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.

Our 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 is now open for consultation. We have identified the following areas as particularly important for the next financial year:

  • 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.

Protecting consumers from harmful pricing practices

We will continue our work to make sure consumers get clearer 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 mobile firms should be required 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 ends. We are also considering how else consumers could get better tariffs at the end of their minimum contract periods.

We will also look at 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 help achieve 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 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 options to improve mobile coverage, particularly in rural areas and indoors. As we prepare to auction new airwaves for mobile services, 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 benefit consumers.

To ensure communications networks are resilient and secure, we will implement requirements set out under the Networks and Information Systems regulations. These providers of critical national infrastructure – including digital networks – to protect services.

The Government is conducting pilot tests of how well communications providers’ systems stand up to cyber-attacks. Once these are completed, we will 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. This 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 it 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, as well as assessing 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

We will continue to adapt how we regulate, 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 work with industry to understand its priorities, and work to protect consumers’ interests.

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 consider responses to our consultation, and developments in the communications markets, before publishing our final plan in March 2019.