Super regulator to control TV and telecoms

Patricia Hodgson, the former director of policy at the BBC, is poised to become one of the most powerful women in Britain thanks to a radical overhaul of the regulation of telecoms and television companies.

Patricia Hodgson, the former director of policy at the BBC, is poised to become one of the most powerful women in Britain thanks to a radical overhaul of the regulation of telecoms and television companies.

The Independent on Sunday has learned that the centrepiece of the Government's communications White Paper, due out next month, will be the creation of one body, expected to be headed by Ms Hodgson, that will oversee the regulation of all commercial television and telecommunications.

The White Paper will call for the Independent Television Commission, which licenses digital and terrestrial commercial TV, telecoms regulator Oftel and content watchdog Broadcasting Standards Commission to be merged into a single "super regulator".

It is also understood that Chris Smith, the Culture Secretary, is planning to snub the BBC by stripping its governors of their regulatory powers. He is livid at their failure to prevent BBC director-general Greg Dyke from moving the Nine O'Clock News to a later slot. The regulation of the BBC will now come under the new body.

The move will create a new post as head of one of Britain's most powerful regulators, employing more than 400 people with an annual budget of around £35m.

Ms Hodgson, now head of the ITC, has emerged as front-runner for the job. She is understood to have impressed ministers with her tough lobbying to bring back ITV's News at Ten. However, some observers predict that the Government may opt for a fresh face. When the gas and electricity regulators were merged to form Ofgem, for example, the Government appointed former merchant banker Callum McCarthy to head it.

The rank outsider for the post is Dave Edmonds, the embattled director-general of Oftel. In the past month he has come under fire over the regulation of British Telecom and the way the former state-owned company it is opening its monopoly on high speed internet access.

This has led to accusations that Oftel had fallen victim to the "captured regulator" problem - a variation of the "Stockholm Syndrome", where hostages are converted to the cause of their captors.

"What we are witnessing with Oftel is a sad example of regulatory failure," said Tim Conway, a director of CSSA, an IT industry body. He added that Britain will lag behind the US and Europe as a result .

The new regulator - already dubbed Ofcom - will be set up as the boundaries between internet and media companies blur. The most prominent example is the merger of internet service provider AOL and media giant Time Warner. Analysts predict that PCs and internet-enabled mobile phones will increasingly be used to access broadcast media.

Chris Bright, of law firm Clifford Chance, said: "With the advances in technology, the system of regulation is a nightmare. Sometimes there is an issue all the regulators want ownership of and on other occasions no one is interested. It's a shambles and urgently needs reform."

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