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EDITIONS
Monday, 9 December, 2002, 09:34 GMT
Challenges ahead for media watchdog
Map of UK with cables superimposed
Rollout of broadband will be key job for Ofcom

There is growing unease over how effective super-regulator Ofcom will be as it gears up to begin its mammoth task of regulating the UK broadcasting, telecoms and internet industries.

Ofcom was set up to replace five existing regulators, including the Independent Television Commission, the Broadcasting Standards Commission and the telecoms watchdog Oftel.

It will begin its duties in earnest next autumn by which time the Communications Bill will have laid out the powers it will have.

Critics have pointed out its wide-ranging broadcasting remit, which includes representing the viewers and listeners, protecting them from harmful and offensive material and making sure there is a wide variety of services, will overshadow the telecoms and internet aspect of its work.

Universal broadband?

In this sector Ofcom will have responsibility for broadband rollout, ensuring fair access to networks and competition in the telecoms industry as well as the allocation of radio spectrum.

Some of Ofcom's jobs
Broadband rollout
Digital switchover
Content regulation on TV and radio
Fair access to networks
Sustaining public service broadcasting
Supporting competition
Spectrum pricing
At a debate in Parliament last week, Ofcom got a taste of the kind of demands that will be made on its time as MPs from every party offered advice.

Liberal Democrat MP Nick Harvey called on Ofcom to introduce a universal service obligation for broadband to ensure it reaches all parts of the UK.

Labour MP Derek Wyatt believes Ofcom should help come up with the funds to provide alternative broadband networks across the UK.

And Labour colleague Martin O'Neill advised Ofcom to keep a close rein on BT.

BT will dominate

The regulator has to accept that BT will have a monopoly,

Adam Daum, Gartner
Ofcom's predecessor in the telecoms world, Oftel, has come in for much criticism for being ineffectual and slow particularly in regard to regulating BT and ensuring competition in the internet market.

Its attempts to open up the telephone infrastructure - on which 40% of fast net services in the UK run - to rival operators was seen by many as a flop.

Adam Daum, an analyst with Gartner Group, said that any attempt by Ofcom to revive this process, known as unbundling of the local loop, is bound to fail.

"I think it is impossible to create competition at the wholesale level and the regulator has to accept that BT will have a monopoly," he said.

Already authors of a newly-published government report, Electronic Networks: Challenges for the Next Decade, have admitted that BT is likely to dominate the broadband network over the next 10 years.

It does however call on Ofcom to take a tough stance with BT, ensuring it does not abuse its market power and making sure there is a good level of competition in internet services.

Listening mode

Within the Communications Bill there is provision for companies to open up alternative networks, an idea that a government broadband policy advice group thinks is vital for the future of broadband.

Whether Ofcom will take advantage of this remains to be seen and chairman Lord Currie is remaining pretty tight-lipped for the time being.

"We are in listening mode at the moment and will not assume our full regulatory function until the Communications Bill becomes law," he said in a speech to the Westminster Media Forum last week.

He did say that he favoured 'light-handed' regulation and said that Ofcom would work collectively on the challenges ahead.

See also:

25 Nov 02 | Entertainment
25 Jul 02 | Entertainment
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25 Jul 02 | Entertainment
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