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OFTEL Shifts Gears on Telecom Regulations

The Office of Telecommunications Policy (OFTEL) this week introduced its new approach to regulating the telecommunications market in the UK.

The heart of OFTEL's strategy is to roll back formal regulation where competition is effective and already protects consumer interests.

OFTEL is counting on increased self-regulation by industry leaders and co-regulation where some competitive encouragement is required. The UK regulatory agency also intends to thwart, if not prohibit, anti-competitive practices in the telecommunications market.

In order to encourage competition, OFTEL plans to carry out a series of major reviews analyzing key sectors of the telecom market over the next few years. The reviews will include benchmarking against other countries to see if UK consumers are getting a deal at least as good as those abroad.

David Edmonds, OFTEL director general, said the deregulatory approach to the telecom industry is the most significant change in OFTEL's approach to regulation since 1984.

"As telecoms markets become more competitive OFTEL needs to review its approach to regulation," Edmonds said. "Up to now regulation has focused on opening up a previously monopoly market, to promote competition and protect consumers. OFTEL's new approach is to focus on effective competition which gives the customer the best deal."

Edmonds said the strategy shift means that competition is key to providers consumers with the best possible telecom services.

"OFTEL's new strategy is therefore one of 'competition plus.' This means effective competition to protect consumers' interests wherever possible," Edmonds said. "But where there is not yet effective competition or where consumers need extra protection, then OFTEL will regulate, with as light a touch as possible."