Golden Rant : When offline Security Support comes at a price

I’m more than a little upset with the software industry over its increasing use of 0870 `national rate’ numbers for customer support.

The problem with these numbers is that they fall outside of the scope of discount calling plans for most telcos and in many cases are surcharged to as much as 10p/min - twice that or more on a mobile. The reason is that most firms get a share of the revenue - as high as 4p/min - on these calls.

Many consumers are on monthly flat-rate calling plans which cost around a tenner a month, but 0870 numbers are usually charged extra.

Here in the office I’m on BT Business Plan Lite, with my landline calls capped at 10p for up to 60 minutes and mobile calls capped at 25p on the same deal.

The good news is that there is a Web site - www.saynoto0870.com - which allows you to punch in an 0870 number and look un the real number. Symantec/Norton’s support line, for example, is given as an 0118 number.

Now the bad news - telecoms regulator Ofcom has decreed that, from next year onwards, 0870 numbers will no longer generate a commission for the called company and will be included within consumer flat-rate calling plans.

That’s bad news? Yes - many companies are now migrating their support lines to 0871 (10p/min) or 0844 (5p/min). And whereas 0870 calls drop to as low as 2p/min during off-peak hours, there are no discounted periods on these new sets of numbers.

So why am I complaining? Because I had to call Symantec for support last month to fix a pal’s laptop. I was on the phone for around 50 minutes, and the call cost me a tenner on my mobile.

If Symantec move their support to an 0871 number that call would cost me 50 per cent more. And if they move the support call to a US `toll-free’ number - which is another ballgame entirely - the costs start to go through the roof.

You could, of course, send in an email with a support request. And wait for a reply. And wait. And wait…