Examination of witnesses (Questions 380
TUESDAY 19 DECEMBER (AFTERNOON) 2001
and MR IAN
380. I am finding this very unclear. Does this
mean that of the 500 special needs payphones that we understand
Oftel told you to install you have only been able to install 130
out of 500 since 1997?
(Mr Green) That is correct.
381. That is correct? Only 130 out of the 500?
(Mr Green) Yes, and it is up to 500. That was a cap
on the obligation.
382. It is three years to do it because of technical
(Mr Green) No technical difficulties. If a request
comes in for one it is measured against the criteria that we agreed
with Oftel and if it satisfies the criteria we put one in.
383. It is not because people have not requested
(Mr Green) I was going to say there have not been
more than 130 requests for special needs payphones that have met
those criteria. This is an important aspect of
384. It is the public's fault?
(Mr Green) No. This is an important aspect of our
social obligation and we do put them in.
385. How many have you refused?
(Mr Green) Probably about two-thirds have not met
the criteria. That is either because there is another payphone
within a short distance or we cannot get the necessary permission
to put them in.
386. Are you satisfied with the idea of 130
out of the 500, Sir Peter?
(Sir Peter Bonfield) I am satisfied with our position
overall with our payphone obligations, yes. I must admit I find
it is quite difficult to determine the difference between a social
need and some of the other needs in terms of the payphone criteria,
that is why I passed it over to my colleague here. In terms of
discharging our obligation, the number of payphones going up,
the working of the payphones going up in terms of percentage is
good, and by and large we have had a good response in terms of
the social obligations. We are now rolling out the new ones for
people who have other disabilities, hard of hearing and that sort
387. How long did it take you from a request
to having the thing installed for the 130 that you have managed
to get in in the last three years?
(Mr Green) I will have to come back to you on that.
388. Do you have targets?
(Mr Green) We would have to give you an average. Pardon?
389. Do you have targets?
(Mr Green) Yes. We meet those requests as quickly
as we can. What we have to do is to look at
390. I am asking you how quickly you can.
(Mr Green) I cannot give you the answer on that because
it depends on the location, it depends on what permissions we
need, what way leaves and what planning permission.
391. Can you give me an indication of what is
the average length of time, or even what is your target?
(Mr Green) I will have to write to you on that one,
I am afraid, I do not know the average time.
392. It is very important for people to be able
to get early access. One of my colleagues did say earlier that
BT are not particularly good at repairing phones, for example,
and one of the occasions when you do need to use a public telephone
is on those many occasions, I am afraid, when constituents cannot
(Sir Peter Bonfield) We can get back to you on that
particular issue. In terms of how we are approaching our payphone
business, the United Kingdom is extensively payphoned compared
with just about any other country in Europe. We think that it
is a good thing to do, it is part of our obligation and we run
it as a business. We will try to make sure that we give you the
specific analysis of the timescale.
393. Can I also ask you about support for elderly
and disabled customers. We all have concerns about the length
of time it might take to remedy a fault on a line because people
have need of telephones more and more in the modern world, but
people with disabilities, and elderly people in particular, can
be extremely dependent on the performance of a telephone company.
I am afraid that in my experience BT have not been particularly
good in this area, and it is a critical area for people.
(Sir Peter Bonfield) I agree. I am disappointed if
you feel that way. We have a scheme where people with that sort
of issue or social concern do get priority in terms of repair.
We have trained all of our community engineers to be on the lookout
for customers with those types of concerns and issues. We do take
those obligations very seriously indeed. If you have got a particular
issue of concern, if you can let me have that I will follow it
up very hard. We have got the specific programme in place to mitigate
exactly that problem.
394. I understand you have a programme in place
but, in fact, one of my concerns is that you are not necessarily
demonstrating the ability to get people on to the scheme. I had
an example quite recently when after a number of telephone calls
made on behalf of a 98 year old lady who had been visited by the
telephone engineers after her phone had been disconnected, and
after her relatives had made a number of calls on every occasion
saying "this lady is 98 years old", when I actually
made a phone call she had not been put on.
(Sir Peter Bonfield) Really? Well, I apologise for
395. I had to explain to your managers that
you had this system. It should not be MPs who are telling them
that, it should be the managers who know and it should be the
people answering the phones who actually make that connection
for people. 98 year old ladies do not understand how your systems
work but your managers should.
(Sir Peter Bonfield) No, I agree mea culpa.
If that is your experience we will have to make sure that we redouble
our efforts. Thanks for that input.
396. Do you think that the policing, for want
of a better expression, of your universal service obligation is
satisfactory? Maybe this is the wrong way to put it, but do you
feel that you have to mind your Ps and Qs when it comes to the
universal service obligation? The impression I get is that nobody
really has any responsibility for making sure that you fulfil
(Sir Peter Bonfield) Certainly we treat it very seriously
397. I realise you do but we kind of got the
impression from the Regulator that it was none of his business,
guv, and, therefore, he was not interested in it unduly. When
we spoke to him about the payphone business, "it is nothing
to do with me". He is very good at telling us what is not
his job. We are of the view that perhaps we ought to reframe legislation
beyond the next election, as it will have to be.
(Sir Peter Bonfield) I think we just need to be a
bit careful about loading regulation on a business that I personally
think is too much overloaded with regulation. How do we make sure
we discharge it?
(Mr Green) Every year we have to give a certificate
to Oftel that our Board has looked at our investments and our
plans and they are satisfied we will be able to continue to comply
with our licence obligations. Oftel are entitled to require that
to be audited. Very specifically, Oftel have obligations to ensure
that we comply with our licence. We take them seriously because
these are our customers, but Oftel has an obligation to enforce
them if for some reason we do not.
(Sir Peter Bonfield) We prefer to make sure that we
have that obligation on us and, as Colin said, it is audited rather
than additional regulation put on us. This is now an extremely
competitive industry and an extremely competitive marketplace
in which we operate and I think we ought to be looking at ways
in which we can reduce regulation, not increase it.
398. But the fact is you are still the biggest
single player in the British telecommunications business and you
are there because you are the old nationalised industry that has
been privatised. You did not break sweat initially over the unbundling
of the local loop. Your shareholders would have complained if
you had done because until you had to there was no obligation
on you to do it. You are not running a charitable institution,
(Sir Peter Bonfield) No.
399. Therefore, you ought to be subject to some
kind of watchdog facility in that sense.
(Sir Peter Bonfield) Chairman, I am not saying that
this is not a regulated industry, it clearly is a regulated industry.
All I am saying is that as more and more competition comes in
then my general feeling is that regulation should reduce. In terms
of the competition in the United Kingdom now in communications
we are a large player but there are a number of players now, some
of them very large in the FTSE 100. In terms of regulation, it
has increased since BT was privatised at the same time as competition
has increased. That is my only point. As competition increases
it becomes a more competitive market place and my feeling is that
regulation should be reduced. I am not saying it should be totally