Ofcom confirms priorities for 2017/18

30 March 2017

Ofcom has today published its 2017/18 Annual Plan, outlining its priorities for the next financial year.

Ofcom wants to make communications work for everyone. We have three main goals to achieve this; to promote competition; to secure standards and improve quality; and to protect consumers from harm.

Major work in our 2017-18 work programme includes:

  • continuing to implement the conclusions from our Strategic Review of Digital Communications;
  • successfully integrating our new responsibilities for regulating the BBC, and
  • awarding further mobile spectrum (2.3GHz and 3.4GHz bands) to help meet the growing demand for mobile services.

Ofcom’s Annual Plan follows consultation with a wide range of stakeholders and consumers.

Promoting competition

To enable competition, we are overseeing changes to the governance of Openreach – the division which runs the majority of the UK’s broadband network – to make it a more independent and legally separate part of the BT Group. This will ensure Openreach makes decisions for the good of all consumers, not just BT’s customers.

We will also make it easier for BT’s competitors to invest in their own infrastructure by improving access to Openreach’s network of telegraph poles and ‘ducts’ – the underground tunnels that carry telecoms cables.

Ofcom wants to ensure that consumers are aware of the choices available to them. Information on the availability, quality, and price of communications plays an important role in helping people make decisions.

In the coming weeks, we will publish information on communication providers’ quality of service, showing how they perform against different metrics, so that people can shop around for the best deal for their needs. We will also improve people’s ability to engage with the market and switch providers.

Securing standards and improving quality

Ofcom becomes the first independent, external regulator of the BBC on 3 April 2017. As part of our new responsibilities, we will introduce a new approach to assessing the BBC’s performance, including the distinctiveness of its programmes and services.

We will also ensure the BBC serves its audiences in all four of the UK’s Nations, reflecting their diversity and that of communities up and down the country.

Everyone in the UK should be able to access phone and internet services, including those living and working in rural and remote areas. We will continue to work with the Government to deliver its plans for a new, universal right to decent, affordable broadband.

We also intend to increase the capacity of mobile networks by making available valuable new airwaves. This can improve mobile coverage, and help meet the growing demand for mobile broadband.

We will implement a range of measures to ensure that all phone and broadband companies provide the quality of service customers expect. We will require phone and broadband companies to compensate customers automatically, if their service standards are not met. We will also set more demanding quality targets for Openreach.

Protecting consumers from harm

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

We closely monitor the markets we regulate, and will continue to address harmful practices swiftly and firmly, which can involve fining companies if they break our rules.

In our review of the landline-only market, we explained our concerns that landline-only customers are not benefitting from competitive prices. We will ensure that these consumers, who are often elderly, get value for money from their landline phone when we implement the conclusions of this review.

We will continue to reduce nuisance calls by working with industry and partners, such as the Information Commissioner’s Office, to block these calls at a network level, so they do not reach consumers.

We will continue to protect audiences from harmful material on TV and radio, by assessing all complaints we receive under our broadcasting rules. We will also ensure that the on-demand services we regulate meet the rules designed to protect viewers.

This year, we will also be responsible for investigating complaints around the BBC’s due accuracy and due impartiality for the first time.

Our work in the UK’s nations and regions

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

We will make 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 have consulted with devolved governments on our priorities, and have provided evidence to Committees of the Scottish Parliament, the Northern Ireland Assembly and National Assembly for Wales.

Maintaining value for money

The Government has confirmed its ongoing commitment to reduce the deficit in public finances and we will play our part in meeting this challenge.

Ofcom has delivered 12 consecutive years of like-for-like real-terms budget reductions, and we will continue to reduce spending wherever we can.

Our 2017/18 Annual Plan reflects our commitment to provide value for money and our budget, set at £121.7m, includes capacity for our new responsibilities regulating the BBC.

Excluding the £6.2m additional costs related to our new BBC responsibilities and costs relating to our London headquarters in order to make long-term savings, this represents a 1.8% real-terms reduction from 2016/17.