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Ofcom UK Probes Sky TV Over End-of-Contract Notifications UPDATE

Friday, December 4th, 2020 (11:34 am) - Score 6,696
sky broadband uk tv 2020

The UK communications and media regulator, Ofcom, has launched a new investigation into Sky (Sky Broadband) over their apparent refusal to issue end-of-contract notifications to Pay TV customers. At issue is whether or not Sky’s standalone Pay TV services fall within the definition of an “electronic communications service“.

Back in February 2020 Ofcom launched a new End-of-Contract Notifications system, which requires all fixed broadband, mobile, home phone and pay TV providers to issue such notifications to existing subscribers (sent by text, email or letter). The move was intended to help tackle the so-called “loyalty penalty” by keeping customers informed about the best deals and encouraging switching.

Specifically, the rules state that these notifications must be sent to customers of all public “electronic communications services” other than machine-to-machine (M2M) transmission services. Ofcom considers that, as a provider of Pay TV services transmitted by a satellite network, Sky provides an electronic communications service and must therefore send end-of-contract notifications to its TV customers.

However, the regulator states that Sky “does not consider that its standalone pay-TV services fall within the definition of an electronic communications service” and therefore believes the obligation to send such notifications “does not apply“.

Ofcom’s Statement

Sky does not consider that its standalone pay-TV services fall within the definition of an electronic communications service and maintains it is not required to comply with GC 1.10 for such services.

Following discussions with Sky, we accept that there is a genuine difference of opinion as to the legal interpretation and scope of the term ‘electronic communications service’. We have therefore decided to open an investigation to examine whether there are reasonable grounds to believe that Sky has failed to comply with its obligations under C1.10.

A Sky Spokesperson told ISPreview.co.uk:

“We welcome Ofcom’s plans to review our position and are pleased to have the opportunity to clarify what has been a long running difference of views on interpretation of the law. We cannot comment further until Ofcom has announced its decision.”

The regulator has always been very clear about the fact that Pay TV providers were covered by their scheme, thus it will be interesting to see how much water Sky’s counter-argument ends up holding. Ofcom expects to determine its next steps by January 2021.

UPDATE 12:13pm

We believe the core of this issue centres on how an ‘electronic communications service’ is defined in section 32 of the 2003 Communications Act, where it says: “a service consisting in, or having as its principal feature, the conveyance by means of an electronic communications network of signals, except insofar as it is a content service.”

Sky’s point of contention is over the bit where it says, “except insofar as it is a content service.” As such Sky appear to be contending that content services (such as broadcast services) are exempt from the regulation, although this may be harder to argue in today’s modern age of digital connectivity than it was in the old analogue era.

Meanwhile Ofcom will most likely be arguing that it is the transmission of content that constitutes an ECS, and there is no reason why a retail package as a whole has to be either one type of service or the other. We’re inclined to agree with the regulator on this one.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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23 Responses
  1. Matthew says:

    This seems like Sky trying to pull a fast one for sure and just needs a clarification or slight change to the rule to clarify. Not sure how PayTV could not be considered a electronic communication service as surely the TV downloads from the satellite service and then a small upload is used to request things such as Catchup.

    1. John H says:

      Analogue Sat feeds are long gone from Sky, now they all digital. Once they hit the signal hits the LNB its converted to a digital feed to the receiver along cable supplied by Sky.

      Trying it on.

    2. Anna says:

      I thought all channels were received at the same time?

      Anyway Sky do allow you to buy the services out such as Cinema and Broadband – but they don’t allow someone to end the TV contract early even at cost. Totally backward thinking and I will be glad when our contract is up in June. Canning the TV licence and sticking to Netflix!

  2. Michael V says:

    This doesn’t surprise me. Sky never really did things in the interest of the customer.
    I worked there in 2014-2015 & it wasn’t really about the customer it was about keeping their services active.

    customers should know their contract end dates for any services. But a company should also notify them of the end date also.

  3. Julian says:

    Sky’s point is baseless, unfortunately. It is a communication service when you require your own kit in a customer premises. Since Sky do not allow any device other than a Sky Q or Sky box to work with their service, it’s a communication service.

    If they actually just had Smart TV apps it’d actually be a better service all round, but dinosaurism reigns supreme in Isleworth.

  4. Jack says:

    Sky do show your contract end dates on sky.com but agree they should remind you as Ofcom want. Although who really ends a contract with Sky? Take the Black Friday deals, 50% off even for in contract customers as long as you agree to a new contract.

    Customer loyalty has long gone and if you don’t play companies at their own game then they’ll take advantage of you

    1. Anna says:

      Although we took a 50% discount guaranteed for the contract because we swapped from Virgin – and they put it up 4 months later. I kid you not.. And they said we had to stay despite their offer in writing.

    2. Pezza says:

      Yeah Sky puts up it’s prices during your contract term. Sometimes it’ll do it twice a year or more, and that’s in one service, so if you have all four services with them you could potentially have faced several price increases by the time your contract expires, your value suddenly drops then.. when ever you take out a Sky or mobile phone contract, not pay monthly ones, you need to factor in the guaranteed price rises to know what you’ll actually be paying later on..

  5. Ray Woodward says:

    It is time that things were regularised here – your contract with Sky should be just that (regardless of services taken) rather than the current system of having separate dates for TV, Broadband, Sport etc …

  6. dave says:

    I’m with Sky on this one and it’s not often that I side with the service provider.

    There are a few quite bizarre comments above to be frank.

    1. TheTruth says:

      who’s frank?

    2. Summer Is Here says:

      Frank like dave works for Sky

    3. dave says:

      Haha, one of the typical goto responses here (the other one being to claim somebody is some guy called Max, I’ve been accused of both).

      It’s amazing how many people here (and at Ofcom apparently) can’t understand “except insofar as it is a content service”.

      It wouldn’t be the first time Ofcom have overstepped their remit, as anybody who has followed the situation regarding GSM gateways will already know. Those that don’t know can have a read of https://www.theregister.com/2020/11/20/gsm_gateway_ban_unlawful_court_appeal/ which details the latest instalment.

  7. Cp says:

    Sky has been Digital content provider since the launch of sky Digital,
    Back in 1998 I think, so I am with Ofcom it does stand.

    Also now with on demand services and catch up they are Digital content provider..

    And how hard would it be for Sky to send out communications reminding people that their contract is up for renewal, they send out enough junk emails and advertisement communications.

    Unless they go down the route of their sister company now TV where is a rolling month contract.. which wouldn’t be so bad because you can switch stuff on and off as you would like..

    1. Ray Woodward says:

      2006

  8. Deanne says:

    Agree with Ofcom. Sly customers are hit with bizarre out of contract price rises when their TV contracts come to an end. Given that the likes of BT are so heavily regulated and have been pressured by Ofcom to cap out of contract price rises, the same should apply to Sky in relation to their TV services. Not sending notifications to their TV customers on the basis that TV shouldn’t be considered as a ‘non- electronic communications service’ is a petty argument from Sky which actually just translates to “we don’t want our customers to know when their contracts end because we financially benefit from them not being aware (due to the out of contract price rises)”.

  9. Amy Matthews says:

    15 years at an ISP – 15 years of telling people it’s not down to the company to look at everyones accounts and offer them a better deal – it’s on the customer to do that. Although I do agree there should be end of contract notifications so the customer can make that choice.

    But it’s not automatic and Sky are being toads IMHO

  10. Pezza says:

    I fall into this category and Yeap Sky don’t tell you anything about when your contract ends. But Sky are like that aren’t they, will get away with as much as they can. I do hope one day F1 will return to terrestrial TV or a streaming service not owned by Sky charging stupid money.

  11. Pezza says:

    I should add Sky purposely and constantly change their packages and prices, all geared to milk you for profit, this across all its packages. You’ll be on one contract for 18 months then when you recontract it’ll be a different package for a other 18 months with a different name but the same content. I am still refusing to pay £50 for a new HDR Sky Q box I will never actually own, unfortunately plenty of mugs out there are paying them for it though… they won’t stop charging you if people keep throwing money at them, to me OFCOM should be investigating this.

    1. Buggerlugz says:

      If OFCOM weren’t a useless waste of time, they probably would.

  12. Steve says:

    I switched to BT from sky not paying anywhere near what i was paying sky.

  13. Ian Mason says:

    I was a victim of end of contract in 2017, and Sky still continued taking monies for two years, and even though as far as I knew, the contract was ended, and I had contacted Sky, apparently they had left my tv services pending.

    I have taken it to Cisas, who really is only internally regulated, and Ofcom, who say they cant deal with individual cases, only as a general ruling.

    It seems unfair that a giant such as Sky seem to be able to do as they wish, with no recourse. When I renewed my BT contract recetly, BT rang me twice to ask if I wanted to renew, but Sky just leave services running, and it seems almost impossible to get them to cancel it.

    Anyone got any ideas about getting help with this ?

    1. Barry Dilloway says:

      Im currently going through something similar, moved house 1st October 2019, called to cancel advised im still in contract and cant but they will reduce my package down to the minimum for the remainder of contract. agreed (through gritted teeth)and sent back all my sky boxes and BB router, still being charged to this day and in constant argument with them, they have had over £600 from me for nothing, i don’t even have a sky box or router even if i wanted to use the service. how can they charge for something they are not providing in any way shape or form?

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