Bird & Bird obtains important decision on telephone numbers for Orange, Vodafone, T-Mobile and Telfort

22 March 2005

International law firm Bird & Bird, has successfully represented Holland’s main mobile telecommunications providers in an important case which may lead to the wider use of “short codes” in telephone numbers. The case, which started two years ago at the request of Orange, Vodafone, Telfort and T-Mobile, reached a significant climax recently when the District Court in Rotterdam challenged a government policy on restricting the use of short codes.

“Short codes” tend to be used as 4 digit numbers to access telephone services such as voicemail. Over the past couple of years, they have become a subject of contention for telecommunications suppliers in Holland because their use has been heavily restricted by the Minister of Economic Affairs to a limited category of services. Orange, Vodafone, Telfort and T-Mobile have argued that restricting the use of these numbers to voice services prevents them from offering content based services, such as accessing ringtones.

Bird & Bird represented this group of telecommunications suppliers in the Communications Court in Rotterdam arguing that the Ministry’s justification for restricting the use of short codes based on the argument that they are preventing the scarcity of these codes because demand for these numbers is in higher proportion to their supply, is not a sufficient enough reason to justify restricting their use.

Gerrit Jan Zwenne, lawyer at Bird & Bird’s office in The Hague who led the case for the telecommunications providers, explains:

“We were able to convince the Court that the fundamental argument the Ministry has been using relating to scarcity is flawed. The Ministry presumed that the demand for shortcodes, given their limited amount and huge appeal, would exceed the supply by definition. To prevent this scarcity, the Ministry restricted the possible use of the numbers. We argued, and the Court followed that argument, that scarcity is not defined by the quantity and quality of the product in question, but by the difference between demand and supply and the price resulting therefrom.

“As a result of this action, the Ministry must now review its policy on short codes and has until the 8th of April to decide whether it will appeal this decision. If the use of short codes is broadened, then telecommunications providers will be able to provide their customers with a much wider range of services. I very much hope the Ministry takes seriously the Court's decision and will implement a system that is more logical and ultimately more beneficial to the consumer".

For more information on this case, please contact Gerrit-Jan Zwenne on +31 70 353 8803 or +31 6 2251 8337.
For more information on Bird & Bird please call Larry Cattle on +44 20 7415 6156.