The job of a regulator is rarely an easy one. Typically a large, cumbersome body, their job is to carefully and critically examine the state of an industry and identify where it's gone wrong, what can be done to fix it, and how to preserve it well into the future. For some industries, those reviews are relatively easy, especially when they're in their infancy. For others though, they're almost apocalyptically difficult. One such industry is digital communications, which Ofcom has just stated it will begin a review into this year.
Digital communications, something which at one point featured just a formless prenatal Internet and something called 'email', now encompasses every single Internet Service Provider in the UK, phone companies, TV channels, application developers, infrastructure owners and much, much more. It's a mammoth task in almost anyones estimations, and it will mark the first time Ofcom have attempted such a challenge since their last shake up, which concluded in 2005. That report identified BT's monopoly on the phone and broadband infrastructure in the country and allowed competing providers to access BT's network on equal terms and with wholesale pricing. That intervention opened the door to Sky, TalkTalk, Virgin and many others launching phone and broadband packages, driving the price down for consumers and increasing the quality of customer service.
This new review will consider the extent of investment in the network infrastructure for the years to come and whether the right incentives are being produced by the government to attract private investment in the UK's communications services. The review comes at an interesting time, with America having announced that it will begin to treat the Internet as a utility, effectively meaning that Internet access will be equal for all, and not throttled for anybody. It's a fantastic win for believers in the free Internet, but has drawn ire from American ISP's who wish to further monetize the Internet. Ofcom could suggest a similar course of action in the UK, but that is yet unknown. Nevertheless, the Sky Internet helpline has been bombarded by customers asking whether the company believe in net neutrality.
Sky, for their part, are welcoming this investigation, with Sky's group CEO Jeremy Darroch stating after calls to the contact Sky freephone: "We welcome OFCOM's announcement of a review of the UK's telecommunications sector. The sector is vital to the UK's future but there are serious questions about whether the existing structure can deliver the infrastructure, innovation and choice that consumers and businesses need."
"Structural separation of Openreach, the UK's only nationwide broadband infrastructure, is at the heart of creating a sustainable industry; one that provides the capacity and incentive to invest whilst also harnessing the power of multiple competing retailers to drive higher take up and lower prices for customers."
"Ofcom must now take the opportunity to address Openreach’s conflict of interest as a subsidiary of BT or risk extending the problems that are affecting the industry and its customers today."
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