Ofcom has today announced an overarching review of the UK’s digital communications markets, to “ensure” that communications providers and services “continue” to meet the needs of consumers and businesses.

Ofcom’s Strategic Review of Digital Communications will examine competition, investment, innovation and the availability of products in the broadband, mobile and landline markets. By assessing these areas as a whole, Ofcom says it will consider wider questions complementary to those addressed by its regular, three-yearly reviews of individual telecoms markets.

Ofcom is reviewing the digital communications markets to make sure providers meet the needs of businesses © iStock/arunchristensen
Ofcom is reviewing the digital communications markets to make sure providers meet the needs of businesses © iStock/arunchristensen

In May last year, Ofcom said that 2015 would provide a timely opportunity to “take stock” of the effectiveness of the rules arising from the last major review, 10 years after they were introduced.

The new review will consider a range of issues in the sector. Ofcom anticipates that it will focus on three aspects in particular, including ensuring the right incentives for private-sector investment - which can help to deliver availability and quality of service – and maintaining strong competition and tackling obstacles or bottlenecks that might be holding the sector back. Thirdly, the regulator wants to identify whether there is scope for deregulation in some areas.

This review will be Ofcom’s second major assessment of the wider telecommunications sector. The first began in December 2003 and concluded in September 2005. It led to new rules which allowed competing providers to access BT’s network, on equal terms, in order to offer phone and broadband services to consumers.

The new Strategic Review of Digital Communications will consider the implications of current and future developments for regulation, including plans from major operators for significant network investment; telecoms services increasingly operating over the internet; and various potential mergers, acquisitions, joint ventures and partnerships in the sector.

Steve Unger, Ofcom acting chief executive, said: “We have seen huge changes in the phone and broadband markets since our last major review a decade ago. Only five years ago, hardly any of us had used a tablet computer, high-definition streaming or 4G mobile broadband.

“The boundaries between landline, mobile and broadband services continue to blur, and people are enjoying faster services on a growing range of devices.”

In response to the review, Antony Walker, deputy CEO of industry body techUK, said: “A supportive policy and regulatory environment is needed to encourage ongoing investment and innovation. That’s why we’re particularly pleased to see that Ofcom’s review will include ensuring the right incentives for investment.

“In our Manifesto we highlighted the importance of ensuring ubiquitous world class communications infrastructure for the UK to sustain growth and maintain its position as a world leading internet economy and developer of digital content.”

The first phase of the review will examine current and future market factors that may affect digital communications services, and current regulatory approaches. Ofcom intends to engage over the coming months with a wide range of stakeholders - including industry, consumer groups, the UK Government and devolved administrations - through meetings and workshops.

This phase of the review is expected to conclude with a discussion document in summer 2015. Ofcom then expects to conclude the review’s second phase by outlining initial conclusions around the end of the year.