Ofcom has today published its proposed 2017/18 Annual Plan for consultation, outlining its areas of work for the next financial year.
Ofcom has identified three high-level, long-term goals:
Promote competition and ensure that markets work effectively for consumers
- Enabling competing operators to invest in super- and ultra-fast fixed-line networks. Ofcom will open up and improve access to Openreach’s ducts and poles and apply appropriate price controls to BT’s regulated access network products, to create the opportunity for all operators to deploy their own fibre networks.
- Promoting competition in fixed-line services, by strengthening Openreach’s strategic and operational independence from BT. Ofcom will implement reforms to Openreach’s governance to make it more independent, reducing the risk of discrimination in investment decisions, encouraging new investments and improved relationships with all of its downstream customers.
- Publishing better, more granular information for people and businesses on the availability, speed, quality of service, and pricing of communications services. Ofcom will also improve people’s ability to engage with the market and switch providers by making changes to triple-play switching where required.
- Ensuring fair and effective competition to deliver a wide range of high quality and varied content for broadcasting audiences, including assessing whether the potential public value of new services (or significant changes to existing services) proposed by the BBC justifies any potential effect on competition. This is in addition to Ofcom's work on public service broadcasting performance and diversity.
Secure standards and improve quality
- Improving the coverage of fixed and mobile communications services to meet the needs of people and businesses across the UK, including in rural and remote areas where commercial approaches have often failed to deliver on expectations. Ofcom will implement any UK Government decision on a broadband Universal Service Obligation (USO) to improve the availability of decent broadband services to people and businesses across the UK. Ofcom will also seek to support wider mobile coverage by assessing and implementing new regulatory approaches. These may include mobile licence conditions and coverage obligations in new licences for the 700 MHz spectrum band, and policy on mobile repeaters.
- Improving quality of service in fixed and mobile telecommunications services for consumers and businesses - achieving a step change in Openreach’s quality of service by rigorously applying and enforcing new minimum service levels and targets. Ofcom will also ensure that consumers and micro-businesses receive automatic compensation when things go wrong.
- Increasing the capacity of mobile networks by ensuring sufficient spectrum is available for operators to provide mobile broadband services to people and businesses. Ofcom will award the 2.3GHz and 3.4GHz spectrum bands released by Government.
- Securing quality in Public Service Broadcasting (PSB), by: a) implementing a new approach to performance assessment of the BBC, holding the BBC to account for delivery to its audiences including the distinctiveness of its output and services; and b) assessing Channel 4 Corporation’s performance in delivering its media content duties through the annual Statement of Media Content Policy process. This is in addition to Ofcom's work relating to competition in broadcasting.
- Ensuring broadcasting represents and accurately portrays UK society, by ensuring that the BBC’s output reflects, represents and serves the diverse communities of the UK’s nations and regions, and by monitoring and reporting on diversity and equality of opportunity across the Public Service Broadcasters.
Protect consumers from harm
- Protecting audiences from harmful content in TV, radio and on-demand services. Ofcom will ensure that content meets the relevant standards, whilst considering audience complaints under the Broadcasting Code and other applicable codes and guidelines. Ofcom will embed our new duties for considering BBC complaints into our on-going programme of work for editorial standards. This year for the first time Ofcom will be responsible for investigating complaints around the BBC’s accuracy and impartiality.
- Improving outcomes for landline only customers by considering appropriate responses to concerns on competition, choice and price in the retail landline-only market. Ofcom's aim is to ensure these customers (many of whom are vulnerable consumers) benefit from choice and value for money.
- Addressing nuisance calls by working with UK communications providers to monitor and block problematic call traffic, and with international partners on enforcement and caller line identification. Ofcom will also work closely with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and other bodies to reduce nuisance calls, which are particularly harmful for vulnerable consumers.
Ofcom also highlighted three areas of particular importance for people and businesses within the 2016-17 work programme and will ensure the following areas are adequately prioritised in the coming year:
- implementing the conclusions from Ofcom's Digital Communications Review, including strengthening Openreach’s strategic and operational independence from BT;
- successfully completing the integration of our new responsibilities for regulating the BBC. This includes issuing and enforcing new regulatory frameworks holding the BBC to account on delivering its Mission and Public Purposes, its impact on fair and effective competition, and its application of content standards; and
- awarding further mobile spectrum (the 2.3GHz and 3.4GHz spectrum bands) to help meet the growing demand for mobile services and capacity.
Ofcom's proposed plan highlights its major work areas in the financial year 2017/18. The deadline for input is 7 February 2017 and the final Plan will be published in March 2017, taking into account responses from stakeholders and on-going developments in the communications markets.
This topic will be discussed at the upcoming techUK Communications Policy Council meeting. Get in touch with Skye MacLeod if you'd like to know more about the work of the Council.