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Ofcom puts businesses centre stage

Telecoms regulator argues that it does have businesses' interests at heart and is not purely consumer-oriented
Written by Richard Thurston, Contributor on

Ofcom's chairman has pledged to support the communications needs of UK businesses. His attempt at reassuring businesses that they are central to Ofcom's regulation flies in the face of the opinion of many business users, who feel that the comms regulator is interested only in consumers.

Speaking at the annual conference of the Communications Management Association (CMA), a representative body for business comms users, Lord Currie said there was a widely held misconception that Ofcom was interested only in benefitting consumers.

He said: "There is a misconception of Ofcom among some business users. We are very concerned to serve the needs of businesses. When we speak of consumers, we mean enterprise customers as much as consumers: the whole gamut from SMEs right up to large public organisations."

Currie continued: "Let's have a reasonable debate on how we can better engage with big business users. Let's abandon the notion that we don't care about business users."

But the CMA was not convinced by Currie's argument. Speaking to ZDNet UK, Carolyn Kimber, chairman of the CMA, was reluctant to suggest any progress in recognising the needs of businesses. She said that the CMA was engaged in regular meetings with Ofcom to debate businesses' needs, but that Ofcom often tended to concentrate on consumer issues, which have a higher profile in the national media.

After his initial words of encouragement, Currie offered less reassurance on two critical business issues: voice and data roaming charges, and BT's £10bn next-generation network.

On roaming, he acknowledged the importance of reducing international call charges, but he stopped short of accepting responsibility. "The issue should be addressed. It is being considered in Europe. It's a matter for the [European] Commission and the Council of Ministers," he said.

And Currie confirmed businesses' fears that there were gaps in their collective knowledge about BT's next-generation network, which the telco calls 21CN. He said: "We are committed to ensuring a smooth migration [to 21CN services]. I know some of you feel the process is not transparent. We take that very seriously."

Referring to the architecture of 21CN, Currie added: "We don't yet know all the answers. As soon as BT knows the answers, we'll ensure you have them. [The] new services will be better for your business."

21CN has already been delayed, and BT has said it is concentrating its consultation programme on telecoms carriers, and not businesses.

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