Ofcom’s objective is to make the communications sector a fair playing ground for everyone involved.

It aims to enhance the quality of services that consumers receive and promote healthy competition among communication providers.

To achieve this, the chief regulator of UK’s communication industry has instituted some changes that began in 2017.

The future of BT and Openreach is one of the issues that telecommunication players have been waiting for some time. Both businesses and consumers will feel the impact of some of the actions Ofcom has laid out in its proposed 2018/19 annual plan.

Regulating the BBC

One of the key areas that Ofcom identified when developing its work plan is the release of the first annual report on the compliance of the BBC.

In April 2017, Ofcom took on the mandate of the external regulator to the corporation. The need for an independent body to oversee the BBC stemmed from complaints that the broadcaster wasn’t upholding the standards of impartiality and accuracy.

To improve the conduct of the corporation, Ofcom drew up an operating framework that the BBC is supposed to use as a guide. An extension of the performance requirements was outlined in the first operating licence that was published in October 2017.

Ofcom’s 2018 reports will include the performance of the BBC with respect to the set regulations. The regulator’s goal is to ensure that there are equal opportunities in the broadcasting sector. For this reason, reports will be published on the diversity of the radio and TV industry in the UK.

Improving network coverage

The supervisory body is working to boost the mobile network coverage offered by providers in the UK. It will be reviewing the network coverage regulations put in place to ensure that all providers adhere to them.

The revised rules are meant to provide more opportunities for telecom companies to invest in remote and rural areas.

Ofcom also intends to design other rules when it grants new spectrum licences. Increased use of mobile network has led to the demand for more frequencies, which Ofcom plans to award in the coming year. 2.3 GHz and 3.4 GHz are the airwaves that the regulator will be awarding to communication providers once they have been cleared and released.

Ofcom will be working with industry players to help fuel the growth of fibre networks. The demand for faster and more reliable connections is higher with the increased use of internet-enabled devices.

A more comprehensive fibre network across different regions will go a long way in meeting these needs. The national communication regulator will support investments in 5G and full-fibre architecture.

Another move that will impact how consumers receive mobile coverage is the assessment of 118 numbers.

Ofcom has received complaints of high prices for directory enquiry services. Part of its work programme will be to evaluate how customers are charged for these services and how to ensure that pricing is fair and transparent.

Changes to Openreach

Even with everything planned for 2018, the most anticipated element of the 2018 work programme is the legal separation of BT and Openreach.

Ofcom has been facing mounting pressure for several years to remedy the situation between the two providers. Openreach provides infrastructure maintenance to most of the UK’s communication companies.

The conflict arises from the fact that BT Group owns Openreach. BT commands a big market share in the broadband market and owning Openreach is seen as unfair competition.

No evidence of misconduct or unfair practice has been revealed, but the arrangement has been frowned upon widely.

The argument is that having other companies source their services from Openreach when BT is their main rival puts them at a disadvantage.

Who’s to say that BT doesn’t get preferential treatment when it brings in a maintenance order? Ofcom finally took a step to address the criticism and has been negotiating with BT Group for over two years on the separation.

What will happen when Openreach is no longer part of BT is that it will carry on as an independent company with its own bottom-line, strategy, management and staff.

Ofcom has taken measures to ensure that as Openreach is sold off, there will be no disruption of service for the consumers or the industry as a whole.

Before making large-scale investments, Openreach will have to consult its customers such as Vodafone, Sky and TalkTalk.

The arrangement opens doors for other communication companies to invest in rural areas, which will increase network accessibility. Having Openreach work as a distinct company will allow it to improve mobile broadband network and the quality of service.

Ofcom believes that the communication industry in the UK can get better and provide consumers with a higher standard of service.

It is why the chief regulator is adjusting some of its regulations to cater to the ever-evolving needs of the modern consumer.

Although the 2018/19 annual plan is still up for consultation, some of the significant moves like the independence of Openreach and the BBC annual report are not expected to change.

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