News

Ofcom finalizes universal service broadband plans

As of March 2020 homes and businesses will have the right to request a decent broadband service to their property (decent being defined as a connection offering speeds of at least 10Mbit/s download and 1Mbit/s upload). Ofcom has now announced that it will be BT and KCOM who will be designated as the universal service providers for that broadband connection.

Currently there are 620,000 homes and offices struggling to get a decent broadband service who would currently be in scope of this project.

From March 20th, those eligible will be able to start making requests for a connection to either BT (UK excluding Hull) and KCOM (Hull area). The providers, once eligibility is confirmed (which will include determining whether the property is due to be connected under another publicly-funded scheme within 12 months), must establish a connection as quickly as possible and cover the initial cost up to £3,400. Costs above this threshold must be paid for by the customer.

Ultrafast broadband reaches more of the UK

The recent update to Ofcom’s Connected Nations report – which provides information on coverage and service availability for both internet and mobile phones – reveals that ultrafast broadband speeds (defined as download speeds over 300Mbit/s) are now available to properties in just over half the country. Superfast speeds of at least 30Mbit/s have reached 95% of UK premises and full-fibre broadband has risen a percentage point to 7% coverage, or 300,000 additions in the four months since the last report.

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Ofcom publishes its 2019/2020 Work Plan

Ofcom has published its work plan for 2019/2020 laying out its priorities and projects for the coming financial year following consultation with the public and industry. The four main focus areas for Ofcom are:

* Better broadband – this will include the implementation of the broadband Universal Service Obligation and supporting investment in fibre though duct and pole access – and better mobile – through auctioning more spectrum to boost rural reception and preparing for 5G.

* Fairness for customers – to ensure the fairer treatment of customers with fairer and clearer pricing and more transparency around deals availability. Ofcom will also be increasing the budget for its Communications Consumer panel.

* Supporting UK broadcasting – Ofcom will look to support regional TV productions and review the BBC’s news and current affairs programming and commercial activities as well as ensure that public service channels remain easily locatable in the face of technology developments.

* Online harms – reflecting the growing concerns around protecting people online and to ensure that audiences understand better the online world, Ofcom will carry out more work around media literacy and research into specific harms to include awareness raising.

Ofcom has updated its plan following the Government’s publication of its draft Statement of Strategic Priorities covering telecoms, spectrum and the postal service to reflect the priorities that were set by DCMS.

Whilst there are few surprises in the specific projects proposed for the year, with many ongoing and rolling over from last year, the first quarter should see Statements on the Broadband USO, the completion of the assessment for both the Business Connectivity Market Review and the Physical Infrastructure market review with the expected introduction of an unrestricted duct and pole access remedy.

Ofcom also references the work it is undertaking around Brexit and European legislation and how international cooperation with other bodies is expected to continue.

National Infrastructure Commission seeks views on future of regulation

The National Infrastructure is looking for opinions on the regulation of the energy, water and telecoms sector – both current and future changes that may impact on and affect these industries. The call for evidence just published will support the regulation study that the NIC has undertaken at the behest of the Government in October 2018. (more…)

Government sets out Strategic Communications Priorities

The Government is looking for opinions on its draft Statement of Strategic Priorities (SSP) for telecommunications, radio spectrum and post – the first if its kind following its new power granted by the Digital Economy Act 2017. Once the SSP is formally designated, telecoms will be brought more into line with the other utility sectors, and Ofcom obliged to have regard to the Statement. (more…)

No Deal Brexit opens the door to roaming rates return

The Government yesterday laid out its proposals for the future of mobile roaming in Europe should the UK leave the EU without a deal in place. As previously set out in the technical notice published in September 2018, should an implementation period be agreed, the current rules governing using a mobile phone in Europe will remain in effect until the end of 2020 and thereafter would depend on the terms agreed in the Future Economic Partnership. (more…)

Children and media: usage and attitudes

Ofcom has published a report on the media use, access, attitudes and understanding amongst children aged 3 – 15, and how parents manage this usage. The report revealed that whilst TV sets and tablets were used the most, TV viewing on a TV set is steadily declining, with consuming content becoming a more solitary activity and mobile viewing becoming increasingly popular. The reduction in TV viewing has been replaced for 3-4 year olds by spending an additional hour online, or gaming for 12-15s. (more…)

Network deployment speeds ahead whilst adoption lags

Ofcom yesterday published their annual Connected Nations Report which tracks the progress on deployment and take-up of digital infrastructure and the services provided over them.

The headline stats are that superfast (30Mbit/s) fixed connectivity is up 3 points to 94% of homes and businesses from last year, with 4G coverage from at least one operator up to 91% of the UK’s landmass. This is steady rather than spectacular progress, as you would expect at this stage of the network deployments. Full Fibre connections, a key focus for Government policy following the FTIR, now stands at 6% of premises.

Around 2% of UK premises still cannot currently access broadband services offering a 10 Mbit/s download – the threshold below which the Universal Service Obligation (USO) would kick in. This has halved in the last year and Ofcom will be hoping to see continued progress in 2019 in order to reduce the target area for the broadband USO which will come into effect next year. (more…)

New BSG Report: Preparing for the UK’s all-IP future

  • The UK is moving to an all-IP (internet based) network for voice services
  • The current analogue system, the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN), will come to the end of its life in the mid-2020s with transition also needed to prepare for our full-fibre future
  • As well as providing voice services, many other applications, such as social care and security alarms, use the PSTN
  • The report provides lessons from four international case studies which are further along their migration path, giving evidence on how the UK can prepare for a successful and seamless migration from the PSTN to all-IP networks.

The Broadband Stakeholder Group (BSG) has published a report on “Preparing the UK for an All-IP future: experiences from other countries”. It outlines the lessons the UK can learn from four international case studies as we migrate from the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) to all-IP voice services and networks.

The PSTN provides voice and some data services within the UK. It is nearing the end of its life and is increasingly expensive to maintain. A move to all-IP networks lowers costs, brings additional benefits to voice services and helps prepare for the eventual retirement of copper networks – a necessary move as we forge our full-fibre future.

The migration is necessary but raises two particular challenges. The first is the continued provision of voice services, in particular, resilient access to emergency services in the event of a mains power failure which is especially important for the vulnerable and those who are landline-only users. The second is around the data services that use the PSTN. Some of these will not be compatible with an all-IP system as they rely on the analogue capabilities of the old network.

In order to ensure that the UK’s migration is as seamless as possible, the BSG commissioned Plum Consulting to analyse four international case studies. Germany, France, Switzerland and New Zealand were chosen due to the different stages of their migration and their differing regulatory structures.

Guidance on how to communicate and protect vulnerable consumers who may be particularly dependent on voice services is a key feature of the report. As the migration will be led by individual communication providers, it is essential that the industry effectively coordinates its messages to both consumers and providers of services that are dependent or reliant on the PSTN. Other insights focused on the benefits of minimising the forced migration of users away from the PSTN as well as the potential technical challenge posed by the UK’s approach to number portability.

Richard Hooper, chair of the BSG, said: The UK is well placed to manage a successful migration from the PSTN to all-IP networks. Industry is already taking measures such as providing test facilities to companies that provide data services. However, this report makes clear that we need to continue to strengthen this work to avoid the pitfalls other countries have made and protect vulnerable consumers. It is particularly urgent that industry works together with Ofcom and ensures that the messaging to consumers from communication providers is consistent.”

Read the full report here.