Ofcom sets out work programme for 2018/19

4 Dec 2017 01:15 PM

Ofcom yesterday set out its planned programme of work for the next financial year.

Ofcom aims to make communications markets work for everyone. We do this by promoting competition; securing standards and improving quality; and protecting consumers from harm.

In our proposed Annual Plan for 2018/19, which is open for consultation, we have identified the following areas as particularly important for people and businesses within our work programme for the coming year. These are:

  • working with industry to support investment in ultrafast fibre networks;
  • actively monitoring and reporting on progress around the legal separation of Openreach from BT;
  • undertaking our first Annual Report on the BBC’s compliance with our requirements; and
  • preparing for future releases of airwaves to help increase the capacity of UK mobile networks.

The proposed plan highlights all our major work areas in the financial year 2018/19, including:

Promoting competition to benefit people and businesses

We will actively measure, monitor and report on progress related to the legal separation of Openreach from BT. In particular, we will assess how far Openreach is improving its network and delivering better quality of service.

We will also prepare for future awards of valuable airwaves by releasing spectrum bands as they are cleared and released to help meet consumer demand for mobile broadband.

Ofcom wants to see more investment in new fibre networks, which can provide faster, more reliable broadband and help support the UK’s future economy. We will continue to work with industry to support investment between different companies in full-fibre and 5G mobile infrastructure.

In broadcasting, we will conduct our first competition assessment of the BBC’s plans to launch a new digital television channel for audiences in Scotland.

Securing standards and improve quality

Ofcom became the first independent, external regulator of the BBC in April this year. We published our Operating Framework for the BBC at the end of March and in October published our first operating licence for the BBC, which sets performance requirements across the corporation’s services.

In the coming financial year, we will publish our first Annual Report on the BBC’s performance against these requirements. We will also carry out an in-depth review to understand how well different audiences are represented and portrayed on the BBC. The review will ask what viewers and listeners expect from the BBC, and whether it adequately reflects the lives of people across the whole of the UK.

We will review the quantity, range and quality of children’s programmes available to younger audiences, and consider the possibility of setting criteria for children’s content.

To further promote equality of opportunity in broadcasting, we will publish our first report measuring the diversity of the UK radio industry, and a second report on diversity in UK television. These will provide a comprehensive picture of how well broadcasters’ workforces reflect the wider UK population, and what steps major broadcasters are taking to improve diversity and inclusion.

As part of our work to improve mobile coverage across the country, we will ensure that operators meet their coverage obligations. These are designed to increase the availability of mobile networks, particularly in rural and remote areas. We will also consider new coverage requirements when we award new spectrum licences.

Protecting consumers from harm

We will continue to ensure good standards on TV and radio by considering all complaints we receive against our Broadcasting Code.

We enforce the rules that we place on communications providers, as well as general consumer law, to ensure that people are fairly treated, including the most vulnerable in society. We will continue to address harmful practices swiftly and firmly, which can involve fining companies when they break our rules.

As part of our consumer protection work, we will review the cost of calling directory enquiry services (118 numbers), so that prices are transparent and fair.

We will also ensure that networks operators comply with our guidance in building networks that are secure and resilient, so people and businesses can be confident that the networks and services they use will work.

Delivering our goals across the UK

Ofcom regulates for the whole UK, working with national and local stakeholders from our offices in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and working closely with Ofcom’s four National Advisory Committees.

Further devolution to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland over the past year and half has resulted in changes to Ofcom’s governance. The administrations in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast are now each responsible for appointing a new Ofcom Board member in consultation with the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. We expect the Scotland member to be appointed shortly, with the others to follow in due course.

We will also be implementing a new Memorandum of Understanding with the Scottish and UK Governments and Scottish Parliament. This sets out a clear process for how we plan to work together. Similar memoranda are expected to be agreed with the administrations in Wales and Northern Ireland, with implementation through 2018/19 and beyond.

As the UK continues the process of leaving the European Union, we will continue to engage with European institutions, other EU regulators and UK Government to ensure proposed changes to regulations under the Electronic Communications Framework and Audiovisual Media Services Directive meet UK consumers’ needs. We are also providing advice to the UK Government on the potential impacts on markets and sectors we regulate and how to ensure continued effective regulation throughout the Brexit process.

Ensuring value for money

Following the passage of the Digital Economy Act in April 2017, Ofcom is now funded entirely through industry fees and charges, and takes no grant-in-aid from Government. This helps to underline our independence.

Ofcom is focused on delivering continued value for money. In recent years we have delivered like-for-like, real-terms budget reductions, and we will continue to identify further efficiencies in 2018/19 where possible.

Our provisional budget for 2018/19 is £121.2m, which includes capacity for our responsibilities regulating the BBC.

Next steps

Ofcom is seeking views on its proposed Annual Plan 2018/19 by 9 February 2018. As part of the consultation process, we will be holding events in London, Belfast, Edinburgh and Cardiff to hear directly from stakeholders.

We will take into account responses to our consultation and developments in the communications markets, before publishing our final plan in March 2018.