Ofcom : poor consultation by BT on phone box removals

As regular readers of this blog will know (see : http://www.dundeewestend.com/2008/09/phone-box-removal-lack-of-consultation.html), I complained to Ofcom regarding the fact that British Telecom has decided to remove two telephone boxes in the West End without actually bothering to consult anyone first – something I consider bad practice – whatever the merits or demerits of removing the boxes.

Ofcom seem to think that no consultation is OK (judging by the response below) which I view as detrimental, flying in the face of good consultative practice

10 October 2008

Dear Councillor Macpherson

Thank you for your further email regarding the removal of a BT Public Call Box (PCB).

We note your dissatisfaction with the rules set around the removal of BT PCBs, in particular the definition of a ‘site’ under the rules. ‘Site’, in relation to a PCB, is defined as a walking distance of 400 metres from that PCB. This means that if there are two phone boxes within a 400 metres’ walk of each other, BT can take one away without consultation with the local authority.

You may be interested to know that Ofcom carried out a review of Universal Service Obligations in 2005/06 and as part of this review Ofcom consulted on this particular issue of a ‘site’ and invited views from all stakeholders. Previously ‘site’ in relation to a PCB was defined as a walking distance of 100 metres from that PCB. Following the review however, this definition was revised to a walking distance of 400 metres.

At the time of the review, Ofcom’s research was undertaken across a wide age range of consumers, including older consumers. It indicated that there was an urban/rural split in terms of expectations of distance in relation to a PCB. In general, a maximum five minutes’ walk was deemed reasonable in urban areas, and 20-30 minutes’ walk in rural areas. The research also indicated that there had been a growth in mobile ownership amongst the over 65s. During the review, Ofcom asked for views on whether the definition should be extended to 200, 300 or 400 metres. Most stakeholders who responded on this issue supported an increase in the definition. This coupled with changing commercial conditions in the PCB market (increase in mobile phone ownership amongst the over 65s), justified a change in the definition of site to any area within a walking distance of 400 metres from the PCB.

The statement can be found at:

http://www.ofcom.org.uk/consult/condocs/uso/statement/statement.pdf

Non confidential stakeholder response can be found at:

http://www.ofcom.org.uk/consult/condocs/uso/statement/responses/

Taking your second concern about the rules not taking into account local circumstances, under the current rules unitary authorities handling consultations hold the local veto and, although we do not lay down rules on how they should go about testing local views, we would expect them to consult other public organisations, such as parish/community councils or local community groups. Where written objections are made, reasons must be given for the objection. Factors that should be taken into consideration (although the list is not exhaustive) include: housing type in the area, the number of households in the area, PCB revenue, emergency calls and mobile phone coverage.

I hope this information proves helpful and helps clarify Ofcom’s position on the matter.

Yours sincerely
::Charlotte Cullen
Central Operations
Telecoms Team

::Ofcom