The Government tightens the siege on the telephone information numbers 118, which offer consultation services on other people’s telephones, shops, restaurants and all kinds of businesses, after having detected a notable increase in the claims of users who report fraud by the operating companies.

Specifically, the Ministry of Economic Affairs is preparing an order to establish new conditions for the provision of these services, which will come into force after its publication in the Official State Gazette (BOE), once the public hearing process is complete and the the approval of the Council of Ministers.

The new regulation will eliminate the cap on the price per minute (currently set at 2.5 euros) to favor competition; will limit the maximum duration of the call to 2 minutes, compared to the 10 minutes currently allowed, will establish the requirement of prior express request from the end user for access to any of these 118 numbers, as well as direct dialing of the number on the digit by digit terminal, will eliminate the possibility that service providers can divert calls and will oblige them to present the subscriber with an itemized invoice, guaranteeing that the user cannot be suspended from the communications service due to non-payment of the part corresponding to the query .

Regarding the cost, the order establishes that the price of the service “will always be invoiced by time, without the possibility of applying a call establishment fee or similar” and introduces that “the providers of the telephone consultation service on subscriber numbers will freely set the prices that will be charged to the subscribers of the access operators”, although they must communicate their prices 10 days in advance to the Secretary of State for Telecommunications and Digital Infrastructures, to the National Commission for Markets and Competition (CNMC ), to the General Secretariat for Consumption and Gambling of the Ministry of Consumption and the Council of Consumers and Users.

Thus, “the double regime that up to now required the express prior request of the user only when a certain price was exceeded will be put an end to, this price equality detected in the price established as a threshold (2.5 euros per minute) is avoided, encouraging each provider freely sets the price, in accordance with their commercial strategies and their respective costs, promoting competition”, explains the Ministry.

In the documentation consulted by EL MUNDO, the department headed by Nadia Calviño justifies the need to toughen the current framework because “there has been a significant increase in the number of claims filed by users of this service”, as well as in the actions initiated by the operators “against fraudulent practices committed in the use of this numbering”.

Specifically, according to data from the Telecommunications User Service Office, during the second half of 2022 the number of claims filed for the billing of these services increased “by approximately 50%, a figure that has doubled in the first months of the year 2023”. Likewise, the actions initiated by the operators against fraudulent practices committed in the use of this numbering “affected 40% of the 118 numbers in service during 2022”.

The Ministry has identified some fraudulent practices consisting of: not providing an initial locution or adequate call progression; delay the call with waiting times or unnecessary questions in order to reach the maximum amount of 30.25 euros (tax included), which is multiplied if the caller is encouraged to make several calls; provide through this numbering services other than the telephone consultation service on subscriber numbers; or encourage calls with false premises.

And it has decided to act on the current regulations after verifying that these fraudulent practices “have caused social concern, harming those providers that provide the service in accordance with the established regulations, without the imposition of sanctions for the improper use of the 118 numbering, nor the actions taken by electronic communications operators against such practices have managed to reduce the number of claims”.

The changes seek, according to the Ministry, to guarantee “healthy competition” between service providers, allowing them to set their prices freely without having to adjust to the threshold that until now distinguished between services that required prior request by the user and services that were accessible without need to make said request to the electronic communications operator. They will also benefit the electronic communications operators that provide the telephone service, who will see reduced costs derived from detecting and reporting fraudulent practices and, at the same time, will see reduced claims filed by their customers.

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