The TMA has launched a double-edged set of guidelines aimed at telecoms suppliers and their customers, which urges both to take more control of billing. The new proposal, "Billing for Business", is available via the Web at www.tma.org.uk. Its key suggestions are that customers must take control of billing and think of the bill as a product; communications between supplier and customer must improve so that the supplier knows what the customer needs; billing structures should be agreed at point of purchase; suppliers must offer different billing structures for different customers; and suppliers should not hide the true cost of a service through bad billing. Oftel has welcomed the initiative by the TMA. Vivienne Peters, director of consumer affairs at Oftel, said: "Billing can be incomprehensible in this multi-vendor environment; bills come into one department and get passed around the company, which takes time. It is often presented in a confusing way without any monitoring of which services are most important to a company and why." Nationwide Building Society's network support manager, John Spruce, said: "We need analysis of calls for capacity planning on central systems, modelling of call data to ensure appropriate tarrif selection, for example, pre-paid calls including rental, and analysis of total spend on PSTN and ISDN. This needs to be in a graphical presentation and online; to date our billing operation has not been nearly as efficient as it could be." Through its Billing for Business Web site, the TMA has invited all suppliers to post information on billing to enable customers to compare services. "It'll be a brave telco that doesn't participate in these guidelines," said Paul Fegan, communications manager at MFI and chairman of the TMA's billing group. "This is a step closer to true competition in the market." The site does not request that suppliers post tarrifying information, but this is not out of the question for further phases of the guidelines. The second phase, called the Analyzer, will be available at the end of the year and will enable customers to enter their billing requirements into a comprehensive form, and receive details of suppliers who can provide them.
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