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Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Parliament debates Silent Calls - 13 September 2010

This briefing consists of sound clips of selected "highlights" from the debate by a Commons Committee, with my description of what was said, and my comments (which are sometimes offered at length only for the benefit of those who may wish to get into the detail).

(Click on the "play button" to hear the numbered clip - detailed instructions about the player are here).

The Hansard text is available here. The video record of the full debate is available here.

This debate was in consideration of an order to increase the maximum penalty available to Ofcom under its "persistent misuse" powers from £50,000 to £2,000,000. These powers enable Ofcom to Notify, and potentially penalise, those who breach its "rules" covering Silent Calls.

Ofcom has not seen fit to use these powers since undertaking a series of investigations in April 2007. Assuming that Ofcom is using the powers in accordance with the legislation, this means that nobody has been found to breach these rules since then.

Clip1 (from archive) When parliament previously granted an increase in the maximum penalty (from £5,000 to £50,000) in 2006, this came with a clear qualification, delivered by the then Minister (Alun Michael).

Clip2 After opening the debate, the Minister (Ed Vaizey) was swiftly challenged by his shadow (Kevin Brennan) on the fact that Ofcom allows callers to hang up in silence as many times as they wish, so long as they make 33 times as many non-Silent Calls on the same day.

Clip3 The Minister continued by indicating the current level of public concern about Silent Calls.

Clip4 He then reported the numbers of unsuccessful complaints made to Ofcom - not one of these had led to any use of the powers. He also referred to the recent report by Which? Magazine, which indicates what a tiny proportion of those who are disturbed by Silent Calls bother to make a formal complaint to Ofcom.

Ofcom's view of the situation (as drawn primarily from looking at levels of complaints) will only show how many people have the time to waste moaning without any prospect of achieving anything, or are sufficiently angry that they have to waste their time letting off steam. Given that Ofcom has not found that anyone is currently breaching its "rules", all of the Silent Calls referred to clearly fall within its tolerance limit. The perpetrators would therefore never be subject to a penalty, of whatever level.

Clip5 The Minister nonetheless concluded that some sort of action is necessary and reported Ofcom's view that a greater deterrent would be the answer.

One is left wondering how a greater penalty for breaching the rules would bear on those who are only making Silent Calls that are deemed "acceptable"! This is the barely recognised elephant that was present in the committee room throughout the debate

Clip6 The results of a public consultation, with a large majority of respondents being in favour of increased penalties, were cited as being the justification to dismiss the argument that I had advanced in my response (with two others sharing the same conclusion).Although this option was not offered as a possible response, I had suggested that it was a revised policy, rather than an increased maximum penalty, which was needed.

Clip7 The minister concluded his argument by making unsubstantiated claims about what an increased penalty could achieve.

I continue to argue that if all the Silent Calls currently being made are deemed "acceptable", then an increased penalty could only be expected to affect some other problem, as yet unseen.

There may be Silent Callers who are unaware that they are complying with Ofcom's rules, and could therefore be frightened into ceasing their practice by the possibility of an enormous penalty. If this were the objective, it would be necessary to prohibit proper public debate of the issue, so as to ensure that they do not get to discover the truth. I fear that there are too many Silent Callers who know what they can get away with to make this an effective strategy.

Clip8 The Shadow Minister (Kevin Brennan) opened his contribution by laying out his position of broad support, but calling for further steps to be taken. He also made a personal confession.

In response to an intervention he confirmed that the level of penalty is meaningless without the possibility of it being imposed.

His reference to recorded messages prior to the intervention was, I believe, mistaken. The recorded messages that we are familiar with hearing are (sadly) not delivered so as to avoid making Silent Calls. These are all delivered in breach of regulations enforced, not by Ofcom, but by the Office of the Information Commissioner.

Calls using a recorded message to promote or offer goods, services or even a political party are illegal (unless explicitly requested). This has nothing to do with the Telephone Preference Service, Silent Calls or Ofcom. It is covered by a statutory regulation which is generally neither recognised nor enforced.

(I refer below to Ofcom blocking my attempt to stop Silent Calls by giving honest dialler users the option of using an "Informative Message". Some get confused by the totally different purpose behind two quite different uses of recorded messages. I cannot say that Mr Brennan had made this mistake, however even if he not, his comments could serve to mislead others.)

Clip9 Some figures from the case which Ofcom undertook in response to my first formal complaint about Silent Calls were introduced to the discussion.

Ofcom has not subsequently either undertaken any investigations on the basis of a citizen's complaint about Silent Calls, or published the actual results of any investigation in terms of the amount of nuisance found to have been caused (number of Silent Calls being made). The only figures ever published by Ofcom when reporting on cases of persistent misuse, since 2004, are bland percentages. These obviously give no information whatsoever about the actual persistent misuse or number of "acceptable Silent Calls". Citizens cannot therefore form any judgement about whether the level of penalty imposed is proportionate to the degree of nuisance suffered, nor make any assessment of the reasonableness of Ofcom's decision not to use its powers.

I can add some meaning to the figures that were mentioned without being associated with a timescale. Assuming the same overall calling rate as discovered in 2003/4, "Kitchens Direct" alone would now be making up to 6,000 Silent Calls a day with no fear of incurring a penalty, or other action by Ofcom. This continuing activity is not deemed by Ofcom to represent "persistent misuse".

Clip10 Mr Brennan then sadly lost the plot (as I see it). He had previously confirmed his agreement with Ofcom, asserting that the percentage limit (currently 3%) should apply not just to Silent Calls, but to all dialler-generated calls where no agent is available to speak - these are known as "abandoned calls". It was "abandoned calls" that he was referring to when he called for a reduction in the percentage.

I have never agreed with the "percentage approach" to assessing whether or not persistent misuse has occurred. Ofcom's own policy (as first published in 2004) explicitly referred to this approach and declared it to be totally inappropriate, for the same reasons that I give below. The relevant clause was removed from the policy statement in 2005 when the 3% limit was introduced.

I believe that the problem of Silent Calls remains as serious as it is today because Ofcom changed its formal approach at this point, in response to pressure from the Direct Marketing Association. This was the first of a continuing series of successive steps in weakening its policy.

The other primary reason for the current problem is the fact that Ofcom then explicitly ignored Silent Calls caused by the use of Answering Machine Detection equipment. In conjunction with the DMA, Ofcom devised complex rules intended to regulate (i.e. control, rather than prohibit) "abandoned calls". These rules make specific provision for the use of AMD. They allow every call to begin with a period of silence and deafness from the caller, whilst the person answering the call speaks to a machine. Ofcom has now got to understand this issue and has recently increased the permitted duration of the period of silence at the beginning of every call, in response to pressure from the CBI.

Ofcom further proposes to add a formal tolerance of the totally Silent Calls caused by AMD. This tolerance will be qualified, not by a percentage, but by the number of Silent Calls made by any caller to any person each day (the likely figure is 1). Again, forthcoming changes to Ofcom's formal published policy will explicitly permit every caller to make a single Silent Call to any person each day. The increased penalty could only be applied to those who make a second attempt to call a number following automatic detection of an answering service that day. Regardless of whether either of the calls causes a person to experience a Silent Call, this is what is outlawed by Ofcom's proposed "ban on repeat Silent Calls". I am furious that Ofcom is playing around with devising codes of practice for the sake of the call centre industry, when it should simply be using its powers to stop every case of "persistent misuse" that comes to its attention. This issue was not discussed by the committee.

In 2005 I brought forward a proposal that the very particular nuisance of a Silent Call could be avoided by using a recorded message to announce the name of the caller and to explain what had happened if a call has to be abandoned after being answered. Nobody would be compelled to deliver such messages, but if the benefits of use of predictive diallers are considered to be worth the risk of having to abandon calls, then the caller must own up and take the proper consequences in the best way possible. When making a voice telephone call, the caller has a duty to announce their name (or that of the company which they represent) when the call is answered. Presenting a number for a return call to hear a "generic" answerphone message does not relieve that responsibility. I believe that announcing who is calling reduces the level of nuisance below the standard that qualifies as "persistent misuse". If no further conversation is possible, then the degree of nuisance falls in with that caused by many other unwanted and ineffective calls. Ofcom's role is only to deal with the very serious matter of "persistent misuse". Once Ofcom has been seen to have dealt with Silent Calls, perhaps it could look to apply more severe criteria in its determinations of persistent misuse.

Because Ofcom actually treats Silent Calls and "abandoned calls" as essentially one and the same, subject to the same percentage tolerance and the same potential penalty if the tolerance is exceeded. Sadly the "Informative Message" (which can only inform, it must not fulfil any marketing purpose) is therefore not used in practice.

I continue to believe that if the perpetrator is prepared to identify themselves as being responsible for a failed call, then they (or their agents) should be free to continue using predictive diallers. It is argued that without the productivity benefits offered by this technology all call centre operations would be simply moved beyond the effective bounds of any UK regulation. I feel confident that the possibility of complaints and reputational damage would ensure that instances of abandoned calls would be minimised at source if Silent Calls were to be banned. Any case where the caller was clearly unconcerned about the impact of admitting to making abandoned calls could readily be made subject to use of persistent misuse powers.

I see no need whatsoever for Ofcom to consider defined percentages when making a determination of "persistent misuse". If an activity represents "persistent misuse" of itself then it must be stopped. The scale of some other activity cannot have any bearing on the misuse. The nuisance caused by a telephone call to one person (many times over) is not changed by the number or nature of calls made to others. (This latter point is exactly the argument which appeared in the Ofcom Statement of Policy prior to the 2005 revisions, when the percentage limit was formally introduced. - The percentage approach had been applied previously in practice, in disregard of the formally stated policy.)

The particular problem with the proposal made by the shadow Minister is that if a percentage limit on all non-Silent abandoned Calls were to be reduced, ultimately to zero, then use of the predictive dialler would effectively be banned, increasingly and eventually totally. The battle I want with the UK Call Centre industry is over the way in which it operates, in particular over Silent Calls, not over the continuation of the industry - that is a quite separate matter. Furthermore, even though some may wish for it, given the way in which Ofcom forms its policy, I see no prospect of Ofcom ever taking responsibility for destroying the UK call centre industry.

Ofcom has a statutory duty to further the interests of "consumers" of telecoms services - the call centre industry probably represents one of the largest groups of such consumers. This duty is carried out through powers of general regulation. Ofcom's first principal duty is however to "citizens" (i.e. regardless of the nature of any commercial relationship they may have with any other party). It is clearly this duty which applies in the case of "persistent misuse", where Ofcom holds no powers to impose general regulations. A general failure to appreciate the nature of Ofcom's status and role, partly arising from misrepresentations by Ofcom itself, is one of the reasons why Ofcom is able to get away with its persistent misuse of the persistent misuse powers.

Clip11 The Minister was asked to exert some influence over Ofcom and to report back to the House. In fact, Ofcom is not accountable to the government, it is (or should be) proudly independent, and accountable only to parliament. Likewise, the Minister cannot be held to account by parliament for the activities of Ofcom.

Clip12 The LibDem spokesperson (Lorely Burt) stressed some valuable points, although failed to draw a conclusion. She did not even comment on whether Ofcom had fulfilled the expectation which she and others imposed on it in 2006.It is disappointing that her points could not be rammed home, as a series of questions was left hanging. She asked "will it work?" in 2006, but does not offer a view on whether it did when addressing the issue again, and simply repeating the same question, in 2010! I do not believe that the coalition agreement demands support for the Minister's view that Silent Calls (subject to a 3% limit) are acceptable.

Clip13 A Labour Party backbench member (Chris Leslie) made a useful contribution.

In the same spirit as that in which I understand his proposal to have been made, I support his call for the top current abuses to be made visible. I believe that the names of those who are making large numbers of Silent Calls but are found to be complying with the Ofcom "rules" should be published.

At the very least this would enable victims to avoid wasting their time by complaining to Ofcom about acceptable Silent Calls. It would also, as Mr Leslie suggests, encourage citizens to take direct action against those who effectively hold "an Ofcom license to make Silent Calls".

(I trust that this suggestion was not made entirely seriously. This would be taking the "Big Society" much too far, especially if the widely-supported idea of two million pounds worth of damage being an appropriate penalty for a Silent Caller were to be carried through. If this concept of citizen enforcement were to be extended, then we could however save a very large amount of the present budgets for the Home and Justice departments.)

Clip14 In summing up, the Minister referred to the Ofcom rules having features other than the 3% limit

He fails to point out that these are only factors which are used in mitigation, in cases where the 3% limit has been exceeded. They may be used by Ofcom to prevent action being taken, or to reduce the level of penalty deemed necessary. They are not, as the Minister may have believed and seemed to imply, additional requirements.

Clip15 The Minister confirmed a meeting with Ofcom.

Clip16 He also offered to report back to the committee on that meeting.

I have asked for a suitable version of this report to be made publicly available.

I have subsequently written to the members of this committee and also to the Business Innovation and Skills (Select) Committee. It is the latter, not the Minister or his department, which holds Ofcom to account.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Personal thoughts on Ofcom and Silent Calls

I have today issued the following thoughts on the issue of Ofcom's persistent misuse of its powers to deal with Silent Calls ("persistent misuse of a network or service") to the MPs who will be debating a proposed increase to the penalty that it can use. This committee will be sitting on Monday 13 September at 4:30 in room 11.

(This follows an extensive briefing.)

On the level of the increased penalty being proposed

Ofcom does not request the increase because it has found the existing penalty inadequate for the purpose of ensuring compliance with an Enforcement Notification to cease making Silent Calls. Ofcom has never had to deal with a breach of such a Notification.
Ofcom is itself persistently misusing the persistent misuse powers by failing to issue initial Notifications when it has the necessary minimal evidence. It conducts lengthy secret investigations collecting the information necessary to support imposition of a Penalty. This is done before it has even Notified the offender and required them to cease the practice. Ofcom issues the Notification and then follows directly with the penalty after the event - indeed, often several years after the event!
The emphasis is on using the powers to penalise past practice, rather than to stop it. This mistaken approach reflects Ofcom's standard role, imposing general regulatory requirements, seeking compliance and only intervening formally when necessary. This is not appropriate in the case of the persistent misuse powers, which do not confer any authority to act as a general regulator.
The level of penalty being sought is so much greater than any penalty previously imposed that one cannot image another penalty ever being imposed. The penalty has to be proportionate and we note that £30,000 was adequate for Santander. With the figure of £2 Million being bandied around, Ofcom would be open to ridicule if it ever imposed a penalty that was proportionate.
If there are cases known as being likely to require a much greater penalty, then one must ask why no action has been taken so far. Repeated breaches of an Enforcement Notification may be subject to repeated penalties. Ultimately Ofcom may seek an injunction for enforcement by the courts if necessary.
There is a suspicion that Ofcom intends to use the threat of a massive penalty as an alternative to action. This suspicion is not easy dismissed.

The use of "rules"

Ofcom spends a lot of its energies in this matter playing around with what is in fact Best Practice Guidance for the Call Centre Industry. This includes a limited tolerance of Silent Calls, which is urged on Ofcom by some of those with whom it chooses to interact, as representatives of an industry for which Ofcom has no responsibility. Ofcom has no statutory powers or duty to regulate the behaviour of any industry, other than those which provide Communications Services. It regulates those industries to further the interests of consumers in the respective market, including promoting competition.
The consumers of the specialist call centre industry are those who commission it to conduct marketing campaigns. The consumers of the collections industry are the banks and other lenders whose debts are being recovered. In-house call centres have as their (external) consumers those who buy items such as fitted kitchens, mobile phones, classified directory listings, and financial services. Ofcom has no duty to regulate these markets.
Ofcom's simple duty in using the persistent misuse powers is to prevent and stop nuisance to citizens being caused by misuse of the telephone network by any user of that network (one whom Ofcom should regard as a consumer, of communications services).
Where a case of persistent misuse comes to Ofcom's attention it must simply use its powers, commencing with a Notification. The habitual practice of hanging up in silence is surely persistent misuse. No more detail is needed in general policy.
Specific tolerance of Silent Calls is seen in the rules by the use of a "percentage approach", which Ofcom itself had dismissed previously as being totally inappropriate. The primary factor considered by Ofcom when addressing a case is the daily percentage of "abandoned calls" as recorded by the dialler.
The number of calls that were terminated in Silence is not a consideration! Self-declared (rather than verified) use of the Informative Message to avoid the Silent Call is considered as a mitigating factor, but this has not prevented penalties being imposed in several cases where Ofcom reports that no Silent Calls were made, but the percentage limit was exceeded.
Every case that has been dealt with using the powers has been on the basis of the percentage limit being exceeded.
When Ofcom repeatedly refers to its rules, those who make millions of Silent Calls, but also make enough (possibly annoying) calls when they speak to someone, can sleep easy.
Answering Machine Detection equipment is thought by some to have always been the cause of far more Silent Calls than the "no agent available" ("over-dialling") situation. This method and the underlying technology was originally designed to detect the clicks and whirrs of a mechanical tape recorder - that is why it is known as Answering "Machine" Detection, despite the fact that most answering services are now delivered on the network. The algorithms used have been adapted to analyse speech patterns and other factors which are thought to be different when recording a greeting rather than answering a call in person. It is acknowledged by all as being imprecise, but there can be no reliable means of knowing just how imprecise it is. The failure rate (the number of times that positive detection of an answering machine is false) is never even claimed to be better than 1% by the most bullish of its promoters.
Given that every "false positive" detection is a Silent Call, I find it unthinkable that use of this equipment could not be seen as persistent misuse. Ofcom however thinks differently. It has always been seen to tolerate it and in a recent consultation hit a particularly low point (in my estimations) when considering options regarding how to adjust its "rules".
Ofcom argued that because use of this equipment made call centres more efficient it was in the public interest for its use to continue because this efficiency would cause prices to consumers to be kept low. (I can offer chapter and verse to any committee member who would perhaps like to read this into the record.)
Continuing with this brilliant thread of thinking in making its case, Ofcom refers to the fact that many of those who contact it with reports of Silent Calls had done so because they had received repeated Silent Calls from the same company. Ofcom disregarded the fact that the companies responsible for these Silent Calls must have been identified and therefore could have been made subject to a Notification of Persistent Misuse. It also ignored that fact that those (proportionately) few victims of Silent Calls who complain to Ofcom may do so because they have had unusually unpleasant experiences. It used this information to conclude that "Repeat Silent Calls" was a particular problem that needed to be addressed.
Ofcom therefore proposed that whenever AMD gave a positive indication the caller should not call the same person again that day. It proudly proclaimed this as a "ban on repeat Silent Calls". Putting aside the point that many believe that the best cure for a Silent Call is for the same company to immediately call the person (with an agent attending the call) to reassure them, a ban on repeat Silent Calls can only be a tolerance of single Silent Calls.
If, as is likely, Ofcom brings this proposal forward into a revision to its "rules" this will amount to a formally declared tolerance of one Silent Call per caller per person per day.

The role of citizens

Ofcom's very first investigation in Silent Calls was in response to a report I made, as a citizen, about "Kitchens Direct". I had identified the company with some help from the BT nuisance calls bureau and a little underhand detective work. I would doubt that there are many who would be ready to deploy the degree of dedication and effort that I committed to the task of formulating an actionable complaint and getting Ofcom to act on it.
At the same time Ofcom also investigated another complaint submitted by the Direct Marketing Association picked up from a TV programme - this other case was found to be a problem in relation to a dialler, but not of a habit of making Silent Calls.
The final result of the Kitchens Direct case was Ofcom getting the company to reduce its Silent Calls to no more than 10,000 per day.
Since then, Ofcom has never (openly) commenced an investigation into Silent Calls based on complaints from citizens.
Ofcom reports that in 2009 it was notified of 100,000 instances of Silent Calls where the caller was identified. The persistent misuse powers have not been used since early in 2008.
Ofcom declares its objective as being to reduce the number of complaints it receives about Silent Calls. Every time it takes any action or its role is mentioned in the media the number of complaints goes up.
Ofcom uses monthly totals of classified complaints received as if this were a meaningful indicator of the number of Silent Calls being made.
Ofcom does not invite those who have complained once to be sure to repeat their complaint every month whilst the problem persists.
Ofcom even tells those minded to complain that it will take no action based on their complaint and that there is no point in complaining unless there is some evidence of who made the call.


I formally retired from my campaigning role in 2007 after Ofcom had first imposed a financial penalty. It has now stopped using its powers and there is no indication that it will do any more, other than continue to dilute its "rules".

There is no evidence that the actual problem of Silent Calls is any different now to what it has always been. Far more people now know that they are unlikely to be deliberate harassment, for which we thank the media, not Ofcom. I suspect that many just see the nuisance as something one has to live with.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Ofcom and Silent Calls - a further chance for parliament to express a view

I have today issued the following briefing to MPs, with copies to the specialist media and other interested parties. This is in advance of a detailed briefing to the members of the committee of MPs, which will shortly be appointed to consider a proposal to endorse Ofcom's policy and approach to Silent Calls, by granting an increase to its powers to impose penalties to an absurd level.

To: MPs concerned about Silent Calls

From: David Hickson - veteran Stop Silent Calls campaigner

cc: Interested parties (who may also wish to provide informed briefing)

I trust that you enjoyed your Summer break.

The issue of Silent Calls will shortly come before the Commons with consideration in committee of a SI to increase the size of the maximum penalty available to Ofcom.

Last time the issue of Silent Calls was considered by parliament (in 2006) it was under identical circumstances. Ofcom was granted an increase (by a factor of 10) to the maximum penalty that it could impose on those found to practice persistent misuse of a communications network or service.

On that occasion the increase came however with a clearly stated and explicit requirement from all those represented on the Committee which approved the SI submitted by the then Secretary of State. This was voiced by his minister as a condition to qualify a supportive gesture:

"We expect you to use your powers to eradicate the nuisance of Silent Calls". (read Hansard, listen using sound player with links, hear sound clips here)

Ofcom has subsequently used these powers very selectively, on very few occasions and with a focus on tolerance of the practice of call centres hanging up in Silence, subject only to certain complex technical "rules" that bear little relationship to the type or degree of nuisance caused.

Ofcom has never used its power to impose a financial penalty on anyone who has breached an Enforcement Notification requiring cessation of the practice of making Silent Calls. Only one such Enforcement Notification has been issued. Ofcom is not even using the powers that it has properly.
Ofcom confirms that in 2009 it received reports of over 100,000 instances of Silent Calls, with the caller identified. Ofcom has failed to use its powers in respect of any of these complaints. None of these identified Silent Callers have been Notified that that their action is deemed to be "persistent misuse", let alone subjected to a enforceable requirement to cease the practice, so as to risk incurring a penalty in the event of a breach.
If there has been any informal contact with these companies, they must believe that their activities are in compliance with what Ofcom misleadingly describes as its "rules", as it has taken no action. Ofcom has no statutory authority to impose general regulations in this area and has not used the powers it has to act in individual cases of Silent Calls since 2008.
Ofcom has not even undertaken a formal investigation into any alleged Silent Caller since April 2007. It is has not instigated any investigation based on complaints about Silent Calls presented by citizens since its very first investigation, in response to my complaint, in 2003.
Ofcom is currently considering changing its policy to explicitly permit any caller to make one Silent Call per day to each citizen. This proposal was subjected to public consultation as if it were a ban on "repeat Silent Calls". Strictly read, Ofcom's current policy bans all Silent Calls, although it is commonly understood (and applied) to permit an unlimited number to be made, so long as the same caller also makes sufficient non-Silent Calls on the same day. The irrelevance of other activity used to be a feature of Ofcom's policy, but this was removed in 2005.

It is probably fair to say that Ofcom has failed to meet the expectations of Parliament.

The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills has tabled a further Statutory Instrument, to be considered under the "affirmative procedure", to further increase the maximum penalty available to Ofcom by a factor of 40. See - The Communications Act 2003 (Maximum Penalty for Persistent Misuse of Network or Service) Order 2010.

Santander was only seen worthy of a penalty of £30,000 in 2008 and the Carphone Warehouse Group £35,000 in 2007, when the maximum was £50,000. One must wonder who it is that Ofcom has in mind as being worthy of a penalty of £2 Million. One must also wonder why action has not already been taken against whoever this may be. (Ofcom currently has, and will retain, the option to seek an injunction for Enforcement if its penalty powers are seen to be ineffective at halting persistent misuse.)
When it does use its powers, Ofcom judges the scale of the activity being addressed to be confidential. We therefore have no idea of the proportionality of past or future penalties to the nuisance caused. We do however know that Santander and other companies which have been subject to penalties were found not to have made any Silent Calls!
Ofcom has a problem distinguishing between the unacceptable practice of hanging up in Silence and that of announcing who is calling when no agent is available to complete a dialler-initiated call. Ofcom applies an excessive degree of interest in the way in which dialler technology is configured and performing complex calculations on the statistics that can be readily produced.
Ofcom recognises that use of obsolete “answering machine detection” technology is an inevitable cause of Silent Calls. It however argues that use of this technology should not be deemed to represent “persistent misuse”, because the financial benefits derived may be passed on to customers of those who use it. I am almost rendered speechless when spurious nonsense such as this is granted a place in public debate.

Many feel that if Ofcom did its duty to "further the interests of citizens in relation to communication matters" it would not seek to establish codes of practice for an industry that it has no duty to regulate, but would simply deem the habitual practice of hanging up in Silence to be "persistent misuse" and use its powers accordingly, whenever it could. I believe that this was the essence of the expectation of parliament in 2006.

This new SI has been already been approved by the House of Lords, following a debate that was sadly devoid of any true understanding of the issue - see Hansard.

I will be watching forthcoming proceedings closely to note the appointment of the members of the Commons Committee to undertake the equivalent task. I will seek to ensure that those members will benefit from a comprehensive briefing. I would be grateful for any assistance that could be provided by yourselves.


In the absence of any comment to the contrary on the record, it would be seen that the previously expressed expectations had been met. In the current wider context, approval of the increase would inevitably be seen, and perhaps declared by Ofcom, as parliamentary endorsement of both its current approach and its proposed policy of formal tolerance of one Silent Call per caller per person per day.

This policy is more broadly seen to be an increasingly formalised tolerance of Silent Calls, whilst bluffing a strong approach and the potential for enormous penalties. Ofcom's actual stated objective is to reduce the number of complaints it receives about Silent Calls. Experience has shown that whenever Ofcom is seen to use the powers the number of complaints it receives goes up dramatically. (It is not difficult to draw a cynical conclusion about why Ofcom is reluctant to use its powers!)

I hope that your support for the campaign against Silent Calls, in response to the demands of your constituents, will lead you to do all you can to ensure that the committee appointed to represent the House gives proper and informed consideration to this matter.

(Please feel free to circulate this briefing to colleagues and party policy personnel.)

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