Right of Reply: David Edmonds

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The Independent Culture
The director general of Oftel responds to criticisms about its reform of telephone numbers NOBODY LIKES changing telephone numbers. That's a fact. Number capacity is running out. That's a fact, too. Another fact is that the telephone is no longer just a way for us to chat to loved ones or make business calls. It is the physical infrastructure for the information superhighway - the route to the Internet, the lines used by companies to send data ranging from sales figures to financial transactions.

In a few years we have seen an explosion of services offered via our telephones, and another certainty to add to death and taxes is that more services will be dreamed up in the years ahead.

Already there are homes with a line for the Internet, one for the fax and another for the phone. You can have different ringing tones for each member of the family. It all eats up numbers.

Even before Oftel took over numbering in 1994, work was going on to ensure that there was enough number capacity to meet demand. The National Numbering Scheme was drawn up after independent research in 1996. There were four public consultations.

In 1995, Phoneday added a 1 to every geographic number. This increased available capacity from 900 million numbers to 9 billion.

We are taking advantage of this and between now and April 2000, Northern Ireland, Coventry, Portsmouth and Southampton, Cardiff and London will get new 02 codes. Failure to act would see these areas running out of numbers by the summer of 2000.

Oftel will work to ensure that those affected have enough warning to plan ahead and avoid unnecessary costs. But failure to implement these plans and bring in new codes where needed could leave the UK floundering in the new digital age that lies ahead. That cost is too high.