Saturday, October 18, 2008

Ofcom´s outgoing chief´s valedictory speech: some highlights

David Currie, outgoing chief of the UK´s communications regulator, Ofcom, gave his valedictory speech.
The Guardian headline focuses on Currie´s assertion that Ofcom will likely have a wider regulatory remit, more especially over Internet content.
Haven´t we heard such talk for years vis-a-vis regulation of the Internet? By posing such a question, I am not saying by implication that such extension of its remit is necessarily the best way to go about things.
The question for me is, have we really reached the end of this "period of forbearance" and whether we are really at a point where we know what kind of regulation is indeed needed....

Some "non-Internet excerpts" below from said speech, that I found of interest:

"I personally dislike the term “light touch regulation”. Either it arrogantly assumes that the regulator knows everything that is going on in the market and can apply just the right, discerning, touch on the tiller to maximise wellbeing. No regulator is that omniscient. Or “light touch” means a palsied unwillingness to act, captive to the producer interest, when real detriment to the consumer is occurring.

Ofcom’s approach has three elements. First, a bias against intervention: a well-functioning market is the best safeguard of the consumer interest. Second, where intervention is necessary, a preference for the least intrusive form of intervention: for example, price publication rather than price controls, wholesale pricing rather than retail controls. But, thirdly, where intervention proves necessary being swift and decisive."

"Broadcast premium rate services probably affected more consumers, though the individual amounts involved were much lower. The pace from discovery to ‘cease and desist’ was swifter. Several broadcasters, who ought to have known better, came close to forfeiting wider public trust. Hefty fines were in order. They have learned that they too have a duty of care to individuals in the audience as consumer as well as to the mass audience as viewer.

For our part the two lessons learned were, first, that reliance on complaints-driven investigation and enforcement is not foolproof. If consumers do not know that they have been diddled they do not know to complain. We now have proactive audit controls in place. Secondly, that relationships with sister regulators must be on a very clear footing. Where the relationship is one where there are clear boundaries and handovers of regulatory power and responsibility, then a self-regulatory or co-regulatory relationship is possible, as we have with the ASA over broadcast advertising. Where the boundaries are ambiguous and the need for speed vital, a tauter ‘agency’ relationship, such as we now have with Phone Pay Plus, is appropriate."


"And as Ed Richards said two years ago in his first major speech as Chief Executive, the time has come to think again about the universal service obligation in a converged broadband world and to think radically. But it must be governments at a European (sic) that decide."

"Take-up of broadband is approaching 60 per cent of households. So, as I have said, a reappraisal of the Universal Service Obligation is timely. Today, BT funds the USO and it applies only to narrowband.

The European Commission has just kicked off the debate on this issue which ultimately is a European level decision. Ofcom will need to work closely with Government on the right policies for the UK and to influence the debate across Europe.

The analysis – if not necessarily the policy prescriptions – should be wide-ranging and from first principles. To what should a new USO extend? To what standard? Is mobile an acceptable substitute for fixed? Who pays? How?"

Labels: , , , ,