Ofcom paving Bill published

Legislation will pave the way for the merger of current regulators, but goverment cannot guarantee the watchdog regulatory powers by the 2003 deadline
Written by Wendy McAuliffe, Contributor

The government began setting the framework for the communications super-regulator Ofcom on Friday with the publication of the Office of Communications Bill, but is making no promises that the body will receive legal powers by the 2003 deadline.

The paving legislation will allow the government to begin merging media and telecommunications regulation into a single watchdog, although Ofcom will not receive its regulatory powers until the Communications Bill is brought into force. It is hoped that Ofcom will be fully operational by 2003, but the government is refusing to confirm that Parliamentary time will be available for the publication of the Bill in the 2002-2003 session.

"The paving Bill will allow government to establish the structure of the body by employing staff, finding premises and doing preparatory work, so that it can take over from the five regulators when the Communications Bill comes into force," said a spokesman at the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).

A draft Communications Bill, containing the Government's proposals for Ofcom's regulatory framework, is due to be published in this session of Parliament. "The nuts and bolts will be set out in this Bill -- it will define Ofcom's parameters of power," confirmed the DTI spokesman. But the government has stated that the Bill will not be enforced before 2003, and is making no promises that sufficient Parliamentary time will be available for discussing its proposals.

"There will be widespread discussion... so we hope that Ofcom will be able to hit the ground running," explained the DTI spokesman.

Ofcom will replace the five existing communications regulators Oftel, the Independent Television Commission, the Radio Authority, the Broadcasting Standards Commission, and the Radiocommunications Agency. The existing regulators will retain their powers until the Communications Bill is passed.

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