Ofcom has published its 2014/15 Annual Plan, confirming its strategy and work programme for the next financial year. This work is designed to build on some significant developments in the UK’s communications infrastructure.
Ofcom will continue to monitor and promote new network deployment. Superfast broadband is now available to around three quarters of UK households, and is expected to reach 95 per cent of premises by 2017. Four national mobile operators are rolling out competing high-speed 4G services, with most expecting to reach 98 per cent of the population by next year.
While coverage continues to increase, an important theme in Ofcom’s work for the coming year is the cost and value of communications services. Ofcom will target areas including the affordability of core services, such as landline telephone for vulnerable consumers, and services for disabled consumers. Ofcom published its most recent work on cost and value in January’s Consumer Experience report.
Another theme will be quality of service, which is increasingly important for consumers. Ofcom is developing new targets for Openreach, which would mean faster line repairs and installations for broadband and telephone customers. Ofcom is also working with mobile operators to improve the information it makes available to consumers on quality of service, and will publish research on the average mobile broadband speeds received by 3G and 4G customers.
The work ahead
Ofcom has placed its annual priorities into the following categories:
Promote effective competition and informed choice. Ofcom will continue to focus on ensuring competition and investment in current and superfast broadband, and promoting choice for consumers through clear information and efficient switching processes.
Secure optimal use of spectrum. This work will include encouraging spectrum sharing through new technology such as ‘white spaces’, and delivering spectrum for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games.
Promote opportunities to participate. Ofcom will seek to ensure the wide availability of communications services, and to reduce barriers to their adoption and effective use by consumers. As part of this, Ofcom will focus on its on-going duty to secure the universal postal service. There will also be work to promote the provision of better mobile coverage and service information.
Protect consumers from harm. Ofcom will continue to manage the reform of non-geographic telephone numbers, which will bring about clearer phone charges for consumers and free 080 calls on mobile phones from summer 2015. Ofcom will also work to protect consumers from harm in areas such as nuisance calls and unexpectedly high mobile bills.
Maintain audience confidence in broadcast content. Ofcom will work with industry and other regulators to develop a consistent approach to media standards regulation. Ofcom will also support work to help keep children safe online. This will include reports for the Government on parental controls and an assessment of protection measures put in place by Internet service providers.
Contribute to and implement public policy defined by Parliament. As part of this, Ofcom will work to ensure that the European Commission’s ‘Connected Continent’ proposals support the interests of UK consumers and citizens.
Ofcom is required by Parliament to carry out reviews of public service broadcasting (PSB). In 2014/15, Ofcom will begin its third PSB review, which will consider challenges facing the industry and assess how the needs of citizens and consumers can best be delivered. Ofcom expects to publish its conclusions by the summer of 2015.
Achieving value for money
The work outlined above will be funded by a mixture of fees collected from the stakeholders Ofcom regulates and grant-in-aid.
Ofcom’s budget for the financial year 2014/15 is £117 million. Year-on-year this is flat in nominal terms, and represents a reduction of 2.6 per cent in real terms. The budget will allow Ofcom to deliver an overall 28.6 per cent real-terms budgetary reduction compared to 2010/11. This exceeds an original commitment following the 2010 Treasury Spending Review to deliver total budgetary savings of 28.2 per cent by 2014/15.