Ofcom’s Proposed Annual Plan 2017/18

ukcta_public Policy papers

Response to consultation from UKCTA
February 2017

UKCTA welcomes the opportunity to comment on Ofcom’s Proposed Annual Plan 2016/17.

Annual Plan Team
Strategy 3rd Floor
Riverside House
2a Southwark Bridge Road
London SE1 9HA

Ofcom Proposed Annual Plan 2017/18
UKCTA Response: UKCTA welcomes the opportunity to comment on Ofcom’s Proposed Annual Plan for 2017/2018.

Ofcom Planning

1. UKCTA considers it is vital that Ofcom plans effectively to ensure that it utilises its own resources to maximum effect whilst taking account of the pressures, economic and logistical, faced by those parties it seeks inputs from. Planning effectively so as to spread the work load over a reasonable period would go a long way to addressing UKCTA’s continuing concerns over the management of Ofcom work streams. Ofcom should acknowledge potential stakeholder resource bottlenecks in terms of parallel work streams. Effective coordination would, in UKCTA’s view, result in a measurable improvement in Ofcom’s overall performance (1).

Lack of coordination on consultation publications and other information requests

2.We note that Ofcom has continued its practice of providing clear milestone targets for each of the elements covered by the work plan for 2017/18. However, and as we have commented in previous responses to Ofcom’s annual planning approach, it is critical that Ofcom executes its planning effectively so as to ensure that the milestones its sets itself are indeed achieved. In the event that Ofcom expects not to meet targets, it is important that they re-engage with its’s stakeholders, in a swift and transparent manner with the revised targets, in order for stakeholders to adjust their workloads accordingly.

(1) We would also note that there are additional pressures being placed on stakeholders to respond to calls for evidence and consultations being undertaken by Government. These often have very short timescales for response and often inflexible deadlines given ministerial demand. However, they also have important implications for the industry. In an ideal world Ofcom would also co-ordinate with relevant departments but in practice we recognise that this is obviously difficult. However, we would urge Ofcom to recognise these external demands exist when considering its own flexibility.2

3. UKCTA members are disappointed that once again we must raise concerns over the lack of planning and co-ordination across functions within Ofcom and the impact that this has on stakeholders and their ability to provide high-quality inputs that will ultimately assist Ofcom to regulate and effectively promote competition in communications market.

4. Many of the requests by Ofcom, either s135, s136, or 191 Notices, calls for input or consultations are lengthy documents raising complex issues. Responses require detailed consideration of the issues/proposals. Ofcom simply must allow sufficient time for stakeholders to digest requirements, consult across the various internal teams that are inevitably affected and produce an appropriate response. Planning effectively would be of great assistance, as would ensuring transparency of the work programme so that industry can plan effectively. Whilst Ofcom’s publication of the Annual Plan goes some way to giving stakeholders advance notice of what is coming down the line, the reality is that Ofcom rarely manages to meet its own published timetables for those planned calls for inputs or consultations. Ofcom states in the proposed Annual Plan it will have to remain flexible to ensure it delivers on its priority goals  (paragraph 3.2). Whilst UKCTA recognises that some flexibility is important, Ofcom should be mindful of the burden on stakeholders that is exacerbated when Ofcom deviates from its Plan. In addition, the investigations or disputes, which UKCTA appreciates Ofcom cannot anticipate and plan for, can cause major difficulty for stakeholders from a logistics perspective, in particular, noting that the timelines associated with such activities can be short.

5. UKCTA has been given a number of verbal assurances by Ofcom that there is internal coordination but there is no evidence of coordination in practice. Similarly, we understand that Ofcom is reviewing its processes for gathering information and internal coordination. Given that this is likely to be a major work stream picking up from Ofcom’s 2015 consultation on information gathering, we would expect it to be referred to in Ofcom’s Annual Plan.

6. UKCTA members remain committed to providing high quality and accurate responses to Ofcom requests for inputs and information requests. However, it is disappointing that Ofcom appears to be employing a zero – tolerance policy to some stakeholder requests for minimal deadline extensions although there is no accountability for Ofcom delays.

Quality of Service

7. UKCTA members are also concerned about the lack of a joined-up and co-ordinated approach to QoS across the markets regulated by Ofcom. UKCTA is encouraged that Ofcom acknowledges the need to urgently and effectively address QoS issues. UKCTA members believe that some form of roadmap where all the various initiatives are brought together and addressed in one place would be beneficial.
At present Ofcom’s work on QoS is spread across various market reviews and other documents, which makes it hard to keep track of and scrutinise. Given the many QoS issues that have arisen over the years, UKCTA believes it should be a separate standalone project which can be tracked across all products and services.

Relationship between network providers and end users

8. UKCTA members are concerned that the notion of a one-dimensional world which is made up of networks and end users which contract with them directly, is becoming too mainstream a concept in Ofcom’s thinking. Whilst it can be a valuable simplifying assumption in some scenarios, when dealing with remedies that impact the range of complex value chains that have evolved in the UK, it can be damaging and Ofcom decisions in this regard can have unintended consequences. The most recent, and certainly not isolated example, was Ofcom’s view of the mobile value chain in the current switching consultations.

Business customers / B2B providers

9. UKCTA continues to urge Ofcom to take a greater level of account of business customers and B2B providers. For example, it is very disappointing to note that in the current recent Narrowband Market Review, Ofcom has a focus on competition based on substitutes to WLR, but which are effectively impossible for B2B providers to use.

10. Ofcom should ensure that B2B providers are explicitly exempted from consumer protection regulation which is an unnecessary additional protection in the B2B market place and an unnecessary cost for CPs.

The Ofcom Website

11. The 2016 revamp of the Ofcom website has resulted in a website that is not fit for use. Without exception, UKCTA members have found the new site difficult, if not impossible, to navigate. The search facility is of limited use. It now takes far longer than previously to successfully search for documents that should be easily accessible within one or two clicks as many of the links do not work. It is unrealistic for Ofcom to expect stakeholders to rely on the Government archive service if documents cannot be found on the Ofcom website. UKCTA members have reported many instances when links on the archive site do not work.

12. In addition, UKCTA members have also reported that the update email service appears not to be working as effectively as in the past. For example, the update on the joint action plan on nuisance calls and revised persistent misuse policy which was circulated in December was not seen by all of our members. The revised persistent misuse policy can only be found buried away under the entry for the original consultation. In general, it appears that not all statements and consultations are being referenced in the ‘Consultations and Statements’ part of the website, which undermines the transparency of Ofcom’s work.