Ofcom information on the coronavirus (Covid-19)

24 March 2020

This is an unprecedented time for our country, and keeping communications going across the UK has never been more important. Over the next few months Ofcom’s sectors will play a vital role in supporting families, businesses and individuals as we all adapt the way we live, work and communicate in the wake of the coronavirus.

Over the past few weeks the industries we regulate have been coming together to support the British public and the economy, and to keep the nation connected. Telecoms providers are working to ensure resilience across landline, broadband and mobile services as the demands on networks increase, as well as prioritising access to safety-of-life communications systems. Some telecoms providers have also taken specific steps to support their customers, such as providing unlimited calls or increased data allowances. Broadcasters have been adapting their schedules to maintain high-quality content to entertain and inform the public, and to ensure accurate and high-quality news. Postal providers are working hard to ensure continued delivery, particular to vulnerable customers.

Ofcom welcomes these efforts. With our colleagues in Government we have been supporting them actively and will continue to do so in the coming weeks. We also recognise that they take place against a backdrop of significant operational and financial challenges for our industries, as a result of the coronavirus.

Many people employed in our sectors have been designated as key workers – including telecoms engineers, broadcasters and journalists, and postal workers. We extend our thanks and support to them as they work to keep the nation’s communications going.

Keeping vital networks resilient

As a large proportion of the population works from home and schools have closed, industry has been working closely with us and Government to ensure that the networks remain resilient and continue to operate effectively.

Telecoms providers are working together to monitor traffic on their networks and are keeping us informed of the measures they are taking to manage congestion effectively. We welcome the measures taken by content providers and streaming services to adapt their services where possible, so that loads on networks are spread across the day and peaks in traffic are reduced. We will continue to work closely with the Government and industry to help support network resilience in the coming weeks.

The reliability of 999 and 111 calls is a critical priority. Under Ofcom’s existing rules, phone companies must ensure that emergency calls can be connected at all times, even in challenging circumstances. We are in contact with those responsible for connecting 999 and 111 calls and have received detailed assurances on the capacity and resilience of both services.

Our approach to regulation through this period

The priority for our sectors through the coming months is to maintain support for consumers and businesses. We recognise that our planned work programme will need to be adapted and rescheduled so that our stakeholders can focus their time and effort on business-critical matters. We are also ready to adapt our regulatory approach during this period.

Ofcom consulted on our proposed Plan of Work for 2020/21 in January. We will publish a revised version at the end of April that takes account of the coronavirus crisis and provide a revised timetable for our work. However, we can confirm in advance that:

  • With immediate effect, we are suspending all existing consultation deadlines and information requests and putting on hold new consultations, decisions and information requests.
  • We understand that the implementation of new obligations may need to be delayed. Specifically, we are discussing with Government the implementation deadlines of the European Electronic Communications Code.
  • At the same time, we need to ensure markets operate with integrity, and measures to ensure fairness for customers remain important. Accuracy in broadcasting is essential, and we will expedite any standards enforcement cases involving potentially harmful broadcast content relating to the coronavirus.

We will take a pragmatic approach to enforcement during this time. Compliance with regulatory obligations continues to be important. However, we recognise that the impact of the coronavirus means that it will not always be possible to meet these obligations. In such circumstances, industry should take decisions that support critical services, vulnerable people and those who are relying on communications services. We will support those decisions where they are in the interests of consumers and businesses.

Looking forward

The current situation has confirmed the vital role of our industries, and we are conscious that we need to be ready to support our sectors in being ready for the future as the country comes out of the crisis. Investment in fibre and 5G connections will remain of critical importance. Our review on promoting investment and competition in fibre networks and the 5G auction are important building blocks for this.

Ofcom’s planned contribution on the future of public service broadcasting also remains a priority for us, as does the regulation of video-sharing platforms which we will begin from Summer 2021. We will continue to support the Government as it develops an approach to the regulation of online harms.

Over the coming weeks we will continue to engage with our stakeholders, and with Government, so that we can understand the best way to take these areas of work forward, and to ensure that we remain abreast of any new issues.

Next steps

Ofcom will remain in close contact with our sectors over the coming weeks, so that we can respond quickly to any new developments.  For example, we have already written to all broadcasting licensees directly with more detailed advice, and we are working with industry and the Government to make sure telecoms customers stay connected, are supported if they are struggling financially and are protected from unexpectedly high bills.

Apart from our dedicated teams of engineers and technicians who play a vital role in keeping the airwaves safe and functioning, everyone at Ofcom is now working from home in line with Government advice. However, we remain open for business in the usual way. Please contact us by email, or get in touch with specific contacts by phone as appropriate.