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Ofcom acts to improve consumer protection

Slowly does it

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For many caught up in the Bulldog debacle, this was too little, too late, and exposed a yawning gap in the role of the regulator and its willingness to protect the best interests of consumers. Even now, if there is a telecoms cock-up that affects large numbers of people who all complain to Ofcom, the regulator's response is that it will monitor the situation to see if there is a clear pattern of complaints. Under its current approach, it is only once a clear pattern has been identified - in the case of Bulldog, it took more than two months - that the regulator will consider investigating.

One recent press report suggested Ofcom was proposing to introduce a new watchdog - "CommsWatch", if you like - which would be charged with keeping a close eye on the industry and handling customer complaints. But a spokesman for Ofcom told El Reg it was unlikely such a body would be created. So, back to square one.

The importance of proper consumer protection cannot be overstated. Ofcom has gone out of its way to liberalise the UK's telecoms sector, to create an environment that will nurture competition. And it's working. Millions are being invested in local loop unbundling (LLU) including AOL, Carphone, Sky and Wanadoo, and the predictions are that as many as three million lines could be unbundled this year alone.

For many people, they won't know it's happening because their broadband line will be moved as part of a bulk migration. Fine, if it all goes well. But there's always the chance things might not go to plan. Likewise, in the competitive world that Ofcom has helped create, there are bound to be casualties. What then? Ten weeks of monitoring the situation, or action from a regulator that is serious about consumer protection? ®

* Details of Ofcom's consultation can be found here. The closing date for submission is April 19.

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