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Ofcom 'could slow reform', warns telecoms lobby group

The introduction of a US-style board of executives to run new super-regulator, Ofcom, could slow the process of telecoms regulation in the UK. That's the warning of the lobby group representing professional telecoms managers, CMA.
Written by Lisa Burroughes, Contributor

The introduction of a US-style board of executives to run new super-regulator, Ofcom, could slow the process of telecoms regulation in the UK. That's the warning of the lobby group representing professional telecoms managers, CMA.

The current telecoms watchdog, Oftel, has a single director making many of the key decisions, but has come under considerable criticism for the speed at which it has resolved issues such as the unbundling of the local loop. The CMA is concerned that 'management by committee' within Ofcom could make that problem worse. David Harrington, director general of CMA, said that while he agreed in principle with not giving too much power to a single director, "a single person could move very quickly, whereas a council of executives by definition would take more time to come to any decisions". Speed of regulation reform was an issue for AOL. A spokesman for the ISP argued that Oftel had done "a good job" getting a flat-rate, wholesale internet access deal called Friaco agreed with BT. Consequently, he said, "One key concern is that [Ofcom] will have enough of a pro-consumer focus and can work as fast as Oftel did over Friaco." CMA's Harrington also doubted that including the Competition Act in the remit of Ofcom will have a great impact on telecoms regulation. "The Competition Act is all about a fully competitive environment. We are talking about a specific sector with some very dominant, vertically integrated players," he said. Overall, however, the white paper has been met with a stream of welcoming statements. Ahead of an election, the government has steered clear of controversial measures, although many observers are still unclear of the real implications it will have. Rob Hersov, CEO of Sportal and chairman of the British Internet Publishers Alliance, said: "We are as yet unclear as to how the new regulatory framework will impact upon the internet. Our concerns will remain until we discover how scrutiny on new and existing BBC online services will be dealt with." A spokesman for the Department of Trade and Industry said that these concerns will be considered as part of the consultation process, which will take place before the final make-up of the regulator is decided.
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