Ofcom sets out work programme for 2019/20

03 December 2018

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

Ofcom’s aim is to make communications markets work for everyone. We do this by promoting competition, securing standards and improving quality, and protecting consumers from harm.

Our proposed plan of work for 2019/20 , which is now open for consultation, has identified the following areas as particularly important for people and businesses for the next financial year.

Our priorities will be:

  • protecting consumers from harmful pricing practices;
  • moving towards universal availability of high-quality and secure communications networks;
  • maintaining high-quality broadcast content for UK audiences; and
  • developing our approach to regulation.

The proposed plan highlights all our major work areas in the financial year 2019/20, including:

Protecting consumers from harmful pricing practices

We will continue to progress our significant programme of work to ensure consumers get more transparent prices and access to better deals.

This will include prices for mobile customers who take out bundled airtime and handset contracts. We are consulting on whether there should be greater transparency, which would require mobile firms to break down the cost of different parts of a customer’s mobile package, and on the information which should be provided when the initial period expires. We are also considering how else we could make sure consumers get better tariffs at the end of their minimum contract periods.

We will also consider pricing practices in the fixed broadband market, which can result in some people paying higher prices – for example, when they pass their initial contract period.

Universal, high-quality, secure networks

We will work with governments and industry to make progress towards our ambition of achieving universal coverage of mobile and broadband services.

We will implement the UK Government’s legislation to ensure that everyone, wherever they live in the UK, can access decent broadband. This will involve designating one or more broadband ‘universal service providers’ and setting rules for how they must deliver the service.

We will continue to promote investment in the full-fibre broadband networks. This includes plans to introduce unrestricted access to Openreach’s ducts and poles, which can make it easier and cheaper for other companies to lay their own competing fibre networks to serve consumers and businesses.

We will explore a range of technology and policy options to improve mobile coverage, particularly in rural areas and indoors. As we prepare to auction new airwaves for mobile services (the 700 MHz and 3.6 - 3.8 GHz spectrum bands), we will develop proposals for new coverage rules. These would require some winning bidders in the auction to improve mobile coverage in rural areas. New 5G mobile services are also expected to launch during the next financial year; so we will support testing and early rollout of 5G by industry, to help maximise its benefit to consumers.

To ensure that communications networks are sufficiently resilient and secure, we will implement requirements set out under the Networks and Information Systems (NIS) regulations. These impose legal obligations on providers of critical national infrastructure – including digital networks – to protect UK-critical services.

The Government is conducting pilot tests of how well the systems of communications providers stand up to simulated, intelligence-led cyber-attacks. Once these are completed, we intend to launch our own testing scheme in early 2019.

Overseeing TV and radio for UK audiences

We will continue our work to maintain and strengthen public service broadcasting. That includes recommending how to make these programmes easy to find – especially in the face of challenges posed by global competitors, and the changing expectations and behaviour of audiences.

We will publish our second annual report as the BBC’s regulator on its performance. We will also review how the corporation is adapting to the changing news and current affairs environment to ensure it remains a trusted destination for audiences.

In particular, we will look at how the BBC provides a range of content and depth of analysis across TV, radio and online news, and assess the tools and techniques it uses to deliver impartiality.

More widely, we will continue to protect audiences by enforcing the strict standards set out in the Broadcasting Code, taking action against TV and radio broadcasters who break these rules.

Developing our approach to regulation

Ofcom will continue to adapt its regulatory approach in the coming months, recognising the continued growth of communications services online.

We will publish our first annual report outlining trends in the online sector, assessing how well people are served by online content and applications.

We will continue to participate in the debate around potential regulation of harmful online content, providing expert research and advising Government, as required, as it considers policy options in this area.

And we will seek to innovate and improve our own work to keep pace with new technologies. We will make increasing use of data analytics to support policy development, and seek new ways of making Ofcom’s data easier to use and accessible to everyone.

Political and legislative change

We will continue to provide advice to the UK Government to support its discussions on the detail of the UK’s future relationship with the EU, including any legislative changes needed.

As the UK leaves the EU, we will keep engaging with industry to understand its priorities, and work to ensure that consumers’ interests are protected.

Ensuring value for money

We remain committed to achieving value for money. In 2019/20 our provisional budget of £124.2m remains the same as last year and we will absorb the effects of inflation by delivering efficiency savings.

Next steps

We are seeking views on our Proposed Annual Plan by 8 February 2019. As part of the consultation process, we will hold public events in London, Belfast, Edinburgh and Cardiff in early 2019 to hear directly from industry and the general public.

We will take into account responses to our consultation, and developments in the communications markets, before publishing our final plan in March 2019.

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