In May 2009, Ofcom published a consultation (‘The May Consultation’) to ask stakeholders if the Topcomm Direction had achieved the objectives originally set when the regulation was introduced in January 2005.
The original objectives were that consumers should be provided with information that is relevant, accessible, accurate, comparable, transparent and provided in a timely manner.
In the May Consultation, we set out our view that, based on the evidence available the original objectives set out in January 2005 were not achieved by the Topcomm Direction. In addition, we pointed to evidence that suggested that the Topcomm Direction incurred significant costs on CPs (Communications Providers), caught by the Direction, which due to the lack of tangible benefits for consumers could not be justified.
Ofcom therefore presented three options for the future of the Topcomm scheme. These were:
All of the respondents agreed with Ofcom’s view that the Topcomm Direction had not achieved the original objectives and the majority of the responses, all CPs, agreed that it was, therefore, appropriate to withdraw the Topcomm Direction immediately.
However, some respondents, whilst recognising the weaknesses of the current Topcomm scheme, did not think it was appropriate to withdraw the Direction at this time. One stakeholder suggested that modifications could be introduced to the scheme to make it more effective. Other stakeholders suggested that the Topcomm Direction should be maintained until a new quality of service (‘QoS’) scheme was agreed and introduced.
Having considered all responses provided by stakeholders, Ofcom has concluded that option 3, the immediate withdrawal, is the most appropriate course of action.
We do not consider the introduction of modifications as appropriate at this time. We believe that it would be disproportionate to incur the significant cost (in terms of time, money and effort) of amending the scheme given that currently there still is uncertainty about the scale of the problem with respect to quality of customer service and the metrics that consumers value. Attempts at modifying the scheme would also take time and resources that cannot currently be justified. For example, the modification of the current metrics is likely to take a number of months to conclude. We consider that this time would be better spent understanding consumers’ genuine QoS information needs through our policy re-evaluation.
Efforts to raise awareness through a media campaign, whilst potentially being a sensible way of raising awareness, cannot be justified at this time. There is a risk that money and time would be invested in promoting a scheme that would be likely to change significantly following the conclusion of our policy re-valuation. Not only would money be wasted but the credibility of a future scheme would be undermined if a scheme was heavily promoted only to be changed again in the short to medium term.
Finally, we do not consider it proportionate to delay the withdrawal of the Topcomm Direction until a future scheme might be agreed. It may be some time before our QoS policy re-evaluation is complete and in the meantime, CPs would still need to incur the costs of running a scheme we consider does not to produce measurable benefits to consumers. It is entirely possible that the nature and membership of future schemes will not resemble the current Topcomm scheme so there is limited value in keeping the current arrangements intact.
This statement sets out our reasons for our conclusion to withdraw the Topcomm Direction in more detail and explains our next steps.