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Ofcom announces once-in-a-decade digital comms review

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Ofcom has announced an overall strategic review of digital communications in the UK to assess competition, investment, innovation and product availability within the broadband, mobile and landline markets. The regulator said the aim is to determine how well the rules set after the last major review a decade ago have worked.

Each of the three market segments is reviewed separately every three years, and Ofcom said this assessment will be an opportunity to consider them on a wider scale. The organisation has outlined three specific areas to examine: ensuring there are incentives in place to drive private-sector investment, maintaining strong competition, including getting rid of any bottlenecks stopping industry development, and identifying areas where there could be deregulation.

On the regulation side of things, the review will apparently look at the possible future implications of operator investment, telecoms services increasing operation over the internet, and potential mergers and acquisitions, as well as joint-ventures and partnerships.

This review will only be the second of its kind, following the first which started in December 2003 and ended almost two years later in September 2005. “We have seen huge changes in the phone and broadband markets since our last major review a decade ago,” Steve Unger, Ofcom Acting Chief Executive, said. “Only five years ago, hardly any of us had used a tablet computer, high-definition streaming or 4G mobile broadband.

“The boundaries between landline, mobile and broadband services continue to blur, and people are enjoying faster services on a growing range of devices. 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.”

Ofcom claimed over the last 10 years consumers have seen many improvements in the industry, including average broadband speeds increasing by more than 20-fold, price reductions of about 50% and the average mobile bundle cost halving from £32 to £16.

The regulator said as part of the review it will engage with representatives of the industry, the government and ‘devolved administrators’ through meetings and workshops. Antony Walker, deputy CEO of industry group techUK seemed delighted with the prospect of the review: “We welcome Ofcom’s announcement that it is to conduct an overarching review of the UK’s digital communications markets,” he said.

The UK has a world class communications network, which is vital to supporting the growth of our digital economy. To maintain our leadership position, a supportive policy and regulatory environment is needed to encourage ongoing investment and innovation. That’s why we’re particularly pleased to see that Ofcom’s review will include ensuring the right incentives for investment…We’re delighted this has been recognised by Ofcom and we look forward to engaging with the review.”

Ofcom said it expects the first phase of the review to be complete sometime in the summer, with a view to finalising the second phase by the end of the year. It said it intends to be able to provide initial results of the assessment upon the completion of the second phase.

Telecoms.com’s news coverage is sponsored by NEC.

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