Ofcom has outlined how it plans to safeguard the future supply of landline numbers across the UK.
The plans will avoid the need to change existing phone numbers and will mean consumers and businesses continue to enjoy the widest choice of providers.
Currently, Ofcom allocates 01 and 02 telephone numbers to around 300 communications providers free of charge in large blocks. These companies then use the numbers to provide services to homes, businesses and other organisations.
The number of communications providers has increased significantly over the last six years, leading to more competition and cheaper landline bills for millions of homes and businesses.
But it has also led to increased pressure on the supply of phone numbers as well as some communications providers holding a significant quantity of unused numbers.
Ofcom has today confirmed that it will manage future demand for phone numbers from new and existing communications providers by introducing local area code dialling in places where numbers are very scarce.
Ofcom is also proposing to launch a pilot scheme to charge communications providers for local numbers in some areas to encourage their efficient use.
From next year, people in a few areas where phone numbers are becoming very scarce will need to dial the whole number when making local calls.
This measure will enable Ofcom to make more numbers available in those areas. Ofcom’s consumer research shows this to be the least disruptive option for homes and businesses.
Currently Ofcom expects that these measures may be needed first in Bournemouth by mid 2012. So, for example, it would mean that a person living in Bournemouth who wanted to call another Bournemouth number would have to dial the whole phone number, including the 01202 code.
Based on current forecasts, Ofcom expects that similar changes may also be required in Brighton and Hove (01273), Aberdeen (01224), Milton Keynes (01908), Bradford (01274) and Cambridge (01223) by 2016.
A map of the areas where people might need to dial the whole number when calling locally accompanies this press release. The map reflects Ofcom’s forecasts up to 2021.
Ofcom will work with communications providers to inform local communities well in advance of the need to use the code.
Ofcom also proposes to launch a pilot scheme to charge communication providers 10p per phone number per year in around 30 areas (out of a total of 610 areas) where numbers are most scarce.
It expects to announce the final pilot area codes when it publishes its decision early next year. The charge would be applied to numbers that have already been allocated to communication providers as well as to future allocations. The aim of this is to encourage communications providers to consider their plans carefully before applying for new bulk allocations of phone numbers and incentivise the return of unused numbers to Ofcom.
The majority of European countries, including France, Spain and Belgium, already charge communications providers for phone numbers.
Ofcom proposes to launch the pilot in autumn 2012 and review it around two years after implementation.
Ofcom will also improve the application process for phone numbers and is working to reclaim numbers not being used by communications providers. Ofcom’s recent audit of phone number use led to over 69 million unused landline numbers being handed back to Ofcom by communications providers.