By March 1996, the London Bisexual Phoneline needed some money. The diverter box we used had failed and it wasn't cheap to repair or replace.

One way or another, probably through some of us also being members of the Health Education Authority's bisexual advisory group, we arranged that they would give us a second bit of funding.[1]The first had been for the first run of the second version of the HEA's awful 'hands' ad, which paid to temporarily expand the days it ran from two to six.

Because of some budgeting rules within the HEA, this time they could not give it to us for what we actually needed it for, running costs. It had to be capital costs, i.e. buying something you could kick.

Well, if that's what they needed, that's what we would tell them. While I am certain that Clive knew exactly what was actually happening, either from us telling him verbally or him going 'If you want to spend it on A, you have to tell me B so I can pay', this is what he was told via a fax…


ATTN: Clive Stevens[2]Then head of the HEA's HIV work.
Health Education Authority

Dear Clive,

Following our conversation regarding capital funding, here are the figures you requested.

In order to resume operation following the failure of the current call diverter, we have spent £111.62 on repairing it.

On being advised that overheating was the probable cause of the failure, we have spent £43.85 on a timing system which means that the diverter box is only switched on — and generating heat — during the evening, plus the necessary extension cables.[3]This level of detail makes me think these two sums were actually spent, as said at the end of the fax.

The failure highlighted the problems with our current answerphone, which answers calls when someone is not on duty. It is sited in a private flat to which we do not have regular access. Consequently, the ability to alter the outgoing message and gather statistics remotely is important.

However, following Broadcasting Support Service's[4]BSS was a charity set up in 1981 that, amongst other things, the BBC used for assorted information distribution purposes, hence the name. As well as printing booklets and running helplines … Continue reading advice following their experience with malicious callers 'hacking' answerphones on their helplines to alter the outgoing message to something rude, misleading or obscene, we are faced with the choice of either disabling remote access or buying a machine with a four-digit access code. (BSS had, as we do, machines with two-digit codes. The extra digits mean that the number of possible codes is increased by a factor of 100 to 10,000. This is felt by BSS to be sufficiently secure.)[5]This is way before inclusive 'free' phone call minutes – i.e. ones you pay for whether you use them or not – became a thing in the UK, so as well as the time involved, someone wanting to … Continue reading

The total cost of the 'four-digit' machine we have in mind is £130.[6]I'm pretty sure we didn't get one of these. Amongst other things, until later developments, I can't remember us ever changing the message. It may also have been set up not to record messages – … Continue reading

Finally, there is the issue of replacing the current diverter. There would appear to be three options: buying a new or spare box, switching to use BT's Remote Call Forwarding service, or buying a voice conferencing system with the ability to forward calls.

Buying a spare: We have a quote of £575.75 from CallSaver for another TRANScall 800 model box. It is not yet clear as to delivery time. In any case, given that the box was designed in 1986/87, is no longer in production, the makers are no longer in business and that repairs and replacement parts are increasingly difficult to obtain, this is not felt to be an optimum solution.

BT Remote Call Forwarding: This would provide a improved service for callers, as the delays with the TRANScall would be removed, and would enable us to operate using one less phone line (we currently need two). Availability of this service is also within 48 hours of requesting it.[7]This is the then very new service we did use and at some point I think BT changed the name – later paperwork calls it 'Smart Divert'. However, there would be a net increase in our running costs as the service is currently quite expensive. Worse, volunteers would lose the ability to determine whether incoming calls were from the phoneline or, for example, friends, relatives and employers to whom our welcoming line of 'Hello, Bisexual Helpline, can I help you?' might be inappropriate.[8]This didn't turn out to be a problem.

To get around this, we have a quote of £575.85 to provide each of our volunteers with Caller ID display boxes,[9]I don't doubt that the quote was real, but wow, that's expensive! which show the number of the caller before the handset of the phone is picked up. The boxes are available immediately. However, this is not perfect since the caller ID information for phoneline calls is that of the caller and not the number from which they have been forwarded. In other words, the volunteer could only use it to recognise the displayed number as being that of family or friends, not phoneline calls. It clearly also raises issues around caller confidentiality.[10]When being able to discover numbers that had called, including afterwards via 1471, became possible it was a Helpline rule that you simply didn't do this. Today, mobiles and some landlines display it … Continue reading

Voice conferencing system: These are available as expansion cards for PCs and provide a number of facilities. Most usefully to us, they can carry out the function of the current TRANScall box, forwarding incoming calls to an outgoing line. They can also be made to give a message to the volunteer receiving the call that it is a diverted call before connecting them to the caller, instead of having to listen for a faint click, as currently happens. There is also the future possibility of replacing the answerphone, depending on capacity.

The cost of this option has fallen dramatically over the past couple of years, particularly as we can find a spare PC from our volunteers.[11]Me! There were several at my flat. It is also likely to be more reliable than the TRANScall, and the PC will provide the cooling the TRANScall lacks. We have a quote of £750 for delivery within seven days.

There are some problems, such as the increased size due to having to accommodate a PC which is larger than the TRANScall, but these are believed to be minor compared to the advantages.[12]I'm not sure the person who's flat was then in use would have agreed, simply because of the noise issues, or that it would have actually worked for long periods unattended.

Having considered the options, we wish to go with the third.

This would make the total cost

Repairs111.62
Timer etc43.85
Answerphone130.00
Voice conf card750.00
Total:£1,035.47

of which £155.47 has already been spent.

I hope this meets with your approval. I am available on 0181-866 [xxxx] if you need to discuss matters further and can post the receipts and quotes to you on request.

Sincerely,

[One of the phoneline volunteers]


There was either a small bit of negotiation to get the amount under a thousand pounds or it had been arranged with Clive that this would happen to please someone or other: the cost of repairing the TRANScall became a contribution of £75, making the total £998.85.

Payment must have been quick – perhaps because of being under £1,000 – because a second fax was sent the next day to 'confirm' for Clive's records that it had indeed been spent on those capital costs, honestly.


Notes

Notes
1The first had been for the first run of the second version of the HEA's awful 'hands' ad, which paid to temporarily expand the days it ran from two to six.
2Then head of the HEA's HIV work.
3This level of detail makes me think these two sums were actually spent, as said at the end of the fax.
4BSS was a charity set up in 1981 that, amongst other things, the BBC used for assorted information distribution purposes, hence the name. As well as printing booklets and running helplines themselves, they also gave advice to other helplines.
5This is way before inclusive 'free' phone call minutes – i.e. ones you pay for whether you use them or not – became a thing in the UK, so as well as the time involved, someone wanting to hack a four digit answerphone would have had to pay for an average of 5,000 phone calls before succeeding.
6I'm pretty sure we didn't get one of these. Amongst other things, until later developments, I can't remember us ever changing the message. It may also have been set up not to record messages – I certainly didn't hear any and can't remember anyone ever saying it was possible.
7This is the then very new service we did use and at some point I think BT changed the name – later paperwork calls it 'Smart Divert'.
8This didn't turn out to be a problem.
9I don't doubt that the quote was real, but wow, that's expensive!
10When being able to discover numbers that had called, including afterwards via 1471, became possible it was a Helpline rule that you simply didn't do this. Today, mobiles and some landlines display it before you pick up, unless the caller deliberately withholds it.
11Me! There were several at my flat.
12I'm not sure the person who's flat was then in use would have agreed, simply because of the noise issues, or that it would have actually worked for long periods unattended.

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