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Ofcom sets out ambitious plans for 2012/13

Spectrum auctions, Olympic Games and live complaints system

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UK communications regulator Ofcom has set out its plan for the next year, and wants to know if anyone disagrees with its priorities.

Among the plans for next year is the promise of complaints submission through its website, so X Factor viewers won't have to hold their ire until the morning. The regulator will also take a look at how ATVOD (the Authority for Television On Demand) is progressing in the regulation of IPTV services, in addition to sizing copyright infringement and trying to auction off the digital dividend – again – as well as cutting its carbon emissions, of course.

Ofcom publishes a draft plan at the end of every year to garner responses by the middle of February and commence the plan around April. The latest proposals, which cover 2012/13 (PDF, really, really, dull), include taking time to see if broadcast television has a long-term future, as well as working out what people want from their postal service, for which Ofcom is also now responsible.

The regulator also reckons it can start working out how to get shot of the unloved 600MHz band, and pushing into the white spaces. Sadly there's no talk of whether Sitefinder will ever get up-to-date information on the networks already deployed, or if we'll ever get the promised disclosure database which is now almost a year behind schedule.

But taking on responsibility for the postal service is a big deal for the quango, which already regulates everything from flashing thighs before the watershed to radio spectrum licensing and journalistic neutrality. Ofcom intends to continue its policy of market-driven reform with reduced regulation, though it does promise "a review of the needs of postal users" leading to a set of recommendations to be published March 2013.

The big project for the year will be the mega-auction of the digital dividend band at 800MHz and the 3G-expansion at 2.6GHz, which are to be sold off together for 4G telephony services once the network operators have stopped whining about how unfair it all is. That should happen during the length of this plan, but Ofcom's nervousness about the date comes through in the expectation of "Roll-out of 4G mobile services during 2013/14 and wide availability by 2015".

But that's not going to stop the regulator flogging off the 600MHz band which no one seems to want. 600MHz is also released by the digital dividend (the digital channels squeezed into the middle of the analogue bands, leaving gaps at both ends), but unlike the top of the analogue band (800MHz) there's no international agreement as to what 600MHz should be used for and thus no cheap kit to deploy there.

The government has mooted the idea of running some local (digital) TV channels in the band, which can be received using existing set-top boxes, but it's hard to believe such channels will be able to afford the buy the spectrum even given its lower value.

Especially when there is plenty of White Space for Local TV, and Ofcom plans to have the first such stations operating during 2013 – or licensed at least; the commercial viability of such stations is still very debatable.

Speaking of White Space, Ofcom is hoping to sort out the details regarding who gets to run the database of frequencies available to unlicensed users, though the award may not happen until the end of 2013 with the first devices on the shelves in 2014. The Americans should be awarding their first database licence any day now – NAB permitting – so it's probably worth giving it a month or two to see how that goes.

Here at The Register we're particularly keen on seeing Ofcom's estimated levels of online copyright infringement, and the regulator's initiatives to "raise public awareness of copyright and online infringement" which it's required to provide under the Digital Economy Act 2010. Also in the plan is the creation of the appeals body, for online citizens who feel they've been wrongly accused of copyright infringement, and an industry code so that internet service providers can voluntarily sign up to it.

All this will happen in the year of the London Olympics – which make huge demands on the radio spectrum – and the World Radio Conference, where delegates from the world's regulators come together to discuss international spectrum assignments, with Ofcom taking an active role.

Should you feel the regulator is stretching too far, or should be focusing elsewhere, then the four regions of the UK each get a public event at which the plan will be discussed, though only the English get offered the additional inducement of "tea, coffee and biscuits". ®

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