Regulator awards itself powers to ban SMS scammers

Out-Law News | 28 Jun 2006 | 2:16 pm | 1 min. read

The premium rate phone regulator is overhauling its policies so that it can take more direct action against rule breaking content providers. Mobile phone content providers who break the ICSTIS rules could be banned from operating any premium rate services in new rules to be introduced in September.

Until recently only intermediary firms which connect content producers to mobile networks have been named and fined, but following complaints by companies such as Wireless Information Network (WIN), regulator ICSTIS (the Independent Committee for the Supervision of Standards of Telephone Information Services) is rewriting its policies.

"We will be reviewing our code of practice in September and we are in an interim stage at the moment," said an ICSTIS spokeswoman. "The new code will make it much clearer how we deal with content and information providers."

Sanctions contained in the code include prohibiting a content company "found to have been knowingly involved in a serious breach or series of breaches of the Code from involvement in or contracting for the provision of a particular type or category of service for a defined period".

Previously that sanction could only be applied to intermediary service providers who connected content providers to mobile networks. "Traditionally the way a case would have been dealt with was to have the service provider take full responsibility. Now we are trying to make it possible for the information provider to take responsibility," said the ICSTIS spokeswoman.

ICSTIS has just fined WIN £50,000 because of the activities of WIN's client Summit Technologies, which operated a rule-breaking text message competition. WIN is a service provider which operates a cross network platform that allows hundreds of content providers to deliver and receive messages via all the mobile phone networks. It was Summit which actually produced and marketed the competition which attracted the fine.

WIN has paid ICSTIS the fine and has already recouped the cost from Summit revenues coming from networks through it to Summit. "We have two million messages a day passing through our system in real time, we are like an internet service provider, we can’t technically check the content of all those," said Sally Weatherall, head of WIN's legal department. Weatherall said that Summit was now banned from WIN's platform.

WIN has been lobbying ICSTIS for the change. "What you have to do is regulate the front end, the environment the user comes into contact with," said Weatherall. "If you try to regulate the market via the middle layer, the technical providers, you are always going to be reactive."

The ICSTIS spokeswoman said that the change in rules is being made after the body conducted industry consultation. "This has been an issue we have wanted to address for a long time, but because the code is so complicated it has taken time to do," said the ICSTIS spokeswoman.