Oftel stakes superhighway claim

Telecommunications Regulator bids for the key supervisory slot in a world of new distinctions

In a move that may herald a turf battle among regulators, Oftel, the statutory watchdog that oversees Britain's telecommunications industry, yesterday staked a claim to wider regulatory powers over the supply and distribution of multimedia products in the digital age.

In a 70-page consultative document, Beyond the Telephone, the Television and the PC, Oftel argues that "telecommunications systems will be a vital component in the distribution of any future digital or broadband services." As a result, the report concludes, "the traditional regulatory distinctions between broadcasting and telecommunications will be difficult to sustain."

Publication of the report, initiated by Oftel's activist director-general, Don Cruickshank, follows indications last month from the Independent Television Commission, the commercial television regulator, that it, too, sought wider powers to regulate emerging multimedia services. The ITC is at work on a code of practice governing "conditional access" - the basis on which consumers can contract for pay TV and interactive services such as home shopping and home banking.

An ITC spokesperson said the Commission had been consulted by Oftel but had no immediate reaction to the document.

Inviting companies and other interested parties to share their views, Oftel said it believed "some regulatory framework and principles may need to be established" before the digital revolution is complete. It has posed 20 key questons aimed at defining the need for a new regulatory framework to govern the emerging multimedia market. Issues include access to distribution networks, billing for interactive services and vertical integration of both supply and distribution.

Industry experts said the Oftel document underlined the need for convergent regulations to reflect convergence in the marketplace, as the traditional distinctions between broadcasters, telecoms carriers and "software" or content providers erode.

"We view it as inevitable that there be convergence between the roles of regulators," a spokesman for BT said.

The document falls short of calling for a single regulator to cover all aspects of the information highway. However, there are clear examples where Oftel appears to stake a claim beyond its current remit. For example, it suggests that a fresh regulatory framework for multimedia might "potentially apply to satellite or terrestrial broadcasters" which may use networks such as BT's to provide fully interactive services. "It would be inconsistent to apply the proposed regulatory framework to only some of those dominant in a particular market," the document suggests.

A single regulator to cover infrastructure, dubbed Ofcom, was among the recommendations in Labour's policy document on the information highway, released last month.

The European Commission will soon release a Green Paper on the information highway, and is expected to raise the possibility of a new European watchdog to handle both content and distribution issues. The US already has a single regulator, in the form of the Federal Communications Commission.

Oftel argues that the multimedia market can be viewed as four distinct markets: content creation; service provision; distribution networks; and consumer equipment, which "may eventually converge." The document concludes that "different forms of regulation may be required to encourage each system type to provide the maximum range and diversity of services to customers."

According to the Oftel document, the chief concern is the consumer's interests, which Oftel believes to be "of overriding importance." It calls for open access to delivery systems, allowing providers of services and programming to use distribution networks on a non-discriminatory basis. Oftel believes that such "inter-connectivity" would improve British competitiveness.

All the same, Oftel suggests, there could be a distinction between "dominant" and "non-dominant" players in the sector. Only dominant players would be required to make their distribution networks available to all suppliers immediately.

Comment, page 15

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
Life and Style
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...

Ashdown Group: IT Manager / Development Manager - NW London - £58k + 15% bonus

£50000 - £667000 per annum + excellent benefits : Ashdown Group: IT Manager / ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant / Telemarketer - OTE £20,000

£13000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Scotland's leading life insuran...

Ashdown Group: Training Programme Manager - City, London

£40000 - £45000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Training Programme Manag...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own