Ofcom’s proposed work programme for 2017/18

29 November 2016

Ofcom has today published its proposed 2017/18 Annual Plan for consultation, outlining its areas of work for the next financial year.

Ofcom wants to make sure that people and businesses in the UK get the best from their communications services. We aim to do this by encouraging competition; securing standards and improving quality; and protecting consumers from harm. 

We have identified three areas of particular importance for people and businesses within our work programme for the coming year. These are:

  • implementing the conclusions of our Strategic Review of Digital Communications to deliver better broadband and phones services, and more choice for consumers and businesses;
  • successfully completing the integration of our new responsibilities for regulating the BBC; and
  • awarding the 2.3 GHz and 3.4 GHz spectrum bands, to increase the capacity of UK mobile networks.

Ofcom's proposed plan highlights all our major work areas in the financial year 2017/18, including:

Ensuring consumers benefit from competition

We will continue to implement the conclusions of our Strategic Review of Digital Communications, which seeks to ensure that the communications market serves the needs of everyone across the UK, over the next ten years and beyond.

To enable effective competition, we will reform the governance of Openreach – the network division of BT that owns the majority of the UK’s broadband network. This will ensure that Openreach acts more independently from BT Group, and takes decisions for the good of the wider telecoms industry, not just BT’s customers.

We are also looking to boost competition by making it easier for BT’s competitors to invest in their own advanced infrastructure by improving access to Openreach’s network of telegraph poles and its ‘ducts’ – the underground tunnels that carry telecoms cables. Alongside this, we will consider whether regulating BT’s wholesale prices is now appropriate to promote choice and availability.

Information on the availability, quality and price of communications services plays an important role in helping people navigate the market and choose the best deal for them. From next year, Ofcom will publish tables on communications providers’ quality of service, showing the best and worst performers on a range of measures, so that customers can shop around with confidence. We also plan to update our interactive maps to offer even better information on mobile and broadband coverage.

People also need to be able to switch easily between providers, in order to benefit from choice in the market. We will continue work to help people switch landline, broadband and pay TV services – either on their own or as a ‘bundle’.

Securing standards and improving quality

On 3 April 2017, Ofcom will take on regulation of the BBC. As part of our new responsibilities, we will implement a new approach to assessing the BBC’s performance, including the distinctiveness of the BBC’s output. We will also hold the BBC to its obligations for serving audiences in all four of the UK’s nations, and reflecting their diversity.

Phone and internet services must be accessible by everyone in the UK, including those in rural and remote areas. So we will work with the Government to deliver its plans for a new, universal right to request a decent, affordable broadband connection.

We will also seek to improve mobile coverage across the country, and consider coverage obligations in new licences for spectrum bands. Making good use of valuable new airwaves available will also help meet consumer demand for mobile broadband.

We will introduce a range of measures designed to ensure that all phone and broadband companies provide the quality of service that customers expect. Openreach, the division of BT that installs and repairs telecoms lines on behalf of providers, will be subject to tougher, minimum requirements to repair faults and install new lines more quickly. We will also require telecoms companies to provide automatic compensation to customers when their service falls short.

Protecting consumers from harm

Ofcom protects consumers from harmful practices or offensive content through its investigations and enforcement work.

We will continue to ensure audiences benefit from good standards on TV and radio by considering all complaints we receive against our rules, the Broadcasting Code, while making sure that on-demand services meet rules and guidelines designed to protect viewers and listeners. This year, for the first time, we will be responsible for investigating complaints around the BBC’s accuracy and impartiality.

Nuisance calls affect millions of UK phone users. We will continue our work with industry and partners such as the Information Commissioner's Office to reduce nuisance calls, which are particularly harmful for vulnerable people. We will further support industry’s work to block nuisance calls at network level, so they do not reach consumers.

We actively monitor the markets that we regulate, and enforce the rules that apply to all communications providers. We will continue to address harmful practices swiftly and firmly, which can involve fining companies when they break our rules.

Making communications work across the UK's nations and regions

Ofcom works on behalf of citizens and consumers across all the nations and regions of the UK. We do this by engaging with a diverse range of groups through our offices in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales; and by working closely with Ofcom’s four national Advisory Committees.

Further devolution to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will see changes to our Board over the coming year, with the devolved administrations in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast each appointing a new Ofcom Board member.

We will also consult with devolved governments on our strategic priorities, and provide evidence to Committees of the Scottish Parliament, the Northern Ireland Assembly and National Assembly for Wales.

Ensuring value for money

The Government set out plans in the November 2015 Spending Review to reduce the deficit in public finances. Further substantial savings are expected to be achieved by public sector bodies.

Ofcom will continue to play its part in meeting the challenge facing public finances, and is committed to achieving real-terms reductions over the Spending Review period. Ofcom has delivered 12 consecutive years of like-for-like real-terms budget reductions, and will continue to reduce spending wherever it can.

Our budget for 2017/18 is £120.5m, which includes capacity for our new responsibilities in regulating the BBC. Excluding the additional costs related to our new BBC responsibilities, this represents a 1.8% real-terms reduction from 2016/17.

Following the Government’s Autumn Statement, we will consider any changes necessary to our budget for 2017/18 and set this out in the final version of the Annual Plan.

Next steps

Ofcom is seeking views on its proposed Annual Plan 2017/18, with the consultation closing on 7 February 2017. The final Plan will be published in March 2017, and will take into account responses from stakeholders and on-going developments in the communications markets.

ENDS

CONTACT

Lizzi Regan
lizzi.regan@ofcom.org.uk
0300 123 1795