The principal elements in BT’s regulatory environment in the UK are obligations which apply under the Communications Act 2003, voluntary Undertakings offered by BT and accepted by Ofcom under the Enterprise Act 2002, and competition law. The Office of Communications - Ofcom - is the regulatory authority under the Communications Act. In addition, it has concurrent authority with the Office of Fair Trading for the telecoms sector under the Enterprise Act and under the Competition Act 1998.
The Communications Act came into force on 25 July 2003. The foundation of the regulatory framework under the Act is the set of general conditions. These apply to all providers of electronic communications networks or services. The general conditions are mainly concerned with consumer protection, but also address areas such as general access and interconnection obligations, standards, emergency planning and numbering.
Additional obligations are imposed on providers designated as providers of universal service. BT has been designated as the provider of universal service in the UK, excluding the Hull area. The Universal Service Obligation (USO) conditions imposed on BT address issues such as the provision of access to the telephone network, schemes for consumers with special social needs and public call box services. Additional obligations are also imposed on individual providers that have been designated as having Significant Market Power (SMP) in an identified market following a review of that market. BT has been designated with SMP in a number of markets.
The SMP conditions imposed vary from market to market. They include obligations to meet reasonable requests to supply certain services to other communications providers, not to unduly discriminate, and to notify price changes.
Ofcom is required to consult on the setting, modification and revocation of conditions. Appeals are available against regulatory decisions taken under the Communications Act.
During Ofcom’s strategic review of the UK telecommunications market, BT offered to Ofcom a set of commitments in the form of Undertakings under the Enterprise Act. Ofcom accepted the Undertakings on 21 September 2005, and they came into force on 22 September.
Key commitments in the Undertakings include:
the establishment of a new access services division, which BT has launched as Openreach
delivery of equivalence of input for certain key wholesale products and increased transparency for others
ensuring fair access and migration to 21CN for other communications providers
publishing and making available to all BT people a code of practice explaining what they must do to comply with the Undertakings
creation of an Equality of Access Board (EAB) to monitor and report on BT’s compliance with the Undertakings and the code of practice. The EAB will be supported by its own Secretariat and the Equality of Access Office (EAO). The EAB will issue an annual report to Ofcom as well as directly advising the BT Group Board on BT’s compliance with the Undertakings.
The Undertakings are legal commitments. If BT breaches any of the Undertakings, Ofcom can apply to the Court for an injunction to compel compliance. The Undertakings contain an alternative procedure, under which Ofcom can issue BT with a direction. BT would be entitled, through a decision of the Board, to reject such a direction, though this could be expected to lead to legal action by Ofcom. Breach could also lead to Ofcom making a reference to the Competition Commission. In addition, third parties who suffer loss as a result of a breach may take action against BT in the Courts for damages.
BT is also subject to general competition law, and the Competition Act 1998 came into effect in March 2000 - bringing the UK in line with European Community law.
The Act prohibits anti-competitive agreements and concerted practices and the abuse of a dominant market position.
As regulated markets become competitive and are subject to future market reviews under the Communications Act, there should be a move away from SMP conditions to greater reliance on the Competition Act. Ofcom has a duty to ensure that regulation does not involve unnecessary burdens and to publish a periodic statement setting out how it intends to achieve these duties.
In addition, Ofcom’s acceptance of BT’s Undertakings under the Enterprise Act should over time allow regulation to be focused only where it is needed and rolled back elsewhere, delivering clarity and certainty to the whole telecommunications industry.
This is the BT Vision EPG Policy which sets out the methodology for allocating listings for IP Channels on BT Vision and conforms to Ofcom’s Code of Practice on Electronic Programme Guides.