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Ofcom finalises ambitious annual plan

A little less allocation, a little more action

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Ofcom has a busy year planned, involving auctions, action and investigations, not to mention taking responsibility for the Post Office too, and all for less money than last year.

In addition to its usual duties, the regulator's plans for the next 12 months include: running the biggest spectrum auction in UK history; managing the spectrum needs of an Olympic games; reviewing the TV advertising industry; consulting on white space radio; reporting on the resilience of the country's infrastructure; and deciding how to deal with copyright infringement on the internet. And all that regulator goodness comes for less than 80 per cent of last year's budget.

The 4G spectrum auction process is currently under consultation, and attracting disapproval from most of the industry in equal measure. Responses are due before the end of May, and will be followed by proposals from Ofcom that seek to appease everyone involved, but if they don't, then those could be followed by legal action from aggrieved operators.

The Olympic Games is a huge undertaking, which will need frequencies reserved for logistics and emergency services, as well as for foreign and domestic media who will be wanting spectrum for wireless cameras, microphones and the like. Ofcom has yet to publish a spectrum plan for the games.

A complete review of how companies buy and sell television advertising would be ambitious at the best of times, and in the next 12 months Ofcom plans to establish how competitive the industry is and reassess the entire regulatory environment around television advertising.

After all that, the analysis of white space radio use is probably one of the easiest things the regulator will be doing – just take the FCC (American) recommendations and copy/paste "state" for "county" and "Mode 1" for "hub"... and that's done.

More complicated will be regulator's first report on the resilience and security of the country's national communications, and its recommendations on what responsibilities should be required of network operators to increase that resilience (if necessary).

And all that is a walk in the park compared to coming up with a plan to address online copyright infringement, as the regulator is required to do by last year's Digital Economy Act. That includes raising awareness of copyright issues, presenting Parliament with quarterly reports on the level of copyright abuse and creating annual summaries of those reports and what it is doing about them.

To do all of this, Ofcom has budgeted £115.8m, which is £26.7m less than last year. That means continuing the pay freeze for staff, and the plan to lay off 170 of them, and lots more outsourcing too.

Ofcom reckons this leaves enough in the till to achieve everything in the plan (47-page PDF/277 KB), and deal with the annual tally of 5,000 interference reports, and 18,000 licences, not to mention all those calls from viewers upset with the result of the X-Factor. ®

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