Ofcom forces Openreach to open up again and reintroduces Dark Fibre

Ofcom has proposed new rules which will force Openreach to open up more of its network to other communications service providers.

Access to ducts and poles owned by Openreach has been a point of interest for Ofcom for some time, and now it appears the regulator is gathering momentum. As it stands, Openreach has to offer rivals access to its telegraph poles and underground ducts when providing services to consumers and SMEs, though the new rules will extend this ‘co-operation’ to enterprise scale and mobile backhaul connectivity services.

“The amount of internet data used by people in the UK is expanding by around half every year,” said Jonathan Oxley, Ofcom’s Competition Group Director. “So, we’ll need faster, more reliable connections for our homes, offices and mobile networks.

“Our measures are designed to support the UK’s digital future by providing investment certainty for continued competitive investment in fibre and 5G networks across the country.”

Although the likes of Virgin Media, TalkTalk and CityFibre are among the firms already using Openreach’s ducts and poles, to date the rules have been somewhat of a halfway measure. Improving access to Openreach infrastructure will improve the potential business case for all telecom services, offering greater prospects for competition.

The draft rules also bring the Dark Fibre discussion back into the fray.

In areas where BT faces no competition, Openreach would be required to give competitors physical access to its fibre-optic cables, at a price that reflects its costs. BT has always argued against the Dark Fibre suggestions from Ofcom, with the telco challenging rules brought forward by the regulator in the 2016 Business Connectivity Market Review.

BT’s legal challenge focused on the market definitions Ofcom used in the market review, with the Competition Appeal Tribunal (CAT) agreeing with the telco:

“The Competition Appeal Tribunal has found Ofcom to have erred in relation to various aspects of the decisions concerning market definition under appeal and required Ofcom to look again at some specific matters concerning market definition.”

This of course did not end the pursuit of Dark Fibre, but it did send Ofcom back to the drawing board. What is worth noting is that BT is not the only infrastructure owner to find issues with the obsession with lighting up Dark Fibre.

Following the decision from CAT, Ofcom promised to do better next time, much to the dismay of CityFibre.

“However, whilst the quashing of the BCMR is welcome, Ofcom’s response today appears to double down on its misguided approach to assessing the scope for competition whilst maintaining its flawed fixation with regulated dark fibre access,” said Mark Collins, Director Strategy & Policy at CityFibre.

“It’s pessimism about the prospects for real, infrastructure-based competition perversely restricts alternative providers’ ability to compete.”

The argument from the likes of CityFibre and BT is relatively simple. Dark Fibre removes the drive for infrastructure investment. Why would rivals want to spend money on fibre deployment when they could just force those who are making the plunge into working with them. It could potentially create a position where everyone is sitting, waiting on the starting line, waiting for a rival to twitch first.

That said, Vodafone does not feel the Dark Fibre rules go far enough.

“We support competition, but Ofcom’s proposals to grant access to dark fibre only on the fringes while loosening its price controls on BT Openreach will mean businesses and the public sector paying more to meet their connectivity needs,” said a Vodafone spokesperson.

“There is an alternative. Providing universal access to dark fibre now would give the UK the connectivity it needs, at a price everyone can afford. Sadly this is another opportunity Ofcom has missed to plug the full fibre hole in the UK.”

What is worth noting is that these rules are draft proposals for the moment. There is likely to be push-back from the likes of Openreach and CityFibre, and perhaps legal challenges in the mid-term. What rules are eventually introduced might look very different in a couple of months.

UPDATE: 24/05/19, 12.20pm: Openreach has released the following statement:

“Last year we delivered our best ever service performance, but we want to keep improving and we share Ofcom’s desire to improve service across the industry.

“Our ducts and poles have been open to other companies since 2011, and we recognise that unrestricted access is a natural next step, so we had volunteered to get on with that, ahead of Ofcom’s original schedule.

“We welcome the greater clarity around Dark Fibre and the timeframe needed to deliver a fully functional product to market.

“We’ll consider the range of proposals carefully, and we’ll continue to work with Ofcom on developing an environment that encourages greater investment.”

Ofcom’s latest ruling underlines the need for proactive personalisation

Telecoms.com periodically invites third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this article, Martin Morgan, VP Marketing, at Openet, considers the latest move from Ofcom in forcing UK operators to tell their customers when their contracts are ending, and points out why it is a blessing in disguise.

UK telecoms regulator Ofcom recently announced that it is to introduce rules to ensure broadband, TV and phone operators tell their customers when their contracts are coming to an end. This is intended to prevent consumers rolling back into largely uncompetitive ‘standard’ tariffs without them knowing. According to Ofcom, this practice typically sees UK consumers paying 20% more for the same service received during the initial term.

The end of consumer inertia?

Consumer inertia has always existed, across all industries in all countries. The fact remains that it is always easier to do nothing at the point of renewal, rather than shop around for the best deal. Times are changing, however. Telecoms operators, much like utility companies and financial services providers are having to endure consumer facing product comparison websites, a rise in third-party digital switching companies and generally, a greater consumer awareness of new offers. The truth is, it has never been easier for UK consumers to find and take a better deal from elsewhere. With Ofcom now forcing telecoms operators to tell customers it’s time to renew their tariffs, a lack of awareness will no longer be an obstacle to ‘shopping around.’

UK telecoms operators must embrace this significant opportunity. They must use the data they have on their customers to create targeted and personalised offers to them as renewal time approaches. If Ofcom forces operators to share the best deals available to their customers at the point of renewal, then this should be treated as the final link in the chain to encourage retention. The fact remains, operators will have a long window available to them, and have an individual usage and preference perspective on each customer that the competition won’t. This creates a significant window of opportunity for an operator to convince their customers that they truly value their business.

Coming out of the shadows

Telecoms operators in general have struggled to maintain brand awareness in recent years. Much has been said about operators being forced to accept utility-like status in the minds of their customers. Content providers, social media providers and OTT messaging communities hold most of the cards when it comes to mobile consumer engagement, with operators becoming an increasingly invisible part of the service value chain. This is incredibly surprising given that operators enjoy a regular monthly billing relationship with their customers, when most others don’t.

UK telecoms operators, much like their global peers, are looking to build or strengthen a series of partnerships with well known brands, to try and boost customer engagement and position themselves as the 5G operator of choice. These partnerships will include teaming up with content providers like Spotify, Netflix and Apple Music. They will include device partnerships with the likes of Apple and Samsung and, also include deals with the social media networks too. These partnerships will create differentiation but knowing where best to target this content and these services will be critical to drive the required levels of customer satisfaction and retention.

The technology exists to act

Operators have the data and the means to focus these offers to the right users at the right time. What is more, thanks to the agile and flexible nature of digital BSS technology, they can be quick to trial new offers, should some not have the desired impact at the first time of asking. Ofcom’s new rules will present UK consumers with more choice, while placing them in a buying mood – UK operators know exactly when this will take place for every one of their customers. Every customer that churns will herald a failure for operator marketing teams and underlying digital BSS technology. The solutions are available to help UK operators prevail. They must react positively to Ofcom’s rules and quickly, if they are to take full advantage of the enormous opportunity facing them.

 

openet-martin-morgan-BWMartin Morgan is the VP Marketing at Openet. With 30 years’ experience in mobile communications software, Martin has worked in mobile since the early days of the industry. He’s ran the marketing teams for several BSS companies and served on trade association and company boards. In that time, he’s spoken at over 50 telecoms conferences worldwide and had a similar number of articles published in the telecoms trade press and served on trade association and company boards. At Openet Martin is responsible for marketing thought leadership and market interaction.

UK MNOs set to claw back £200+ million in licence fees

A UK court has ruled in favour of the telcos in an on-going battle with regulator Ofcom over licence fees paid on spectrum assets between 2015 and 2017.

The legal battle concerns the process which was undertaken by Ofcom prior to increasing licence fees paid by each of the telcos for access to the airwaves. The decision to increase the licence fees was met by much criticism during the initial announcement, and you can see why.

The licence fees concern 900 MHz and 1800 MHz spectrum assets awarded to each of the telcos during a 2013 auction.

Telco Fee paid (post-2015) Fee paid (pre-2015) Difference
Vodafone £76,245,025.10 £21,865,536 £54,379,489.10
O2 £76,245,025.10 £21,865,536 £54,379,489.10
Three £44,390,398.53 £17,463,600 £26,926,798.53
EE/BT £139,823,997 £57,380,400 £82,443,597

While telcos are constantly complaining about regulation, as well as the amount paid to regulators around the world, the drastic difference in licence fees was too much to stomach here.

Following the decision to increase licence fees, EE was first to act, challenging the ruling in the courts in 2017. The other UK MNOs were quick to follow, with Ofcom being named as a defendant in the lawsuit.

“We welcome the court’s decision that finds in favour of the mobile operators,” said an O2 spokesperson. “We are however disappointed that Ofcom has been granted leave for appeal and we will strongly defend any future appeal brought by Ofcom.”

Ofcom will most likely appeal the decision.

The argument from the telcos is one which we have heard before. The more money which is demanded from Ofcom, the less which is available to invest in networks to ready the UK for the digital economy.

Following EE’s decision to challenge the changes to licence fees in 2015, a move which was supported by the other MNOs, Ofcom decided to revert back to the licence fees which were paid in the previous regime. There has been another consultation since, resulting in an increase to licence fees paid moving forward, though this case is focused on the period between 2015 and November 2017.

Aside from clawing back the payments made during this period, the parties have agreed simple interest be applied on whatever sum is due, calculated at 2% above the Bank of England base rate during the period.

For the MNOs, this news will be very much welcomed considering the financial burden they face ahead of the 5G era. With billions set to be spent rolling out the networks, a bit of financial relief will go a long way.

Loyalty penalties for broadband, mobile and TV finally tackled

Ofcom has introduced rules which will aim to tackle ‘penalties’ imposed on renewing customers by broadband, mobile and content providers.

As part of the new rules, providers will have to inform customers 10 to 40 days prior to the end of the customers contract, the period where financial penalties would be applied for changing providers. In the notification, customers will be told the end date of the contract, differences in contract pricing moving forward, termination conditions and availability of cheaper deals.

Although customers will still have to be proactive in contacting rival competitors for better deals on the market, the hope is a more transparent approach with spur consumers into finding the best possible option. Telcos will have a year to ensure the right business processes and technologies are in place to action the rules.

“We’re making sure customers are treated fairly, by making companies give them the information they need, when they need it,” said Lindsey Fussell, Ofcom’s Consumer Group Director.

“This will put power in the hands of millions of people who’re paying more than necessary when they’re no longer tied to a contract.”

The initial idea was put forward back in December, with the belief as many as 20 million UK consumers have passed their initial contract period and could be paying more than necessary. The Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport escalated the issue in February with a public consultation aimed at moving the industry towards a position where loyalty was rewarded, ending aggressive cultures towards customer acquisition.

In September last year, the UK Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) launched a super-complaint with the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) suggesting service providers over-charging renewing customers to bring in an extra £4.1 billion a year. Research commissioned by Broadband Genie has found many over 55s could be paying too much for their broadband service but lack the knowledge or confidence to choose a new package.

“Pre-emptive alerts and information about broadband and TV contract periods are good news for consumers since many have in effect been paying a premium for their loyalty once out of contract,” said Adrian Baschnonga, EY’s Telecoms Lead Analyst. “Today’s rules pave the way for a more proactive dialogue between service providers and their customers, which can unlock higher levels of satisfaction in the long term.”

While it will certainly take some work to bed in, such rules have the potential to move attitudes in the industry to prioritise customer retention over acquisition to meet profitability objectives. Much research points to this being a more rewarding approach to business, though few in the telco space practice this theory.

“uSwitch’s research found that the aggregate cost of out-of-contract charges to telecoms consumers is £41 a second,” said Richard Neudegg, Head of Regulation at uSwitch.com. “This is why time is of the essence – everyday spent waiting for these notifications to be rolled out, another £3.5 million is overspent on these services – meaning that more than £350 million has already been wasted since the consultation closed in February.

“While it has been a long time coming, this is an important step by the regulator to address what has long been a clearly unacceptable gap in the rules, penalising consumers to the tune of millions.”

This is a step in the right direction, but it will take more to ensure telcos shift their culture. The idea of customer acquisition over retention is deeply engrained in every aspect of the business and will define how the business operates. That said, progress is progress.

Broadband speeds are up but UK’s fibre is still lagging

Ofcom has proudly proclaimed the majority of UK can now access ultrafast broadband at home and at work, but its fibre diet still leaves much to be desired.

According to the watchdog’s latest Connected Nations report, 53% of UK properties, residential and commercial, can access broadband speeds of 300 Mbps, often referred to as ultrafast. While this might sound impressive, Ofcom also slipped in that fibre connectivity is now up to 7%, a 1% increase from the last report in September.

“For the first time, a majority of homes and offices can now get ultrafast broadband – which allows people to work, stream and shop online at the same time,” said Ofcom CEO Sharon White.

“We’ve also seen the number of homes that can’t get broadband fall by a third in the last year. I think that progress is really encouraging, but it’s vital we keep it going. So, we’re working with the Government to bring in the new universal broadband service, which will give everyone the right to request a decent connection. We’ll announce who’ll deliver the scheme in the summer.”

As it stands, roughly 95% of the population can access superfast broadband, speeds of 30 Mbps, while 53% can achieve ultrafast speeds, more than 300 Mbps. Only 619,000 premises throughout the country cannot get what is deemed ‘decent’ speeds, more than 10 Mbps, though soon these users will be able to request appropriate connections under the Universal Service Obligation (USO), which is supposedly getting underway in the next couple of months.

Having finished its consultation in February, Ofcom proposed that BT and KCOM should be designated as the Universal Service Providers, though the final decision is set to be published in the summer. This, in theory, should bring the final 2% of premises into the world of ‘decent’ broadband speeds.

Although the availability of ultrafast broadband has increased quickly over the last couple of years, ultrafast connections were available to less than 2% of the population in June 2016, progress on fibre has been sluggish. Since May 2017, fibre availability across the country has increased from 3% to 7%.

While progress is progress, one would have to assume it would have to speed up should Ofcom want to meet government ambitions. The aim here is to have 15 million homes fed a fibre diet by 2025, with the whole country covered by 2033.

Looking at the fibre connectivity conundrum, the results are quite varied. In England and Wales, fibre penetration sits at the average of 7%, while it up to 16% in Northern Ireland and down at 5% in Scotland. Unfortunately for the Scots, 4% cannot access 10 Mbps either, while 5% are living in the slow lane in Northern Ireland.

Looking at how this compares to other countries, it is a bit of a mixed bag and questions the claim as to whether the UK is the leading digital nation politicians often so proudly proclaim.

Austria Targeting 99% coverage for all by 2020 for ultrafast broadband. Fibre penetration of 1.5%
Bulgaria 100% coverage with at least 30 Mbps until 2020, and 50% take-up rate for 100 Mbps. Fibre penetration of 32.2%
Cyprus At least 30 Mbps for all households and businesses by 2020
Denmark 100 Mbps download and 30 Mbps upload speeds available for all households and businesses by 2020. Fibre penetration of 19%
Finland By 2025 all households should have access to at least 100 Mbps connections. Fibre penetration of 25.6%
Germany 50 Mbps for all households by 2018. Fibre penetration of 2.3%
Hungary 100 Mbps take-up for 50% of the households by 2020
Italy Availability of services above 30 Mbps for all by 2020
Lithuania 100% coverage with 30 Mbps by 2020. 100 Mbps subscriptions for 50% of households by 2020. Currently has fibre penetration of 46.9%.
Malta Already achieved 100% broadband coverage with 30 Mbps
Poland 50% of households should have internet connectivity of 100 Mbps by 2020. Forecasts 100% of households should have access to internet connectivity of at least 30 Mbps by 2020. Only has 5% fibre penetration
Romania By 2020, 80% of households with access to over 30 Mbps broadband and 45% of households with subscriptions over 100 Mbps
Slovenia 100 Mbps to 96% of households by 2020
Sweden By 2020, all households and companies should have access to broadband at a minimum capacity of 100 Mbps and by 2025. Currently has fibre penetration of 43.6%
Belgium Aim is to provide speeds of up to 1 Gbps to half of the country by 2020
Croatia 100% coverage with 30 Mbps and 50% take-up rate for 100 Mbps until 2020. Fibre penetration of 1.9%
Czech Rep 30 Mbps for all households and at least 100 Mbps for 50% of the population by 2020. Fibre penetration of 14.6%
Estonia Full coverage with connections of at least 30 Mbps by 2020 and aims to promote take-up of ultra-fast subscriptions with at least 100 Mbps with the objective that these account for 60% or more of all internet subscriptions by the same year
France Targets of ultra-fast broadband access for all households by 2022
Greece 100% broadband coverage with minimum speeds of 30 Mbps with at least 50% of households benefiting from 100 Mbps by 2020
Ireland 77% coverage of high-speed broadband by the end of 2018 and 90% coverage by 2020
Latvia 100% coverage with 30 Mbps and 50% household penetration with 100 Mbps by 2020. Currently leading the European race for fibre with 50.3% fibre penetration
Luxembourg National broadband plan aims for networks with ultra-high-speed rates, more precisely 1 Gbps download and 500 Mbps upload for 100% of the population in 2020
Netherlands Currently, almost 98% of urban and rural areas in the Netherlands have been covered with 30 Mbps
Portugal 30 Mbps for 100% of the population and a coverage of at least 100 Mbps for 50% of all households until 2020
Slovakia 30 Mbps for 100% of the population and a coverage of at least 100 Mbps for 50% of all households until 2020
Spain 100% coverage of 30 Mbps and 50% take up of 100 Mbps and more of households by 2020. Currently has 44% fibre penetration

This is where you have to be a bit more careful when reading the statistics and claims. Ofcom numbers are suggesting 7% fibre across the country, but this is 7% of premises who have the availability of fibre. The figures in the table, from the FTTH Council Europe, are looking at the number of actual subscribers. For the UK, the FTTH Council Europe estimates the UK has a fibre penetration of 1.5% when you count subscribers.

That said, it is easy to be very doom and gloom here. Ofcom can only force the hand of availability, it cannot force consumers to upgrade to the best available service. As mentioned before, progress is being made, though it is always useful to place these figures into a bit of context.

“While the number of households which can access superfast and ultrafast broadband continues to grow, uptake of these faster speeds remains the challenge for the broadband industry, with fewer than half of broadband users subscribing to the better services,” said Richard Neudegg, Head of Regulation at uSwitch.com.

On the mobile side, coverage is also looking perfectly suitable for the moment. Using crowdsourced data from consumer handsets, Ofcom estimates the signal levels needed to meet targets are available at least 95% of the time.

78% of the UK’s geographic area is now covered by all four operators for calls, up eight percentage points from June 2017, however, 5% of the UK’s geographic area is served by no operators. Outdoor access to decent quality data services through 4G has also increased from 48% to 67% over the same period, varying dependent on the telco. Not-spots in total have decreased to 8% of the UK from 21% in June 2017.

Looking at indoor coverage, 78% of UK premises can now receive a decent 4G signal from all operators, up 14 percentage points from June 2017. This again varies depending on the individual regions, Wales and Northern Ireland are below the national average at 73% and 59% respectively, though the numbers are steadily heading in the right direction.

Finally, the transport network. 57% of all A and B roads now have 4G coverage from all operators, while 4% are designated not-spots. This is for data services however the number drops to 2% when you are looking at calls.

Complacent UK telcos to be hit with compensation costs

From today, all UK broadband and landline customers will be entitled to compensation for connectivity delays and faults.

It could turn out to be quite a headache for the telcos, as while it will only cost £5 a day to compensate customers for any delays in providing services, the sum of the costs would have been £142 million for the industry across 2018. Today, April 1, is the first day of Ofcom’s new Automatic Compensation scheme.

“We think it’s unacceptable that people should be kept waiting for a new line, or a fault to be fixed,” said Ofcom CEO Sharon White.

“These new protections mean phone and broadband firms will want to avoid problems occurring in the first place. But if they fall short, customers must be treated fairly and given money back, without having to ask for it.”

For customers who have signed up to a new provider, for each day connectivity is not delivered past the agreed upon date £5 will be paid in compensation. The customer will also be given £25 as a one-off payment for the missed appointment. Those who have reported a fault, two working days will be given to the telco to perform any work, but from then on compensation will be set at £8 a day.

In comparison, Ofcom figures suggest there are 7.2 million cases each year where broadband or landline customers suffer delayed repairs, installations or missed appointments. Financial compensation, totalling around £16 million, is generally paid out in 1.1 million of these cases, with customers receiving an average of £3.69 per day for loss of service, and £2.39 per day for delayed installations.

BT, Sky, TalkTalk, Virgin Media and Zen Internet had already signed up to the scheme, which is currently voluntary, though these providers account for 95% of customer relationships across the UK today. EE has theoretically agreed to the scheme, planning to pay automatic compensation next year, as has Plusnet. The compensation outlined in this scheme will be 9X the amount which was received by customer in 2018.

“The voluntary auto compensation scheme is a great step for consumers in the UK, but hopefully, in time, it will become part of the process for all internet service providers as treating customers fairly should be at the core of any organisation,” said Richard Tang, CEO of Zen Internet.

Although this is one step on the journey to a customer service-orientated business model which should be already expected from the telcos, there is plenty of room for error. In theory, customers should not have to do anything to receive the compensation, aside from report the fault, but it is highly likely something will go wrong with the mechanisms over the next couple of weeks.

It will be interesting to see what Ofcom has to report over the short- to medium-term. Hopefully this scheme will force the telcos to perform better, reducing the number of delays, though the amount of paid compensation will also be an interesting comparison to 2018.

Ofcom outlines plans for 2019/20

With the country on the verge of realising the promise of the digital economy, the pressure is still on Ofcom to make sure a fair and sustainable landscape is developing. Here, the team outlines its plans for the next twelve months.

“It’s a great way of being able to explain why our work matters and what some of the areas are we want to give a particular focus to,” said Ofcom CEO Sharon White. “And it’s also a way of being able to be held accountable for those areas.

“This year we’re talking about two big consumer themes. Fairness for customers, how do we make sure whether your getting broadband or mobile, you’re getting a great deal, a fair deal from your provider, and the other big these is better broadband, better mobile wherever you live.”

The plan itself actually focuses on four areas. Firstly, better connectivity. Secondly, fairness for customers Thirdly, supporting UK broadcasting. And finally, raising awareness of online harms.

Starting with better connectivity, over the next 12 months the Government’s planned universal broadband service will be getting more attention, while the team will continue to focus on opening up access to BT’s network of underground ducts and telegraph poles. Addressing the mobile not-spots, more airwaves will hit the auction lots and it would be a fair assumption more coverage obligations will be heading towards the telcos.

On the fairness side, work will continue to ensure operators are being more transparent when informing customers about the best available deals and tariffs. One area which has been prioritised is for those customers who pay for their handsets bundled with airtime, or those who pay more because of their contract status.

Looking at UK broadcasting, the message here seems to be value for money and ensuring public service broadcasting is still fit for purpose. A lot has changed over the last five years, look at the growth of OTT streaming services and downfall of linear TV, and there is a feeling something needs to change to ensure public funds are being spent in the best interest of those who pay the taxes in the first place.

Finally, in terms of the final part of the programme, this will be a tricky one. There is of course a need for consumers to be more aware of the dangers of the digital economy, but this is an area which has been largely ignored to date. No-one is particularly to blame here, as without the consequences it becomes very difficult to educate on dangers and be taken seriously. That said, there have been plenty of scandals and data breaches in recent memory to give Ofcom ammunition.

With the 5G dawn breaking and the increased drive for fibre finally hitting home in the UK, there is plenty to be excited about but much work which needs to be done. An excellent example of this is the Which report panning ISPs for failing to deliver on consumer expectations. Telcos are traditionally slow-moving beasts, though technology developments are increasingly speeding up, dominating more of our lives, change might have to be forced through.

Ofcom not only needs to ensure there is an effective landscape for the telcos to thrive, it needs to ensure these benefits are being passed across to the consumer and the economy. The next twelve months promise a very business time for Ofcom employees.

Government to give Ofcom new stick swinging targets

The UK Government has unveiled a new consultation which will explore how it can encourage Ofcom to snap the whip, making sure telcos get their gears churning to meet connectivity targets.

Over the next decade, if the government manages to create a suitable amount of urgency across the telco industry, there will certainly be some progress made. The objectives currently set out are nationwide full fibre broadband coverage by 2033, while also increasing geographic mobile coverage to 95% of the UK by 2022.

Although this sounds very official, this consultation is more of a temperature check from the government. It’s asking the industry to give it feedback on its Statement of Strategic Priorities to reinforce its position and create a framework for Ofcom to work towards, ensuring the aims and objectives of the government and the regulator are on the same page.

In this consultation, the government is presenting its Statement of Strategic Priorities for a legally required 40-day consultation, which will validate and justify the aims, therefore providing a more stable foundation to bring Ofcom’s work in-line with government ambitions. This is a process which is required in other utility verticals and brings the telco industry more in-line with the stricter regulatory scrutiny which is placed on segments such as water and energy.

Aside from meeting the connectivity and coverage ambitions, the consultation will also look at how ‘loyalty penalties’, the price-creep which is placed on contract renewals, can be tackled. The telco industry is one which is geared towards customer acquisition, though many would like to see loyalty rewarded, instead of picking up the slack created by offers to lure customers away from competitors.

“As the UK’s telecoms regulator, Ofcom has a critical role in realising our shared connectivity aspirations for the UK,” said Secretary of State, Jeremy Wright. “As well as ensuring the necessary improvements to broadband and mobile services, consumers must also be protected. I urge Ofcom to tackle harmful business practices and remove barriers to switching.”

The ‘loyalty penalty’ is a highly emotive mission from bureaucrats and consumer champions to stop an age-old practise of the telcos, which is perhaps underhanded. It is effectively taking advantage of those who are not savvy-enough to search for a new deal, or those who might innocently and naively presume loyalty would be rewarded. Unfortunately, this is not the case in the telco space, an industry which has a woeful track record and outlook on customer experience and services.

In terms of improving mobile coverage, the up-coming Ofcom 700 MHz auction has caught the attention of the government. The auction will aim to sell off 80 MHz in the 700 MHz band, spectrum which is well suited for providing mobile coverage over wide areas and indoors. Ofcom is currently clearing this band of transmissions for Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) and by wireless microphones used in the entertainment industry, though the plans are to have the spectrum free for mobile use by summer 2020.

Elsewhere in the consultation, rural roaming will be covered. Again, this ties back to empowering the consumer with greater connectivity and coverage, tackling the not-spots across the UK. Despite each of the telcos claiming progress in improving coverage, there are still plenty of not-spots across the UK where consumers only have the choice of one operator. Future proposals would aim to improve roaming agreements, to offer greater choice of providers to the consumer.

Finally, the consultation will ask for opinions on the current regulatory landscape. Central to this aspect of the investigation will be the suitability of rules and regulations to ensure the UK attracts investment.

While this might seem like bureaucracy for the sake of bureaucracy, it is a democratic nation ensuring all the boxes are ticked. The government has ambitions and objectives, though it is seeking validation from the community, before presenting a mandate to Ofcom to ensure it is regulating the industry in the way the government feels is most beneficial for society on the whole.

Vodafone’s UK fixed line efforts off to a shaky start

Ofcom has started including Vodafone’s broadband and landline services among its complaints data and they top both categories.

The good news for Vodafone is that, while its nascent fixed line efforts are the most complained about (to Ofcom, at least) the lead isn’t that great. TalkTalk isn’t far behind in each case and there isn’t much of a gap to the chasing pack. Ofcom didn’t have anything to say about Vodafone specifically, contenting itself with the standard, generic fare.

“With so much competition in telecoms and TV services, companies that are falling short need to make service quality and complaints handling their priority,” said Jane Rumble, Ofcom’s Director of Consumer Policy. “Customers who aren’t happy with their provider can shop around and vote with their feet.”

Ernest Doku of uSwitch.com had a bit more to say. “Vodafone will especially be feeling the heat here as, for the first time, the provider has topped the table for receiving the highest number of complaints for its broadband and landline services,” he said. “However, this is the first time the provider has had enough customers – proportionally – to justify its inclusion in these figures.”

It’s not too surprising that a relatively new set of services should have some teething problems and therefore an elevated level of complaints, so we shouldn’t read too much into Vodafone’s performance for now. But if that level remains high for the next few quarters then that could indicate some more profound issues with Vodafone’s UK diversification.

Here are the tables.

Broadband

Ofcom Q3 2018 complaints broadband

Landline

Ofcom Q3 2018 complaints landline

Mobile

Ofcom Q3 2018 complaints mobile

Pay TV

Ofcom Q3 2018 complaints TV

British parents are increasingly worried about the Internet – Ofcom

Research into children’s media consumption published by UK telecoms regulator Ofcom revealed that only 54% of parents agreed the benefits of the internet outweighed its risks, the lowest level since 2011.

The report, “Children and parents: Media use and attitudes report 2018” (and its Annex) and “Life on the small screen: What children are watching and why” were made by Ofcom with analysis of 2,000 British children aged 3-15 years and their parents. Less than half of the parents of 3-4-years agreed that the internet is doing more good than bad.

When prompted with the major concerns parents have about their children’s online life, “companies collecting information about what their child is doing online” came the top with 50% of parents expressing concern. Three other issues have increased in their level of concern from the similar research a year ago: the child damaging their reputation (42% vs. 37%), the pressure on the child to spend money online (41% vs. 35%), and the possibility of the child being radicalised online (29% vs. 25%).

Ofcom 2019 1 parent concerns

Published by Ofcom today, the reports showed that on average, a 5-15-year old child would spend more than four hours a day in front screens, including 2 hours 11 minutes online (same as a year ago) and 1 hour 52 minutes watching TV on the TV sets (8 minutes shorter than 2017).

“Children have told us in their own words why online content captures most of their attention. These insights can help inform parents and policymakers as they consider the role of the internet in children’s lives,” said Yih-Choung Teh, Strategy and Research Group Director at Ofcom. “This research also sheds light on the challenge for UK broadcasters in competing for kids’ attention. But it’s clear that children today still value original TV programmes that reflect their lives, and those primetime TV moments which remain integral to family life.”

There are differences in media consumption patterns between age-groups and between social groups. For example, the older the age group, the more time the children would spend online, from less than nine hours per week for the 3-4-year olds to 20.5 hours for the 12-15-year olds. Or, children of the 3-4-year old group in C2DE households spend more time going online, playing games and watching TV on a TV set, compared to those in ABC1 households.

Ofcom 2019 2 weekly hours

When it comes to device ownership and the devices used for media consumption, the research found that 1% of 3-4-year olds already have their own smartphones, and 19% have their own tablets. The penetration rates go up to 83% and 50% respectively in the 12-15-year old group. Again, there are differences between sub-groups on the devices used to consume media on their devices. While TV sets are still being used by more than 90% of children across all the sub-groups, the percentage of them also watching TV on other devices increased from 30% in the 3-4-year olds to 62% in the 12-15-year group.

The penetration of streaming services including Netflix, Now TV, and Amazon Video is already fairly high among all the sub-groups, with 32% of 3-4-year olds using at least one of them, going up to 58% in the 12-15-year olds. But YouTube is still leading in popularity. 45% of 3-4-year olds have watched YouTube, the penetration would go up to 89% in the 12-15-year olds.

As well as content consumption, content creation is also on the rise among children, with “making a video” one of the most popular online activities. While on average 40% of 5-15-years have made an online video, nearly half of all 12-15-year olds have done so.

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Time spent on online gaming has remained largely unchanged from a year ago, ranging from a little over 6 hours per week in the 3-4-year group to nearly 14 hours in the 12-15-year group. But gaming is the online activity that demonstrates the biggest gender disparity. While boys in all age groups spent more time on gaming than girls, the difference went up to over 7 hours in the 12-15-year olds. On average girls in this group spent 9 hours 18 minutes playing online games while boys of this age spent 16 hours 42 minutes.

Social networks are another important type of media consumption by children. Facebook remained to be the most popular social media among the 12-15 years group, but its downward trend has continued to the lowest level of 72% penetration since the high of 97% in 2011. Gaining popularity are Instagram (65%, up from 57% in 2017), Snapchat (62%, up from 58%), and WhatsApp (43%, up from 32%). More significantly, when asked to name their “main site or app”, equal number of 12-15-year olds (31%) named Facebook and Snapchat.

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Astoundingly, 1% of 3-4-year olds, 4% of 5-7-year olds, and 18% of 8-11-year olds already have social network accounts, despite that most social networks set their minimum age at 13. WhatsApp raised its minimum age for EU users to 16 prior to GDPR came into effect. At the same time, less than a third of parents were aware of Facebook’s age limit, with even less awareness for the age restrictions of Instagram and Snapchat.

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