Examination of witnesses (Questions 140
TUESDAY 14 NOVEMBER 2000
and MR JIM
140. When they say they are haemorrhaging profits
on call boxes, what reason are they giving? Is it the cost of
maintaining the call boxes, the capital costs, the maintenance
(Mr Edmonds) It is that and, again, I think this is
the only time I would have said this in this sessionperhaps
everto be fair to BT the standard of maintenance and the
standard of provision of service of call boxes has hugely increased.
All of us can remember when you could never find a phone box that
worked, that is, I am told now, quite rare, there is a much higher
percentage operating. The main reason is competition from mobiles.
The pre-paying mobile and the availability of those, a huge percentage
of the young population of this country are now using them as
a substitute for the call box.
141. Is there anything that inhibits them, for
example, from getting more revenue from advertising within the
call box? Given the amount of unauthorised advertising there seems
to be in many of them, are they missing out on a source of revenue?
(Mr Edmonds) There is nothing to stop them advertising
in their call boxes. One of the problems they have is what they
are advertising is obscured too often by the kind of unauthorised
advertising you have just referred to.
142. It is a phenomenon that is almost exclusive
to London in that respect, the world does exist outside of London.
(Mr Edmonds) Indeed.
143. There are people who need phones rather
more than these folk.
(Mr Edmonds) Sure.
144. Obviously we see 10p to 20p, what happens
two years from now, three years, is it 20p to 50p, because that
is the danger, there will always be an argument and BT will be
able to put up an argument to say "Well, we ought to double
it again. We are not getting a return. We cannot sustain this."
Is there a way we can get the competitors to help and assist to
ensure there is a universal provision of phone boxes throughout
the country? I think there is a danger that we may end up seeing
it becoming 50p a call or a £1 a call.
(Mr Edmonds) I think the honest answer to your question
is if this is going to be left to market forces, no.
145. There is not a market.
(Mr Edmonds) There is not a market.
146. What can you do?
(Mr Edmonds) What can we do? All we can do is to insist
that BT maintain the wide geographic spread that they do. Pricing
then, Sir, is down to BT.
147. Can BT remove a phone box or can you ensure
that phone box remains there? What stops BT from closing a phone
(Mr Edmonds) BT has closed some phone boxes but, on
the whole, BT retains the call boxes because it is obliged so
to do with its Universal Service Obligation. This is not even
in prospect, as I said they are building new phone boxes rather
than losing them. If they were to seek to remove them we would
insist under the Universal Service Obligation that proper geographic
spread is maintained.
148. Do they have to come to you and say "Look,
this phone box in Rimington in Chorley on the hillside, we have
decided that we no longer want this phone box", do they come
to you and say "Can we remove it" or is it just up to
(Mr Edmonds) It is up to them. We would be looking
at this thing in the round.
149. What does the Universal Service Provision
mean? You must have a geographical spread between phone boxes?
(Mr Edmonds) Yes, it does. It does say there must
be geographic spread. It does say they must be available for people
with wheelchair access. It is a quite specific provision. Clearly,
you in your constituency or a member of the public could come
and say "BT is not providing a Universal Service of an appropriate
standard here" and at that point we would do something about
it. I think one or two phone boxes is not going to substantiate
that kind of case. I think you have to look at the area as a whole.
150. Even in Chorley?
(Mr Edmonds) Even in Chorley.
Chairman: You do that at your peril.
151. I am getting increasingly concerned by
your answer. Elasticity would surely say that if there is a decrease
in usage each time the price is doubled then there is going to
be a consequent decrease in usage which will make it even less
reasonable in BT terms to put a box there. I think the thing that
really most concerns me is did you actually say they promised
to put in 500 boxes and they have put in 130?
(Mr Edmonds) Yes. They promised in 1997 that 500 additional
call boxes will be installed. They did not give a commitment to
the time period during which they would be installed and they
have done 130 so far.
152. That is precisely my experience of BT in
terms of their ability to repair telephones or take action necessary.
I do not think that is good enough, that was three years ago.
(Mr Edmonds) Yes.
153. Maybe they have diverted the people from
the telephone box construction to the unbundling.
(Mr Edmonds) They certainly had not done by the middle
of the year.
154. 130 in three years is a pretty poor performance.
(Mr Edmonds) I have to say, I am not here to defend
BT. I am giving you the facts I have.
155. You have a Universal Service Obligation
which you are not fulfilling.
(Mr Edmonds) No, I am.
156. You are not requiring them to fulfil it
in a reasonable way and at a speed which will defend the public.
You are not doing that and your answers keep coming across like
that. It is just not good enough.
(Mr Edmonds) I am sorry, Sir.
157. Your complacency is quite appalling.
(Mr Edmonds) It is not complacent. I have with the
call boxes in BT an obligation, a duty, to make sure they keep
to the Universal Standard
158. Putting up less than one a week.
(Mr Edmonds) We have got more call boxes per head
of the population than most, if not all, other European countries.
159. So what. It is what we want in Britain
not these spacious comparisons, largely irrelevant comparisons.
Our constituents require a degree of service. We do not know how
many have closed because you cannot tell us, all you have been
able to tell us is that when 500 were promised, 130 have been
constructed in three years which tends to suggest it is barely
one a week.
(Mr Edmonds) Yes.