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Ministry mulls ban on short phone numbers with hidden costs

Elderly person using a phone. Photo is illustrative.
Elderly person using a phone. Photo is illustrative. Source: congerdesign/Pixabay

The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications (MKM) wants to ban customer information lines with short numbers charging callers higher fees. New rules are being drafted.

The family doctors' advice helpline is free to call from a landline number but costs up to 30 cents per minute from the short 1220 number. 

"The concern is that this situation is confusing for the consumer, as it is as if a free number still comes at a cost to the consumer on the bill," said Oliver Gailan, head of the communications department of the Consumer Protection and Technical Regulatory Authority (TTJA). 

The family doctors' helpline is not the only example. Short numbers are often used for customer service and come with hidden costs. The standard rate is between 20-30 cents per minute which is not advertised upfront.

Gailan said there are approximately 100 short numbers with between three and five digits in Estonia. In recent years, institutions have stopped using these lines and returned to using landline numbers. "And one reason for this direction may be this unclear market situation," Gailan said. 

The law says callers should be made aware of such charges upfront. To reduce confusion, TTJA and MKM have drafted new rules.

"It is proposed that telecoms operators should not be able to charge more than the price of a normal call to a short number where the service itself is free," Gailan said. 

Telecommunications companies: Administrative costs are higher 

However, communication companies do not support the new rules.

The Estonian Association of Information Technology and Telecommunications said these lines create additional administrative and labor costs for businesses.

"Therefore, in the future, the telecoms operator will have to cover this cost from [their] other services, or require the telecoms provider to change the number either to a "free to the consumer" number or to a "special tariff number"," the union said. 

Gailan said telecom companies should design this business model themselves.

"This means that businesses themselves know better what the costs of the service are and can calculate the model around this," Gailan pointed out. "In my view, it is possible to do this in such a way that the consumer can call the shortcode at a price close to zero."

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Editor: Aleksander Krjukov, Helen Wright

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