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COVID-19 – Ofcom Put the Brakes on New Broadband Regs

Tuesday, March 24th, 2020 (11:54 am) - Score 3,972

The UK communications and media regulator, Ofcom, has today responded to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis by, among other things, confirming that they’re suspending all existing consultation deadlines and may need to allow for delays in the implementation of new obligations.

Naturally it was never going to be business as usual on the regulatory front, particularly with most of the United Kingdom now being told to self-isolate until the spread of COVID-19 can be stopped. As a result various consultations and future work plans, such as the on-going efforts to encourage investment toward “full fibre” (FTTP) broadband networks and the Government’s plan to regulate internet content (Online Harms), will have to be delayed.

Ofcom set out a rough time-scale for all of this in January 2020, when they opened a consultation on their proposed Plan of Work for 2020/21 (here), but the regulator acknowledges that this plan will now have to be changed. As a result of this a revised version of their plan “that takes account of the coronavirus crisis” will now be published at the end of April 2020.

The obvious caveat here is that we don’t yet know exactly how long the current situation will continue or how bad it might get. “Over the coming weeks we will continue to engage with our stakeholders, and with Government, so that we can understand the best way to take these areas of work forward, and to ensure that we remain abreast of any new issues,” said Ofcom’s statement.

Our approach to regulation through this period

The priority for our sectors through the coming months is to maintain support for consumers and businesses. We recognise that our planned work programme will need to be adapted and rescheduled so that our stakeholders can focus their time and effort on business-critical matters. We are also ready to adapt our regulatory approach during this period.

Ofcom consulted on our proposed Plan of Work for 2020/21 in January. We will publish a revised version at the end of April that takes account of the coronavirus crisis and provide a revised timetable for our work. However, we can confirm in advance that:

  • With immediate effect, we are suspending all existing consultation deadlines and information requests and putting on hold new consultations, decisions and information requests.
  • We understand that the implementation of new obligations may need to be delayed. Specifically, we are discussing with Government the implementation deadlines of the European Electronic Communications Code.
  • At the same time, we need to ensure markets operate with integrity, and measures to ensure fairness for customers remain important. Accuracy in broadcasting is essential, and we will expedite any standards enforcement cases involving potentially harmful broadcast content relating to the coronavirus.

We will take a pragmatic approach to enforcement during this time. Compliance with regulatory obligations continues to be important. However, we recognise that the impact of the coronavirus means that it will not always be possible to meet these obligations. In such circumstances, industry should take decisions that support critical services, vulnerable people and those who are relying on communications services. We will support those decisions where they are in the interests of consumers and businesses.

At this stage it’s not yet clear if the current situation will also impact the imminent 5G spectrum auction. See Ofcom’s full statement.

Leave a Comment
8 Responses
  1. Avatar Chris Sayers

    Not forgetting the guys and girl’s in our first emergency service the NHS, who are doing a fantastic job, I also wish everyone connected with providing communications and broadband connections well.

  2. Avatar Anthony Doherty

    Spelling!!! Brakes surely?

  3. Avatar Anthony Doherty

    Why are you assuming that I am not calm in pointing this out….Bud? I could accuse you of being sarcastic in your reply!

  4. Avatar Adam

    Thank you Craig.

  5. Avatar Anthony Doherty

    Well done Craig. That appears to have calmed Adam down! (1 exclamation point used here and still calm at my end).
    By the way, who was the author of this article? Some thanks for highlighting the spelling mistake in the first place might have balanced the situation instead of a rant from Adam (avoiding another exclamation point here to maintain the calm).

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