BT blocks direct access to telephone porn lines: Personal code will be needed for 'adult' premium rate numbers

BRITISH Telecom is to block direct access to sex-line telephone services from August next year. Only people who apply to BT for a special Pin code and account number will be able to ring the services from that date.

The decision affects 0898 adult services - both live and recorded. BT said 90 per cent of its customers believe the services should be available on an 'opt-in' only basis to avoid potential abuses of sex lines and unauthorised use of them by children.

At the same time, the watchdog governing the premium rate telephone services industry is banning advertising of sex-line services in all but 'top shelf' publications.

The decision affects the Sport newspaper, which is the main generally-available publication carrying the advertisements. Other publications affected by the ban include the Daily Star, Exchange and Mart and a range of magazines and regional newspapers.

The watchdog - the Independent Committee for the Supervision of Standards of Telephone Information Services - said public disquiet about easy access to sex-line services has been increasing. Adult services account for 12 per cent of 6 million calls made to premium rate services every week. Concern at ICSTIS peaked last year when the lawyer of an American sailor who was accused of rape said his client had been affected by UK sex-lines.

The limitation on advertising takes effect from 1 January 1994. ICSTIS has also introduced a blanket ban preventing any adult service on the new generation of video telephones.

The premium rate telephone service industry has an estimated turnover of pounds 200m to pounds 250m a year. BT said that about 80 per cent of calls to premium rate services are made over its network, the rest are made via network operators including Mercury and Vodata.

Although adult services on the 0898 numbers are only 10 per cent of the premium rate calls made through BT, they account for 75 per cent of billing disputes. Other premium rate services include general entertainment, information and tarot services. All cost 36p a minute off-peak and 48p a minute at peak times.

The delay in introducing controls on sex-lines is needed to allow the company to reprogramme 6,500 local exchanges which will then block access for calls without Pin codes. The new system also means calls made to the services will be billed to the account number issued with the Pins. This means the caller is billed irrespective of where he or she makes the call and cannot run up large bills at the expense of someone else.

Yesterday ICSTIS announced strict controls on premium rate services which offer employment and may in future consider banning the services completely.

It is also taking on new powers to control advertisements in the United Kingdom for premium rate services abroad and to introduce fines for any service providers who breach the ICSTIS code of conduct.

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