ICSTIS Guideline No. 4

Live Premium Rate Services - Guidelines for Applicants

(Version 1: 9 March 1998)

Introduction

ICSTIS Guidelines are intended to advise the premium rate services industry on how the Committee interprets or applies provisions in the ICSTIS Codes of Practice. Service providers seeking clarity about the application of any code provision to a particular service are strongly advised to contact the Secretariat before starting to operate the service.

A current list of all the latest versions of ICSTIS Guidelines appears in the ICSTIS Monthly Report and on the ICSTIS website. Copies of Guidelines are available, free of charge, from the Secretariat.

A. THE LIVE CODE AND THE ICSTIS CODE OF PRACTICE

The provisions covering prior permission for all live services (regardless of price) are contained within sections 1.4 and 1.5 of the ICSTIS Live Conversation Services Code of Practice, March 1998 (The 'Live Code'):

1.4 A Service Provider must not provide any Live Service unless it has first obtained a certificate from ICSTIS giving the Service Provider permission to provide that service. Service Providers must not continue operating a live service in the event that no certificate is in force.

Such permission may be subject to any conditions that ICSTIS may consider appropriate, to ensure that the particular service does not cause consumer harm. Such conditions may relate, for example (but not to restrict the generality of the provision), to the content, advertising or recording of calls. Services provided for entertainment or services charged at the Higher Rate (see ICSTIS Code paragraph 2.3.1) are likely to be subject to additional conditions. Further information is provided in Guidelines annexed to this document which may be revised from time to time.

1.5 In what ICSTIS considers to be appropriate cases it will not issue a certificate unless it is satisfied that compensation arrangements exist (as set out in Part Four of this Code) which will enable the prompt and effective provision of compensation to any subscriber whose telephone has been the subject of unauthorised use involving calls to the relevant Live Service(s) and in respect of which the Adjudicator has made an award under Part Four of this Code.

Service providers should read the whole of the Live Code as well as the ICSTIS Code (eighth edition) which contains other provisions regarding live services.

B. PERMISSION AND CONDITIONS

Permission to run a particular service will be given in the form of a certificate. This certificate will list the conditions the service provider must comply with when running the service.

One condition that will be applied to all services is that the service and its promotion must not be altered (apart from very minor adjustments) from that which is described in the certificate. That description will generally be as set out in the application and may be altered following discussions with the Committee. For example, if an application states that the service will only be advertised in a certain range of publications then the service must not be more widely advertised without the service provider first seeking ICSTIS' permission. Where necessary, additional conditions may be imposed by the Committee.


C. CONSIDERATION OF APPLICATIONS

a) Services unlikely to be granted permission

An application will not be granted permission if, in the opinion of ICSTIS, the service is one:

(i) which would breach the Live Code or the ICSTIS Code,
(ii) where insufficient information has been made available to accurately assess the application,
(iii) which otherwise presents a serious risk of consumer harm.

b) Avoiding consumer harm

Certain services will be subject to more conditions than others depending on the degree of potential consumer harm. The Committee will consider each application on its merits and encourage service providers to build consumer safeguards into their services, rather than having them imposed.

The Committee will consider all the characteristics of the service including its type, structure, promotional material and target audience. Some services are more likely to cause consumer harm. With this in mind, the main factor the Committee will consider when assessing an application is the likelihood of the service giving rise to high bills and/or unauthorised use or being attractive to vulnerable groups of consumers.

Services that are therefore likely to attract conditions are entertainment services such as one-to-one chatlines, tarot and other psychic services. Business information and advice lines are unlikely to attract many conditions. The service may, however, also have in-built safeguards (for example, additional price messages) which help to reduce the risk of consumer harm and which, therefore, reduce the likelihood of conditions being imposed.

c) Service characteristics

The following characteristics of the service are likely to be important in the Committee's decision as to whether to impose conditions and what type of conditions to impose:

(i) Service type. Some services, such as entertainment services, are more likely to give rise to unauthorised use and/or high bills. These services are likely to be subject to conditions.

(ii) Promotional restrictions. A service which has promotional material aimed at a restricted audience is much less likely to attract conditions. For example, a service which the service provider states in their application will be solely advertised in the Financial Times, or any similar periodical targeted at private investors seeking information, is less likely to have many conditions imposed. By contrast, a service aimed at the general public and advertised widely on television is more likely to have conditions imposed.

(iii) Content restrictions. A service which is confined to a specific, narrow type of content is much less likely to attract conditions. For example, a service giving timetable information is less likely to have many conditions imposed. By contrast, an open-ended general consumer advice service is more likely to have conditions imposed.

(iv) Price. The cost of a service will influence the Committee's decision -- a problem service running at a more expensive rate will simply cause bigger problems. Any service provider considering running a service at the higher rate of £1.50 per minute should note the provisions of paragraph 2.3.1 of the ICSTIS Code and ICSTIS Guideline No.5. A higher rate service aimed at the unemployed, or other vulnerable user groups, is unlikely to be granted permission.

d) Types of condition

Entertainment services are likely to be subject to the following conditions:

(i) A requirement to have compensation arrangements in place. This will mean lodging a bond with ICSTIS and joining the Compensation Fund. This is likely where the service may result in high bills and/or unauthorised use of the telephone by people other than the person responsible for paying the bill. The types of service likely to be subject to this condition are one-to-one chatlines, tarot, other psychic services and other similar types of entertainment service.
(ii) The recording of calls. The continuous recording of calls is vital to allow the investigation of complaints, especially in relation to those services outlined in c(i) above.

In addition to the types of entertainment service outlined in c(i), other entertainment services and business services might typically be subject to the following conditions:

(iii) Additional price message requirements. A service which is unlikely to lead to unauthorised use and/or high bills but which may involve lengthy call durations could be permitted subject to consumers being warned during the service about the mounting call costs. This will enable consumers to make an informed decision about whether to continue with the service. An example might be a condition to warn the caller about the cost of the call after every £5.00 of call spend.

(iv) Maximum call limits. Some services may involve lengthy calls. This can be due to the nature of the service being given, such as a computer software helpline service which involves an assessment of a specific problem. To avoid the build up of high bills the Committee may require the imposition of a maximum call duration to ensure that a cut-off point exists, after which the consumer will have to redial to contact the service again - this will involve a conscious decision on the part of the consumer.

Services aimed at restricted groups, such as a computer helpline which only consumers who purchased a certain product are likely to want to access, are less likely to have this condition attached. Services which are widely advertised and accessible, and which are likely to attract repeat, and possibly unauthorised, use and high bills, are more likely to have such a condition imposed. Such a condition may be in the form of a maximum call duration, for example 30 minutes, or a maximum call spend, for example £10.00 per call.

e) Which conditions?

The mix of conditions may be different for each service, depending on the type and format of the service. For example, an advice service with broad appeal and promoted in major newspapers might be subject to a maximum call duration and additional price warnings. The same service, less widely promoted, might not be subject to such conditions. The Committee's objective is to only permit services which do not cause an unacceptable risk of consumer harm.

If you are in any doubt please contact the Secretariat.

D. APPLICATION PROCEDURE

Service providers are advised to initially discuss all potential applications with the Secretariat prior to submitting a formal application for permission. This will provide the opportunity, as necessary, to clarify aspects of the application and incorporate any initial recommendations or adjustments.

E. TIMING

The time it takes to complete the consideration of an application for permission will depend largely on the nature of the service and the issues it raises. However, it is intended that ICSTIS will be working to an average application-processing time of one month. Please note that the application form should be completed fully in order to avoid delay.

F. PERMISSION

a) Committee permission will be given for the service on the basis of the information given concerning service content, structure, promotion and targeting.

b) All permission will be granted in the form of a written certificate sent to the service provider and the relevant network operator. Permission will not come into force until ICSTIS has been notified of the relevant service number(s). If the service fails to commence within six months, the service provider must reapply for permission.

c) Any change to the service (including the rate to be charged), or the parties involved in providing the service, will invalidate any permission which has been granted and a fresh application will be required.