Ofcom to probe UK telecom sector

Here we go...

The UK's monster communications regulator, Ofcom, is to conduct a year-long review of the UK's telecommunications industry.

Beginning in January, it will be the first comprehensive assessment of the sector for 13 years and will examine matters such as its importance to the UK economy as well as investment and innovation trends in the industry.

Crucially, though, the review will examine the competitive landscape of the sector, including the fixed, mobile, narrowband and broadband markets.

It will also attempt to assess whether competition and regulation have combined successfully to deliver lower prices, higher quality of service and wider choice for service providers and consumers.

While this is an industry-wide review, much of the investigation is likely to concentrate on BT, giving critics of the UK's dominant fixed-line telco yet another opportunity to challenge it.

And there should be no surprises if rival operators and lobby groups use the review to call, once again, for the break up of BT or other measures that would reduce the telco's dominance in some areas.

Only last month, for example, tempers boiled over at a parliamentary enquiry into broadband when BT boss Ben Verwaayen was questioned about the telco's "dominance".

Equally, BT will spare no effort in defending its position.

Last month, broadband industry lobby group BIG said that greater wholesale competition within the UK's broadband market would give the UK economy a £22 billion shot in the arm.

At the time, Energis boss John Pluthero said: "If we want an innovative, dynamic broadband market delivering huge economic benefit to the UK, genuine wholesale competition is needed.

"The time for action is now. We look forward to working together with Ofcom and other operators, including BT, to make this happen," he added. ®

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