909 and 18xy number series. Whereas 0906 and 0909 numbers constitute paid information services whose nature is that of entertainment, consumers will call 0900 numbers for serious services, for example, to contact a company’s help desk. It is not acceptable if a consumer pays for a business’ poor accessibility, if he is kept on hold for a long period of time. For this reason additional rules will apply in the case of 0900 numbers. If the tariff for calling an 0900 number exceeds EUR 0.15 per minute, the relevant information service provider must state the maximum charge that will be levied for a call. The duty to announce a maximum charge is scheduled to come into effect on 1 October 2008.

ConsuWijzer
Consumer complaints constitute an important source of information to OPTA. By receiving individual notifications collectively, they signal structural problems within the market. Dutch consumers may file their complaints at ConsuWijzer. ConsuWijzer is the Dutch government’s consumer information portal. It was established as a joint venture of three regulatory authorities which fall under the Ministry of Economic Affairs: the Netherlands Competition Authority (NMa), the Independent Post and Telecommunications Authority (OPTA) and the Netherlands Con