Office of Communications Bill (OFCOM)
In October 2001 the UK Government introduced a Bill
to create a new Office of Communications (OFCOM). The new UK
regulator for what in the future will be the “Electronic
Communications Sector will merge the responsibilities of the five
existing regulators currently dealing with the regulation and
licensing of the existing Telecommunications and Broadcasting
OFTEL (Office of the Director General of
The ITC (Independent Television
The Radio Authority (Broadcast Radio)
The Radio Communications Agency (Radio
Frequency Spectrum Management and Licencing)
The Broadcasting Standards
and will provide a “one stop shop for the
regulation of broadcasting content, telecommunications, competition
and radio frequency spectrum management and licensing in the
UK. OFCOM is planned to be up and running by the end of
The OFCOM Bill is a “Paving Bill which allows
the establishment by the Secretary of State of OFCOM as a body
corporate. The Chairman and other Board Members appointed by the
Secretary of State are empowered to carry out all initial functions
necessary to facilitate the setting up of OFCOM as a regulator of
communications e.g. incurring expenditure, appointing staff etc,
However OFCOM is not empowered to borrow money other than from the
Secretary of State.
The Paving Bill which was laid before Parliament
for first reading in the House of Lords is currently in its
Committee Stage in the House of Commons. It is expected to be
passed as an Act of Parliament in Spring 2002.
The functions and powers of OFCOM and the transfer
of functions from the existing regulators etc, are to be contained
in a separate “Communications Bill which is currently being
drafted by Parliamentary Counsel.
It is likely that a draft Communications Bill will
be available for public/industry consultation in Spring 2002.
Following consultation the Bill is likely to be laid before
Parliament in Autumn 2002 with a target date for the resulting Act
to come into force in Spring/Summer 2003.
It is envisaged that the Bill will implement
measures contained in the forthcoming package of EC Directives
on Electronic Communications which have recently been agreed
and are due to be adopted by the European Parliament and Council in
The Bill is likely to contain a number of proposals
with regard to
a) The provision of electronic
communications networks and service.
This will include the abolition of the existing
regime of telecommunications licensing under
the Telecommunications Act 1984 in favour of general
authorisation. Specific conditions relating to inter alia Operators
with Significant Market Power, and Universal Service Obligations
b) Use of the radio spectrum
Spectrum licensing will remain but the trading of
spectrum between licence holders, currently prohibited, will be
allowed (subject to Competition Law restrictions), to promote
efficient use of unused capacity.
The UK government is shortly to publish the report
by Professor Martin Cave outlining his recommendations for the
future management of Spectrum in the UK.
c) Broadcasting (TV and radio)
Licensing, content and programme standards.
d) Consumer interests and competition
Matters in relation to which OFCOM will have
competition functions e.g. the provision of electronic
communications networks, services, apparatus and broadcasting and
related matters. Functions under the Competition Act 1998, Fair
Trading Act 1973 and Restrictive Trade Practices Act 1976.
The Electronic Commerce
The UK along with other EU Member States was
required to implement the Directive on Electronic Commerce
(2000/31/EC) by 16 January 2002.
The UK Government undertook an initial
public/industry consultation on the implementation of the Directive
in Autumn 2001. Regulations made under S.2(2) European
Communities Act 1972 are currently being drafted and are likely to
be released for consultation in Spring.
For further information please contact David
Roberts by telephone on +44(0)20 7367 3678 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org;
or contact Richard Eccles by telephone on +44(0)20 7367 3996 or by
e-mail at email@example.com.