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April 17, 2015

Ofcom flirts with ‘consumer-centred’ telecoms deregulation

Sharon White suggests technology advances may require a different approach.

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New Ofcom head Sharon White has suggested that the regulator may pursue a lighter touch approach to regulation of the telecoms sector.

In an interview with the Financial Times, she claimed that regulatory action would have to respond to the rapid advances in services and products in recent years.

"One of the big issues in my in-tray is going to be the internet," she said in the interview, adding that the regulation of the internet "is something we are going to have to look closely at."

She added: "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."

The possible deregulation comes as part of Ofcom’s review into the UK digital communications markets. Announced in March, it will assess levels of competition, investment and innovation as well as availability of products in broadband, mobile and landline markets.

She claimed Ofcom will "see if there are ways to promote competition," adding:

"Are there areas we can deregulate? But with the consumer at the centre of it all."

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As White suggests, it seems unlikely that this deregulation will extend to mobile prices, which consumers fear will rise due to recent consolidation in the telecoms sector.

"This is a highly regulated market in general, and regulators would have a serious problem with major price rises," Charlotte Patrick, Research Director at Gartner commented. "Mobile prices haven’t been highly regulated but we may see an increase in regulation.

"[Telecoms] regulators in the UK have been on the side of the consumer for a long time."

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