THE telecoms regulator ran into difficulty when trying to solve the problem of householders receiving misplaced calls to a sex chat-line when emails about the controversy were blocked from sending.
Some messages sent from ComReg, which was tasked with solving controversy over ‘Babestation’ calls, ended up falling foul of the regulator’s internal email system.
They were quarantined due to the inclusion of “possible profanity” and requests had to be made for the IT Department to allow them to be sent.
Records from ComReg and the Department of Communications released under FOI reveal how several government ministers were being briefed on the controversy, including Minister Denis Naughten.
The investigations came after complaints from Minister Michael Ring that one of his constituents was being “inundated with telephone calls from people trying to contact these sex chat lines both day and night”.
The saga ended up being reported around the world with Babestation sending three models to personally apologise to residents of Westport in Co Mayo.
However, ComReg has said that only two complaints were ever actually received from residents suggesting the scale of the problem may well have been somewhat exaggerated.
The records show that the simplest solution might have been for the worst-affected resident to have his phone number changed.
However, that option was immediately ruled out. An internal email explained: “The customer is aware that he can have a number change, but is declining.”
As ComReg tried to figure out how best to manage it, the story continued to spread internationally.
One internal email explained: “Ringer [Minister Ring] complaining about Westport residents getting calls from adult chatline callers made the Kuala Lumpur Times.”
Internal records show there were concerns over what exactly ComReg could do given that the adult phone lines were UK services.
One email said: “It would seem at first blush to be an inadvertent error (as there doesn’t seem to be any benefit, financial or otherwise, in seeking to divert their own customers to a small Irish town?) and we can contact Babestation etc accordingly.”
In the end, Worldwide Digital — the company who run the lines — agreed they would change all the numbers after being alerted to the problem.
A note of caution emerged in ComReg however. One email explained: “Hopefully they’ll check that the range they change to isn’t going to affect another 09 area like Athlone or Galway instead.”
The numbers were changed, and Worldwide Digital also switched their advertising material to ensure there would be no more unwanted calls.
“Hopefully this will solve the problem of the nuisance calls and [Mr X] can once again answer his phone,” an email said.
Another joked the solution might cause a different set of problems: “Next, we’ll have to deal with complaints from callers than can’t get through!”
A separate letter from the UK’s Phone-paid Services Authority warned that further similar controversies were a distinct possibility.
They said: “Ultimately any provider of adult services in the UK could have been the focus of this problem, because the current prohibition in Ireland on adult services will likely continue to cause calls to UK numbers.
“Ireland’s cable/satellite system is pretty much identical to ours, so in effect your viewers have the same Sky/satellite boxes and access to all the same babe channels, often on the exact same channel numbers.”
They said the long-term solution was for the phone numbers to be advertised in a way that Irish callers knew they must use a UK prefix.
In a subsequent email, ComReg said there was no general prohibition on adult services in Ireland and that a better solution would be for the phone lines simply to say they weren’t available to Irish callers.
“That might at least reduce the misdial levels,” it said.
In a statement, ComReg said: “[We use] standard email filtering systems which may hold certain material. Any such emails would be reviewed and released by the IT unit, where appropriate.”
Asked about the volume of complaints they received, they said: “ComReg received two consumer complaints about this matter. ComReg worked with its UK counterparts, Ofcom and the Phone-Paid Services Authority, and Irish phone networks to resolve this issue and ensure that such unwanted calls are avoided.”