Ofcom is contemplating a deregulation of the television and telecoms industry to reflect shifts in how people watch, read and talk over the past decade.
In her first interview since taking over as head of the UK media regulator, Sharon White said Ofcom needed to examine how competition from US Internet giants such as YouTube and Facebook were changing the British media and telecoms markets.
“One of the big issues in my in-tray is going to be the Internet” she said. “[The regulatory response] is something we are going to have to look closely at.
“We will certainly look at whether there is scope for a lighter approach given the entry of newer players and technology that we wouldn’t have dreamt of a few years ago.”
White has joined Ofcom as it begins its first review of the communications market for a decade, to take into account the growing power of Internet services.
Ofcom will assesswhether market definitions, and regulations, need to be redrawn in the TV and telecoms sectors given BT’s push into sports broadcasting and Sky’s strong position in broadband. BT’s ownership of Openreach, the national fixed line network, will also be reviewed, White confirmed.
“Convergence has started to happen in a very rapid timeframe, be it fixed and mobile [telecoms] or the blurring [of] the distinctions between the traditional telco and traditional media company,” White said. “[We will] see if there are ways to promote competition. Are there areas we can deregulate? But with the consumer at the centre of it all.”
White said Ofcom could also consider the pay-TV market, which had also changed dramatically over the past decade with the arrival of video streaming services such as Netflix.
“The question of whether the pay-TV world needs a fundamental rethink is an issue I will come to, probably after the [Premier League] investigation,” she said, referring to work by the regulator’s response to Virgin Media’s request to investigate the spiralling cost of football rights.
Ofcom said after the interview: “If pay-TV issues come up as part of our digital communications review then we will consider them but we are not planning a fundamental review of pay-TV”.
One area that Ofcom is not seeking extra powers over is the BBC, White said, responding to chancellor George Osborne’s suggestion this week that the regulator could assume the work of the BBC Trust.