British telecoms regulator Ofcom has launched a consultation on a proposed approach to ensuring continued protections for customers with only a fixed voice service. Prices for such customers have been protected since 1 April 2018 through voluntary commitments from fixed line incumbent BT, which the regulator accepted in 2017. As well as an initial price cut of GBP7 (USD9) to line rental, BT also capped overall increases to line rental and call charges at the rate of inflation (CPI) for a period of three years.
With these voluntary commitments set to expire on 31 March 2021, however, Ofcom has now said it believes that price protection for voice-only customers ‘remains necessary to address [its] previous concerns from [its] last review in 2017, which included lack of competition in the market and poor value for money for this group of customers’. In line with this, BT has again made voluntary commitments, including the continuation of an inflation-linked control (CPI+0%) on the basket of line rental and call charges for voice-only products, as well as a commitment to an annual CPI+0% limit on prices for its Home Phone Saver product and a safeguard cap of CPI+2.5% for its line rental product. Meanwhile, with BT also having said the latest commitments would last for five years, it added that the measures will apply to all voice-only products and services taken by customers, regardless of the technology used to deliver the service, as well as any new products or services introduced throughout the five-year commitment period that are offered on a voice-only basis. Further, BT has said it will provide information to Ofcom on its compliance with the commitments on an annual basis.
Having considered these commitments, Ofcom said its provisional view is that they would offer ‘sufficient’ protection for voice-only subscribers, and as such has proposed to accept them. It is inviting comments on the matter from interested parties by 21 January 2021, and has said it expects to issue a decision in March, ahead of the expiry of the existing commitments.