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  1. Politics
3 July 2000

Samuel Smiles

New Statesman Scotland

By Staff Blogger

Free local phone calls? Scots have very few people they can call at local rates. Even commuter communities outside the cities of Scotland find they have to pay long-distance rates for what are really local calls.

David Gillies, the lawyer and the author of the textbook Telcommunications Law, the encyclopaedia of phone regulation, wants to create a popular campaign to make all Scottish local calls free. He suggests that Edinburgh should be first with this attractive tariff experiment, as it was the home of Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone. “If all 0131 calls were free, I think it likely that BT would see its business flourish. It could derive income from advertising at the beginning or end of free calls, and the burghers would become so tempted by use of the phone that they would boost their non-0131 calls,” says Gillies.

“The government has directed BT to surrender its control of ‘the local loops’ by 2001, so events are coming our way. There is no novelty in this notion outside the UK. Many metropolitan cities in the US have free calls within their boundaries,” he argues.

This might seem a natural theme for MSPs to pick up and run with. If an experiment were begun in Edinburgh, it would not be long before Glasgow or Dundee or Aberdeen insisted on comparable schemes. Indeed, Dundee locals ought to include all of Tayside and Aberdeen and the entire territory of the Grampian region.

“I have yet to find a single MSP who will support me,” says Gillies. “Still, we did not convince Conservative MPs to break the BT monopoly in 1984: it hinged on the wiring within one brain – that of Sir Keith Joseph. He moved to create an open telecoms market when the average Tory MP was saying that phones were a natural monopoly and that competition would mean every street being festooned in wires and poles.”

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