Telecoms | UK Regulatory Outlook January 2024
Published on 11th Jan 2024
Ofcom plan of work consultation | Ofcom proposes ban on mid-contract price rises linked to inflation | Ofcom proposes updated guidance for telecoms network resilience
Ofcom plan of work consultation
Ofcom has published its proposed "Plan of Work" for 2024/25, which sets out its key focus areas for the next financial year.
The regulator's priority outcomes are:
- fast and reliable internet connections and services for everyone, everywhere;
- a wide range of trusted and highly valued media and protection for audiences across the UK;
- the reduction of online harms, making consumers feel safer on online platforms; and
- ensuring the efficient use of spectrum and supporting the growth of wireless services across the economy.
Ofcom notes that it will continue to monitor communications providers’ compliance with the new security framework, using its powers introduced by the Telecommunications (Security) Act 2021. It will submit its first report to the secretary of state on telecoms security by October 2024.
Under the Network and Information Systems (NIS) Regulations responsibilities, Ofcom will continue to make sure operators of essential services are managing security risks and will engage with industry to carry out its intelligence-led penetration testing scheme (TBEST) on telecoms and digital infrastructure.
The regulator has asked for responses to its proposed plan of work by 5pm on 9 February 2024. It will publish its final plan in March 2024.
Ofcom proposes ban on mid-contract price rises linked to inflation
Following over 800 complaints related to price rises between January and October 2023, Ofcom has concluded that inflation-linked mid-contract price rise terms can cause substantial amounts of consumer harm by complicating the process of shopping for a deal, limiting consumer engagement, and making competition less effective as a result.
Ofcom has found that consumers tend to be confused by the inflation-linked "CPI + 3.9%" messaging that providers tend to use, and it wants to ensure that consumers can make more informed choices about the best deals for them, including about bundle deals, without the need to forecast what their monthly price will be at a later date.
As a result, Ofcom has proposed the introduction of a new rule requiring that telco providers tell customers upfront (at the point of sale) in pounds and pence about any price rises that they include in their contracts (the "£/p requirement").
Ofcom considers that where a number of services are taken together as a bundle (such as mobile, broadband, pay-tv), information about any changes to the core subscription price (being the sum that customers must pay at regular intervals for the services) should be presented as the price of the whole bundle. Providers are not expected to provide a breakdown of the price changes for each separate element of the bundle.
The proposed scope of the £/p requirement applies to new contracts for all broadband, landline, mobile and pay-tv services; including where they are taken in combination as a bundle.
Ofcom is consulting on the proposed new requirement until 13 February 2024, and plans to publish its final decision in spring 2024. Subject to the responses it receives, the regulator intends for the new rule to come into effect four months after the publication of its final decision. This period reflects the concern about the scale of consumer harm balanced against the need to give providers sufficient time to make the necessary changes to their processes and business plans.
Ofcom proposes updated guidance for telecoms network resilience
Ofcom is consulting to propose updates to its resilience guidance, to help provide greater clarity on how UK telecoms companies can reduce the risk of network outages.
The regulator views resilient telecoms networks as vitally important to consumers and businesses in the UK. As more social and economic activities move online in the coming years, it is important that the telecoms networks that underpin them are sufficiently resilient to meet the increased demand.
Ofcom proposes to introduce an updated version of its guidance for communications providers, which sets out the measures expected of them in relation to the resilience of their networks. Public electronic communications services and networks are subject to new duties with respect to security and resilience, following the introduction of the Telecoms Security Act.
The update guidance includes:
- making sure networks are designed to avoid, or reduce, single points of failure;
- making sure key infrastructure points have automatic failover functionality built in, so that traffic is immediately diverted to another device or site when equipment fails; and
- setting out the processes, tools and training that should be considered to support the requirements on resilience.
Ofcom invites responses to its consultation by Friday 1 March 2024. It intends to publish its decision on the resilience guidance, and next steps on mobile power resilience, in summer 2024.
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