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Toll-free telephone numbers celebrated their 50th birthday this year (frankly, without much fanfare). These numbers allow callers to reach businesses without being charged for the call. When long distance calling was expensive, these numbers were enticing marketing tools used by businesses to encourage customer calls and provide a single number for nationwide customer service—for example, hotel, airline or car rental reservations.

Toll-free numbers are most valuable to businesses when they are easy to remember because they spell a word (1-877-DENTIST) or have a simple dialing pattern (1-855-222-2222). Like all telephone numbers, however, the FCC considers toll-free numbers to be a public resource, not owned by any single person, business or telephone company. Toll-free numbers are assigned on a first-come, first-served basis, primarily by telecommunications carriers known as Responsible Organizations. The FCC even has rules that prohibit hoarding (keeping more than you need) or selling toll-free numbers.

But the rules will change if the FCC adopts its recent proposal to assign toll-free numbers by auction as it prepares to open access to its new “833” toll-free numbers. The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking issued last week proposes to auction off approximately 17,000 toll-free numbers for which there have been competing requests. The proceeds of these auctions would then be used to reduce the costs of administering toll-free numbers.

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Imagine dialing 911 and hearing an automated voice tell you that what you have dialed is not a valid number; or reaching a 911 call center only to have emergency personnel dispatched to the wrong location. In response to such problems, the FCC yesterday released a Notice of Inquiry (NOI) asking a broad range of questions about the capability of enterprise-based communications systems (ECS)—internal phone systems used in places like office buildings, campuses and hotels—to provide access for 911 calls.

According to the FCC, certain of these systems may not support direct 911 dialing, may not have the capability to route calls to the appropriate 911 call center, or may not provide accurate information on the caller’s location. The NOI seeks public comment on consumer expectations regarding the ability to access 911 call centers when calling from an ECS, and seeks ways, including regulation if needed, to improve the capabilities of ECS to provide direct access for 911 calls.

The FCC generally requires telephone service providers to offer enhanced 911 service, which basically means that the provider will forward the caller’s telephone number and registered location to the appropriate public safety answering point (PSAP), which should be the 911 call center closest to the caller. Call takers at the PSAP are then responsible for dispatching the appropriate emergency responder—police, fire or ambulance.

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A number of major carriers have suffered high-impact IT events in the past several months. Estimates of losses in these cases have exceeded £100m. This is on top of (no doubt significant) remedial costs, reductions in share price and reputational damage.

Such high-impact events are, in theory, unlikely to occur—the result of a series of unlikely events which when taken together have a catastrophic impact. Unfortunately for corporates, the probability of a high impact IT event is increasing. This is partly due to the increasingly interconnected and complex nature of IT infrastructures but also due to heightened cybersecurity risks. Failures tend not to be not localised to a particular geography or business but have global reach.

We advise airlines to consider and revisit their current business continuity and disaster recovery (BCDR) arrangements. In our experience, the reality of BCDR arrangements often falls below the stated requirements or capabilities of such solutions, whether provided by third-party IT providers or in-house.

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Global Sourcing attorneys Mike Pierides and Sarah Atkinson, who are based in Pillsbury’s London office, have recently published the article, The payment services market under the eye of the regulator , in Banking Technology. The article considers criticisms of the payment services industry and how the new Payment Services Regulator is hoping to address these. In particular, they consider the issue of technical barriers (including technology barriers) and how these currently inhibit direct access to payment systems. To read the full article on the Banking Technology website click here.