New voice mail rule could save public NIS 100m.

Fixed line and mobile network providers currently charge a per minute rate for these calls even if a message is not left.

Telephone calls that end up in voice mail for which the caller hangs up before leaving a message no longer will be charged to consumers, Communications Minister Ariel Attias said Monday on the first day of Telecom Israel 2006 in Tel Aviv. "Our decision will come into effect in two months and customers will be able to decide whether they want to leave the voice mail box after it has answered the call without having to pay," Attias said. "We estimate that the Israeli public is paying in the region of NIS 100 million a year on incomplete calls." Fixed line and mobile network providers currently charge a per minute rate for these calls even if a message is not left. Such calls, lasting three seconds or less constitute around 11 percent of all telephone calls made in Israel, the Communications Ministry said. Attias also announced that the ministry has set up a public committee to make recommendations on regulatory policy for the telecommunications industry in Israel . The committee will be headed by Hebrew University professor Reuben Gronau and will present its findings in six months, Attias said. Among the issues it will look into are how Bezeq should be allowed to market packages of services once competitors take 15% of the market. Bezeq is currently barred from offering triple play services including telephone, Internet and television services in one package. "We have spoken at length about breaking the Bezeq monopoly but we never outlined what would happen after," he said. The committee also will tackle how to deal with cost structures for companies using competitors' networks, planning for convergence between voice, data, and content services, and will advise the government on the extent to which it should control pricing in the sector. Attias was less forthcoming about giving a time-line for when these and other reforms proposed by the ministry would be implemented. Most significantly, he declined to give an expected date for implementation of cell phone number portability, which would give consumers the ability to transfer service providers and keep their phone numbers. Number portability was delayed a second time after the telecommunications companies missed the September deadline to have their systems ready and the matter was forwarded to the High Court. Attias said that no progress has been made on setting another deadline.