WIN Calls for Action on Rogue Content

David Murphy

Mobile solutions provider WIN is calling on the telecoms regulator ICSTIS to take more responsibility for naming and shaming rogue mobile
content providers, warning that failure to do so could threaten the
future growth of the mobile content sector.

During the last 18 months, there have been a number of high-profile
cases involving poorly-advertised premium rate competitions and
ringtone subscription clubs. In each of the cases where ICSTIS has
adjudicated against such services, however, it has been the
connectivity partner which has been investigated and fined, rather than
the provider of the service itself. Regular readers will recall the 40,000 fine handed out to mBlox in December for the Jamster Crazy Frog promotion, a fine which mBlox subsequently passed on to the content provider.

WIN argues that with hundreds of clients generating tens of millions of transactions each month over their networks, leading connectivity providers do not have the facilities to pre-empt or stamp out such services before they have been marketed or transmitted to consumers handsets. Connectivity partners get little or no visibility of their clients advertising campaigns and have no means of verifying the source of databases. Often the first time that they can recognise that regulations have been broken is when a consumer or the regulator registers a complaint.
Additionally, says WIN, by adjudicating against and punishing connectivity providers for the breaches incurred by content providers, ICSTIS is failing in its duty of protecting consumers from dubious services, and allowing rogue providers to hide behind a cloak of anonymity. Furthermore, when connectivity partners disconnect content providers operating rogue services, there is nothing to stop them moving on to another connectivity provider who is blissfully unaware of their track record. As long as such a scenario is allowed to continue, says WIN, mobile content services run the risk of being pigeon-holed with dialler and other premium rate rip-offs, thus threatening the huge potential of the sector.
WIN is therefore calling for all content/information providers to be registered with ICSTIS, together with a record of all of their previous regulatory breaches, in an easily searchable database on the regulators web site. While a database of this kind does already exist, it absurdly according to WIN still suggests that the connectivity provider rather than the content/information provider is the culprit. WINs recommendation, therefore, is that the system go one step further by explicitly naming the content provider first which would protect both consumers, connectivity providers and the industry as a whole by allowing easy identification of persistent offenders.
We are delighted that new regulations have led to a 62% drop in consumer complaints to ICSTIS in the six months to March says WIN Marketing Manager Ben King. The industry should be congratulated on its efforts to police the purchase of mobile content and services. However, there remains work to be done. While network operators and connectivity providers are taking their responsibilities towards consumers extremely seriously, there is little we can do proactively to prevent rogue services from operating over our networks, because its almost impossible to identify them until consumers begin to complain. The current framework means that rogue providers can hide behind a cloak of anonymity, while connectivity providers bear the financial burden and negative PR that accompanies adjudication. A simple database or blacklist of offenders would help everyone in the delivery chain protecting consumers by giving those in the chain absolute visibility. Without such steps the huge potential growth of the mobile content industry could be under serious threat.
WIN is also warning that the current regulatory framework in mobile content is too complicated with content providers having to adhere to several lengthy and complex codes of practice from both network providers and regulators. This situation, it claims, is stifling the growth of the industry for the many reputable content providers looking to market their services. As a result it has launched The WIN Guide to Operating Premium Rate Services, which aims to educate mobile content providers on who the regulators are, what codes they administer, how their codes are enforced, and which major regulations content providers must abide by. To order a copy of the report, email: marketing@winplc.com 
The current regulatory framework is something of a minefield says King. As a result, many providers of legitimate content services are unintentionally breaching the various codes in existence. Our aim in producing this guide is to offer a comprehensive and concise summary of the most significant regulation which content providers need to be aware of, rather than them having to wade through reams of legal speak published by the various parties in the delivery chain.