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Policy Update Dec 2018 / Jan 2019

Ofcom Annual Plan

Ofcom has published its draft annual plan for consultation, for the next financial year. Responses to the consultation close on 8th February and the final plan will be published in March. The plan outlines Ofcom’s priority areas for 2019/20, including:

  • Supporting long-term Fibre Investment with a statement on market for physical infrastructure in summer 2019, “with the view to introducing an unrestricted duct and pole access remedy.”
  • Preparing to award 700 MHz and 3.6-3.8GHz spectrum bands to improve quality of mobile services, a statement will be published in the autumn, with applications expected to begin in December 2019.
  • Preparing for 5G, including understanding the implications of implementing network slicing under net neutrality regulations, exploring using 5G technologies to provide fixed wireless services and engaging with consumers and businesses on the benefits of 5G services.
  • Implementing the Network and Information Systems (NIS) Regulations to build cyber security capacity, and launching the TBEST scheme in early-2019. Ofcom will also be launching a security compliance assessment framework in early 2019.

Regarding their ongoing work Ofcom will be continuing to focus on:

  • Ensuring customers have the right data on availability, speeds and own usage of communications services. In place of the annual written Communications Market Report, Ofcom will instead publish an interactive data portal containing datasets from across fixed and mobile telephony, internet take-up and consumption. This will be kept updated.
  • Maximising efficient use of spectrum by opening up spectrum access to new players and businesses where spectrum is not being used, “through increased sharing where appropriate”. This will initially focus on opening up access to additional users in the 3.8-4.2GHz, 2.3GHz and 1800MHz guard band, as well as Third Party Access to Mobile Spectrum.
  • Continuing to work with providers on IP migration “with the aim of protecting consumers from harm and minimising disruption”.
  • Publishing a report on Openreach reform in 2020/21 assessing the effectiveness of action around consumer benefit, competition and investment in new networks.

Ofcom proposes designation of BT and KCOM as Universal Service Providers

Ofcom has proposed BT and KCOM to deliver the Universal Service Obligation in the UK and launched a consultation on the rules that should apply to them in delivering this service. This consultation is open until 13th February and will be responded to by the summer. It is estimated that there are currently 860,000 premises that fulfil the USO criteria, with a higher proportion in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

Ofcom is proposing the following conditions for Universal Service Providers (USPs):

  • USPs will have 30 days to determine whether a consumer is eligible on the criteria set out in the USO – including download speeds of less than 10Mbps and upload speeds of 1Mbps. The premise must also not be included in any upcoming public rollout schemes in the next 12 months, and costs for the connection must not exceed £3,400.
  • USPs have 12 months to deliver the connection, “unless there are exceptional circumstances” to disrupt this.
  • USO customers should receive the same quality of service and pay the same price as other customers, not exceeding £45/month.

DCMS officials and Openreach questioned by Lords Committee on rural Broadband

Senior civil servants heading up Digital Infrastructure in DCMS – James Heath, and Henry Shennan, appeared in front of the Lords Rural Economy Committee alongside Kim Mears of Openreach and Professor Claire Wallace, Chair in Sociology, University of Aberdeen. The panellists were pushed hard by the Committee on the significant connectivity gap between rural and urban communities.

Heath and Shennan agreed that “rural communities do not at the moment have the connectivity that we aspire for them to have”, and that historically rural communities had lost out. Whilst noting the economic reasons for this, both stated that this needed to become more central to Government policy interventions, which was the intention with the FTIR. Kim Mears of Openreach discussed their commitment to rural broadband, but highlighted that there are issues specific to this “final 2%” where FTTC is “not fit for purpose” and FTTP would need to be used in these areas.

Regarding take-up, James Health highlighted that “you only get the economic and social benefits from broadband if people use it, so driving take‑up is clearly important.” He further stated that BDUK is looking at how it can potentially support localised demand‑stimulation schemes, potentially with some public resources. On take-up of the Superfast Broadband Scheme, Committee Chair, Lord Foster, described the 51-60% take-up rates and acceleration as “pretty appalling”.

Finally, the Committee asked witnesses whether there was a central point of information for consumers about what networks were building or planning to build in their areas to make options clearer to them. James Heath did state that whilst this did not exist for consumers, the Business Connectivity Forum looked to provide greater information and address barriers to take-up.