Broadband Providers Association Call for Ofcom to Adjust Annual Plan

An industry body representing the UK’s internet providers has said it is “disappointed” with Ofcom’s Annual Plan for 2019-20, a document outlining the work the regulator intends to undertake over the next year.

The Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA) has said that several key areas have been “completely overlooked” by the plan.

In the first draft of the plan, published late last year, Ofcom announced its intention to push for universal broadband and mobile access, promote investment in full fibre infrastructure, and improve consumer protections.

However, the ISPA expressed discontent with the plan, which it says shows Ofcom’s failure to understand the B2B broadband market and outlined market interventions that don’t specifically target vulnerable consumers. Additionally, Ofcom must be clearer on its plans for regulating the industry following Brexit, the trade group urged.

Specifically, the ISPA said in a response to the Annual Plan that Ofcom needs to develop a “more well-rounded understanding of [business] customers, their needs, and the forces driving behaviour in this market.” This would entail more data gathering and reporting on business connectivity by the regulator.

Meanwhile, Ofcom should ensure “measures to protect vulnerable customers [are] targeted to benefit the section of the market they are intended to protect” and not applied to the market generally.

ISPA’s dispute appears to be primarily with end-of-contract notifications. The regulator has recently been consulting on plans to require telecoms providers to send notification letters to residential and small business consumers 40 to 70 days before their contract ends and they are reverted to more expensive out-of-contract pricing. Reportedly, the requirement would save mobile, landline phone, broadband, and pay-TV customers in Britain £1 billion a year, by prompting them to switch to another deal.

However, ISPA has suggested that “the level of protection needed by a vulnerable consumer and a business differ greatly, and there should be a concerted effort by Ofcom to target these measures [such as end-of-contract notification letters] appropriately.”

The ISPA was also concerned protocols and infrastructure didn’t exist to make switching for these customers easy or to keep up with competition in the market.

“It is clear that to avoid potentially significant consumer harm, Ofcom must work to drive this agenda forward and ensure the industry does not end up in a position where consumers are looking to switch but the required mechanisms are not in place,” the ISPA’s response read.

Finally, the ISPA urged for “greater clarification of Ofcom’s role in cyber security regulation… and on their plans for regulating the industry post-Brexit.”

The ISPA represents 200 businesses, including large consumer providers BT, Sky, and Virgin Media as well as smaller network providers.

The association said it was “confident” the issues it has raised with Ofcom could be “easily resolved.”

“Ofcom’s Annual Plan comes at a hugely important time for the industry. As we move into the next phase of digital infrastructure deployment, the entire industry looks to Ofcom to ensure this vision is delivered,” said Andrew Glover, Chair of the ISPA.

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