Ofcom has today commenced a comprehensive strategic review of digital communications in the UK, with the aim of ensuring that the digital communications market continues to meet the needs of businesses and consumers. Crucially, the review will look at possible measures to incentivise investment in communications infrastructure and to promote effective competition.

To this end, Ofcom has set out its proposed terms of reference for the strategic review and identifies three overarching questions:

  • Efficient investment: How can incentives for efficient private sector investment and innovation be maintained and strengthened, to ensure widespread availability and high quality of service?
  • Competition: What should be the focus of competition policy in future networks (the ‘enduring economic bottlenecks’)?
  • Deregulation: What is the scope for deregulating networks and services downstream of any ‘enduring bottlenecks’?

It is 10 years since Ofcom carried out such a review and the market has undergone significant changes during this period. Stakeholders within the industry will no doubt urge Ofcom to consider the following (many of which are acknowledged by Ofcom in its publication):

  • The growth in broadband take-up and future requirements for high speed broadband services
  • The impact of OTT providers as alternative communications services to those provided by network operators
  • The impact of consolidation that has occurred at network operator level (as well as the potential impact of current proposed mergers, assuming they obtain regulatory clearance)
  • The impact on operators of charges regulation, such as mobile termination rates and roaming charges
  • The role of a competitive MVNO market
  • The growth in mobile data traffic driven by smartphones and the bandwidth demands of the digital business community
  • The on-going debate in relation to net neutrality and the ramifications of potential regulation in this area
  • The potential growth of fixed/mobile convergence and convergence between the media and telecoms segments (although Ofcom has indicated that it does not propose to review content services as part of this review)
  • The growth of M2M applications
  • The potential of future network technologies, such as VOLTE and 5G

This is an important review. It is vital that the UK regulatory regime provides an appropriate balance between the protection of consumers and the needs of the industry, so as to provide the appropriate incentives for network operators and communications providers to invest in innovative technology for the benefit of the digital community as a whole.

Ofcom will carry out the review in two phases: an initial research phase followed by the development of an implementation plan. It expects to conclude phase 1 in the summer and phase 2 by the end of the year.

At this stage, Ofcom is inviting comments on the terms of reference set out in its statement.

Further updates will follow as the review progresses.