The Government’s White Paper " A New Future for Communications" set out its vision for the future of communications in the digital age, including the creation of a new unified regulator, Ofcom, to combine the functions of the Broadcasting Standards Commission, the Independent Television Commission, Oftel, the Radio Authority, and the Radiocommunications Agency. Ofcom is independent and will act at arm's length from the Government but work closely with the Department of Trade and Industry, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and other relevant departments, including on European and other international negotiations. Ofcom was established by the Office of Communications Act 2002 but was not given substantive powers or responsibilities. These will be conferred by the Communications Act 2003 at a later date expected to be in December 2003. The Communications Act, which was published in draft as the Communications Bill on 7 May 2002, received Royal Assent on 17 July 2003.
What does the Communications Act do?
- spectrum trading;
- a new system of recognised spectrum access (RSA);
- detailed refinements to spectrum auctions;
- improvements to enforcement, including powers of arrest for pirate radio, lower penalties and a new fixed penalty regime for less serious offences and improved procedures for seizure and forfeiture of restricted apparatus.
When will the Act come into effect?
Provisions of the Act that implement the directives commence on 25 July 2003 to meet the European deadline. Certain other provisions will commence in September but transfer of functions to Ofcom will not take place until a later date, anticipated to be in December 2003.
What difference will the Act make?
The Act will have little immediate impact on spectrum users. Spectrum management will continue to be carried on by the Radiocommunications Agency on behalf of the Secretary of State until functions are formally transferred to Ofcom around the end of the year.
Meanwhile, the immediate effect (from 25 July 2003) will be to make those changes necessary to implement the EC directives. These involve slightly different procedures for granting, varying and revoking licences and enforcement with enhanced rights of appeal. The Agency will also publish a Plan for Frequency Authorisation. Most customers will notice little difference in the short term.
In the longer run, the effects will be much more noticeable as functions are transferred to Ofcom and Ofcom decides how to implement spectrum trading and RSA. Both will require Ofcom to make regulations before they can be introduced and there will be full and detailed consultation before Ofcom proceeds. It is also expected for innovations of this importance that Ofcom will produce an impact assessment before proceeding as required by the Act.
Lord Currie was announced as the Ofcom Chairman in September 2002, and the Board was appointed in December 2002. By January 2003 Ofcom had announced its location at Riverside House and the arrival of its Chief Executive, Stephen Carter.
It is anticipated that Ofcom will launch in December 2003. For further information on the development of Ofcom, please visit the Ofcom transitional website at www.ofcom.org.uk.
For further explanatory and associated material, please see the following links and documents:
An electronic version of the Communications Act 2003 is now available from the HMSO website.
Text of draft Bill
Ofcom transitional website
Ofcom ready to launch in December 2003 (March 2003)
Oftel and Radiocommunications Agency speed up dispute resolution process (March 2003)
Appointment of Stephen Carter as Ofcom Chief Executive (January 2003)
For more Ofcom press releases, visit www.ofcom.org.uk/newsroom/news_releases/index.htm
Joint Committee on the draft
Proceedings of the Committee, evidence etc may be found at
RA has submitted evidence to the Committee on:
Any enquiries can be made by emailing the Ofcom Press office or by writing to:
Ofcom Press Office
Office of Communications
2A Southwark Bridge Road
London SE1 9HA
Switchboard Number: 020 7981 3000
Fax Number: 020 7981 3333