Telecom watchdog calls for policing overhaul

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The Independent Online
DON CRUICKSHANK, the outgoing director-general of telecommunications watchdog Oftel, yesterday called for a complete overhaul of the regulation of the communications industry which would see the creation of two new regulatory bodies.

In a submission which will be presented to the Select Committee of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport next week, Mr Cruickshank argued that the present regulatory system is ill-equipped to deal with the rapid convergence of telephones, televisions and computers and needs to be changed quickly.

"We simply can't dither over sorting out what the new system should be," he said. "The present regulatory structure is creaking, and the overlaps are creating uncertainty. `No change' is simply not a viable option."

Mr Cruickshank proposed that regulation of the electronic communications industry be divided between two bodies. The first, to be called the Electronic Communications Commission, would control all competition and economic issues. The second, known as the Electronic Communications Standards Authority, would police content and public standards broadcasting.

Mr Cruickshank argued that, as technological advances removed capacity constraints in telecommunications and broadcasting, the old system of regulating by handing out licenses for scarce capacity would no longer work. As a result, he proposed an "Open State" in communications, where any operator would be allowed to offer a service as long as it abided by a set of general rules.

Meanwhile, content available via television or the internet would be classified into a number of categories, allowing viewers to decide what type of material they want to be able to access before they see it.

The submission, which is seen as Mr Cruickshank's parting shot at Oftel before he leaves the regulator at the end of the month, is likely to stir up the debate.

That structure is also favoured by the Independent Television Commission, which regulates both economic and content issues in broadcasting. Mr Cruickshank's plans would require the Government to scrap the existing Broadcasting and Telecommunications Acts and replace them with new legislation. The Communications Commission would take the place of Oftel, while the Standards Authority would take over much of the ITC's current role.

Outlook, page 25

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