Industry news

Government agrees measures with telecoms companies to support vulnerable consumers through COVID-19

BSG welcomes the conclusion of a collaborative initiative between the UK major telecoms providers, the Digital Secretary and Ofcom which targets customers in need additional support to stay connected during the current pandemic. Yesterday’s announcement sets out a number of substantial commitments to support and protect vulnerable consumers and those who may become so arising from changes in circumstances brought on by Covid-19. These measures build upon, and reinforce, the Stay Connected campaign launched last week.

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DCMS signs £1 billion deal with mobile networks to improve coverage in rural areas

Government announced today that it has reached agreement with the four mobile networks to improve 4G mobile coverage.

As part of the government’s commitment to improve digital infrastructure in the UK, the Secretary of State for DCMS has signed a £1 billion deal with EE, O2, Three and Vodafone to extend rural coverage via the Shared Rural Network (SRN). This means that 4G will be available to 95% of the UK landmass by 2026, extending mobile coverage to 280,000 more premises and on an additional 16,000km of the UK’s roads. The government has pledged £500 million of funding to eliminate not-spots where there is currently no coverage from any operator. The four networks are committed to investing £532m to close almost all partial not-spots where there is currently only coverage from at least one operator.

Last August the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (MHCLG) and DCMS published proposals to reform permitted development rights to support deployment of 5G and extend 4G mobile coverage.

 

Monthly update from the Broadband Stakeholder Group

The Broadband Stakeholder Group has published its latest monthly newsletter “Connectivity sets the agenda.”

The bulletin outlined key updates in industry-related regulation and policy from January 2020 – including the reintroduction into the parliamentary timetable of the Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill – and the much-anticipated conclusion to the Telecom Supply Chain Review. You can read more about the review in detail via our news post.

Our newsletter also provided an overview of developments in consumer protection and child protection regulation, and what lies ahead following the UK’s exit from the European Union on 31 January 2020. BSG and techUK are promoting the interests of the digital infrastructure industry in a number of other recommendations to Government which include improved access for UK companies to priority international telecoms markets in future free trade agreements.

If you would like to receive our next update, you can sign up to the BSG newsletter in the footer of our website below.

Telecoms Supply Chain Review

The Government has announced new plans to safeguard the UK’s telecoms network and pave way for fast, reliable and secure 5G and full fibre connectivity. This clarification is critical for a number of UK infrastructure providers who sit on the Broadband Stakeholder Group, and to inform decisions in relation to Huawei in the rollout of the 5G and full fibre, gigabit-capable networks.

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CMA investigation into the loyalty penalty

A report published today by the CMA is a progress report setting out the work and progress that has been made over the last 12 months.

In September 2018, CMA received a super-complaint from Citizens Advice. There followed an investigation into the loyalty penalty in 5 markets: mobile phone contracts, broadband, household insurance, cash savings and mortgages. The CMA uncovered continual year on year price rises, costly exit fees from contracts, time-consuming and difficult processes to cancel contracts or switch to new providers, and auto-renewal policies that switched unsuspecting customers onto more expensive contracts, often without sufficient warning. In its response to the super-complaint, the CMA made a number of recommendations to Ofcom, the FCA and other regulators to help them better protect consumers. It also launched its own investigations into auto-renewal practices in two sectors. (more…)

Cross sector comparisons

The UK Regulators Network (UKRN), regulators in telecoms, water, energy and banking have partnered to compare how customers rate the biggest companies who provide services people rely on every day. The level of customer satisfaction in telecoms varies between 79% to 96%. The scorecards also capture some metrics on perceptions of value for money. Between 82% and 97% of customers in telecoms are satisfied with the value for money they receive from their supplier. Complaints across mobile, landline and broadband complaints are below 1%. (more…)

Ofcom’s proposals for stimulating greater investment in fibre broadband

Ofcom has published its first combined five-year review of Wholesale Fixed Telecoms regulation which maps out how it will regulate Openreach between April 2021 and March 2026 for both the residential and businesses connectivity markets (previously the regulator separately assessed the Wholesale Local Access Market Review of residential, and the Business Connectivity Market Review).

Ofcom’s four-point plan aims to support competitive investment in fibre networks and competition in gigabit capable services, ensuring world class broadband services are available to as many people and businesses as possible.

  1. Improving the business case for fibre investment. In more urban areas, Ofcom proposes that the wholesale price that Openreach charges retail providers for its entry-level (40 Mbit/s) superfast broadband service is capped to inflation. This follows a cut Ofcom made to this product in its 2018 review. Ofcom also proposes that Openreach can charge a small premium for regulated products if they are delivered over full fibre. Openreach’s fastest fibre services will remain free from pricing regulation to support the investment competition between network builders.
  2. Protecting customers and driving competition. Ofcom will ensure that people can still access affordable broadband by capping Openreach’s wholesale charges on its slower copper broadband services. Openreach will be restricted from being able to offer discounts that could stifle investment by its rivals.
  3. Taking rural areas into the fast lane. In rural areas where there is no prospect of multiple networks being built, Ofcom will support investment by Openreach which is the only operator with a large-scale rural network, by allowing it to recover investment costs across the wholesale prices of a wider range of services, reducing the risk of its investment. If BT provides a firm commitment to build fibre in these parts of the country, Ofcom will include these costs in its prices upfront. If not, Ofcom will only allow it to recover these costs after it lays new fibre. The UK Government is planning to invest £5bn to reach the most challenging 20% of the UK and is working closely with Ofcom on its plans for this.
  4. Closing the copper network. Ofcom plans to remove regulation on Openreach’s copper products in areas where full fibre is built to support the migration/switching of customers to the new fibre network. Ofcom will be transferring its regulation – including price protections – from copper to new fibre services.

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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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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…)

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…)

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.