UK telecoms regulator Ofcom has announced an overarching examination of the UK’s digital communications markets, with its ‘Strategic Review of Digital Communications’ set to consider competition, investment, innovation and the availability of products in the broadband, mobile and fixed line markets. By assessing these areas as a whole, Ofcom said it will ‘consider wider questions complementary to those addressed by its regular, three-yearly reviews of individual telecoms markets’.
While the review will examine a number of issues in the British telecoms sectors, Ofcom has said it anticipates that it will focus on three aspects in particular, those being: ensuring the right incentives for private-sector investment, which can help to deliver availability and quality of service; maintaining strong competition and tackling obstacles or bottlenecks that might be holding the sector back; and identifying whether there is scope for deregulation in some areas.
Ofcom’s last major review of the markets was conducted between December 2003 and September 2005, and led to new rules which allowed competing providers to access fixed line incumbent BT’s network, on equal terms, in order to offer phone and broadband services to consumers. This latest Strategic Review of Digital Communications will consider the implications of current and future developments for regulation, including: plans from major operators for significant network investment; telecoms services increasingly operating over the internet; and various potential mergers, acquisitions, joint ventures and partnerships in the sector.
In the first phase of the review Ofcom will reportedly examine ‘current and future market factors that may affect digital communications services, and current regulatory approaches’. To inform this work, the regulator has said it will look to engage with a wide range of stakeholders in the coming months through meetings and workshops. With this phase expected to conclude with a discussion document in summer 2015, the watchdog will then look to conclude the review’s second phase by outlining initial conclusions around the end of this year.
Commenting on the matter, Ofcom’s acting chief executive Steve Unger noted: ‘We have seen huge changes in the phone and broadband markets since our last major review a decade ago. Only five years ago, hardly any of us had used a tablet computer, high-definition streaming or 4G mobile broadband … Our new review will mean Ofcom’s rules continue to meet the needs of consumers and businesses by supporting competition and investment for years to come.’