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

Ofcom initial response on phone box removal lack of consultation

I received the following response from Ofcom this afternoon; I await further feedback with interest!
“25 September 2008

Dear Councillor Macpherson

Thank you for your email to Ofcom dated 24 September 2008.

As part of its Universal Service Obligation to supply basic, fixed line, telecommunications services across the UK, BT (along with Kingston Communications in the Hull area) is obligated to provide Public Call Boxes.

By way of some background, BT is required to ensure adequate coverage of public call boxes (PCB). During a review of Universal Service Obligations in 2005/06, Ofcom concluded that adequate coverage is best determined at a local level with district (or equivalent) councils holding the local veto. BT must follow rules set by Ofcom when they wish to remove a PCB from a site. ‘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 400 metres’ walk of each other, BT can take one away without following our rules. However, if they want to take away the last one as well, they have to follow an agreed process.

Our rules state that BT cannot remove the last PCB from a ‘site’ unless they have displayed a notice on the call box to notify the public, written to district council, metropolitan, unitary or equivalent council and have not received any written objections within a 90-day period. If the local body does make a written objection to BT within the fixed 90-day period, BT must not proceed with the removal or re-siting of the PCB. Where written objections are made, reasons must be given for the objection. Although we do not lay down rules on how local district councils (or equivalent councils) should go about testing local views, we would expect them to consult other public organisations, such as parish/community councils or local community groups.

We are naturally concerned if the two PCBs to which you refer are in fact PCBs that BT must consult on in accordance with our rules and if BT have subsequently failed to inform Dundee City Council about the proposed removals. We are, however, unable to comment further at this stage without knowing the intricacies of the case. We have taken up this matter with BT and will write to you again when we have further information.

I hope this information proves useful.

Yours sincerely

::Charlotte Cullen
Central Operations
Telecoms Team”

Phone Box Removal – lack of consultation

Yesterday, I issued a news release 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. I print the news release below.

In response, BT has said to the Courier that it wrote to the City Council about removing boxes back in April. A case of spin over substance, I’m afraid, because the City Council’s Head of Planning had advised “… we were consulted on the removal of kiosks at the beginning of April and neither the kiosk at City Road or the one at Seafield Road were on the list supplied and therefore not passed to Cllr Macpherson for comment.”
It is simply good practice to consult with the community before taking action to remove phone boxes. It is clear, from what I have been advised that BT did not, contrary to the spin, consult on the removal of these particular boxes.

Personally I don’t think it is acceptable that there are any circumstances under which BT can simply avoid bothering to consult on phone box removal and I have therefore asked Ofcom to review BT’s practice of only consulting on the removal of some phone boxes and not others.

NEWS RELEASE : City Councillor’s concern over removal of phone boxes without any consultation

Dundee City Council’s Convener of Planning & Transport and councillor for the West End, Fraser Macpherson, tonight expressed concern about a practice by British Telecom of deciding to remove Dundee phone boxes without any public consultation whatsoever, calling it “extremely bad practice.”

Cllr Macpherson said that the situation had come to light in the case of two phone boxes in the West End Ward – at City Road and Seafield Road – where BT is removing two phone kiosks without recourse to the City Council, locally elected councillors or the public.

Cllr Macpherson said, “The removal of a phone box in City Road came to light only when I contacted BT recently about repairs required to the phone here, and in the case of the phone box in Seafield Road, the removal came to light only when BT wrote to Dundee City Council and West End Community Council saying the red telephone kiosk could be considered for the “Adopt a Kiosk” scheme after it is decommissioned by BT.

“I think everyone accepts that phone box usage is lower than before, given the number of households with phones nowadays and the advent of the mobile phone, and indeed some phone boxes have been subject to vandalism. However, it is extremely bad practice for BT to undertake removal of phone boxes without any public consultation.

“Where there is a proper consultation, it at least allows the local authority and local councillors to speak with local people about their views on phone box retention or otherwise – unfortunately in this case the BT approach is a “done deal” – no public consultation whatsoever.”

Cllr Macpherson, having complained to BT about the matter, has now written to Ofcom, the independent regulator and competition authority for the UK communications industries. In his letter, Cllr Macpherson writes:

“My complaint is that – whatever the merits or otherwise for their retention or removal – BT has failed to undertake any consultation with locally elected representatives, the local authority and the community about these proposals.

“The proposed removal of the City Road phone box only came to light when I reported a repair required to BT. In the case of the Seafield Road box, it only came to light when BT mentioned it to the City Council in relation to the “Adopt a Kiosk” scheme.

“I am deeply concerned that BT is removing these boxes without any consultation whatsoever. I would ask that you request BT immediately review this bad practice and I look forward to your response.”

Perth Road and more on phone boxes …

Yesterday, got word from the shops on the north side of Perth Road just east of the Sinderins junction that Scottish & Southern Electric (the Hydro) had dug up the pavement near Ritchie’s Lane to put in services for the new business and has abandoned the job half done – hole in pavement and fallen barricades.
Anyway, contacted Planning & Transportation in the City Council who have chased up SSE who say they’ll try to finish the job off this afternoon.
Further update on the BT phone boxes. In response to my latest e-mail, the following has arrived, proving their system is absolutely hopeless – I think this is my fourth reference number!
“Your e-mail has been received successfully and has been allocated the following unique reference number **. Please quote this reference number if there is a further need to contact us.
With kind regards,
BT eCustomer Services”

AGM, phone boxes, bus services

It was my local party AGM last night and having got the real business out of the way promptly, we had an enjoyable social evening thereafter. A number of people commented how good the West End Christmas Lights Switch-On was and how nice the tree looks this year.

Some time ago (long before this blog started!) a number of West End residents asked me about why there is no bus service to the Gallacher Retail Park – for someone on foot its a fair trek from the City Centre. At that time, City Council officers opened discussions with the retail park owners about this. I’ve now asked for an update. With the success of this retail park and new stores opening (most recently Borders bookstore) it would be good to see buses running there.
Lastly, you’ll recall from earlier blogs that I have raised with BT several complaints recently about the state of some local phone boxes – Logie Aveue, Magdalen Place – and in Milnbank Road where the box has its door missing – see right.

The method of reporting to BT (a form on their website) is less than satisfactory and all you get back is an automated response.

Having received complaints that BT has done nothing to fix the door at Milnbank Road, I e-mailed them and he’s the latest exchange – makes your heart sink rather :

ME TO BT:

Dear Sirs
Can you update me on position re this?
Also, the phone box in Milnbank Road Dundee I reported to you weeks ago is STILL missing its door – can you advise ASAP.
Best regards
Fraser

BT BACK TO ME:

Subject: Re: URGENT : From Cllr Macpherson, Dundee City Council
Dear Mr Macpherson,
Thank you for your e-mail dated the 6th of December, 2006 regarding your recent contact with BT.
Please accept my apologies for the delay in replying to you and for any inconvenience this may have caused.
In response to your e-mail, I would request you to kindly elaborate your query and if it pertains to your BT account, please forward your account number as well. This information is needed for security reasons.
In the meantime, I would like to thank you for you patience and cooperation.
If you should have any further queries please do not hesitate to contact us again via e-mail.
Thank you for contacting BT.
Yours sincerely,
BT Customer Services

ME BACK TO BT:

Dear Sirs,
Your e-mail appears to have been sent without checking the nature of my complaint. These were in my capacity as a City Councillor and pertain to vandalism/condition of several local phone boxes. They have nothing whatsoever to do with my personal phone account.
I am particularly concerned that months after raising complaints about a door missing off the phone box in Milnbank Road, Dundee, it remains unrepaired.
I’d be most grateful if you would advise of the position ASAP – many thanks.
Best regards
Fraser
Cllr Fraser Macpherson
Liberal Democrat Group Leader
Convener of the Finance Committee
Dundee City Council