Overworked Ofcom is slated by the industry

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The Independent Online

Ofcom, the super-watchdog, has been criticised for being unco-ordinated, overworked and unaccountable by the companies it regulates.

Ofcom, the super-watchdog, has been criticised for being unco-ordinated, overworked and unaccountable by the companies it regulates.

It was set up on 29 December to take over from the five separate regulators responsible for the telecoms and media sector.

Charged with implementing the wide-ranging Communications Act, it promised to be a "light-touch regulator".

But having just completed a consultation into its own workings - one of 38 consultations it has issued so far - many of the responses were critical of the regulator, underlining uncertainty over its role.

Utility group Centrica said: "We find it hard to assess whether Ofcom resources have been appropriately allocated, since there is little information on how the work of the main departments within Ofcom is to be split."

Radio group Chrysalis argued: "The volume and pace of consultations suggests a process that has quickly become out of control [and] lacks co-ordination."

It questioned whether the workload was sustainable, adding that it could have little confidence in the consultations if Ofcom does not have the time to consider the responses.

SMG, owner of Virgin Radio, complained that its enquiries had not been dealt with promptly. Crown Castle, which is a member of the consortium running digital terrestrial provider Freeview, said Ofcom's resources were "somewhat biased". Other telecoms companies complained that it should focus more on the day-to-day regulation of the sector.

The appointment of Stephen Carter as chief executive of Ofcom attracted some controversy. While managing director of NTL, the value of the cable company went from $12bn (£6.5bn) to zero in two years. It later emerged that he received a golden parachute of $2.6m.

In a speech last week to the Westminster Media Forum, Mr Carter acknowledged that Ofcom had underestimated the scale of the task of merging five organisations. "Bear with us," he added.

The regulator has already promised, at the request of the companies, to "bundle" related consultations together to save time. Initially, it is carrying out three strategic reviews of public service broadcasting, the telecoms sector and the management of spectrum for television and telecoms companies. An Ofcom spokesman insisted that the different sectors it covers all receive equal priority.

The watchdog employs 800 people, 400 fewer than the five bodies it replaced. Funded by the companies it regulates, it has an annual budget of £144m for 2004.

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