Some notes about Communications

Communications regulation has had to cope with wave after wave of technological innovation. Where once telecoms were incorporated as a branch of the Royal Mail in the public sector, the regulatory framework imposed on BT at privatisation in 1984 assumed a fixed-line system, and was concerned with things like rural post boxes. The explosion of developments – with mobiles, the Internet and broadband – has transformed the sector.

Yet after three decades of upheaval, in many respects the sector has come full circle. The basic utility questions have not gone away, but rather simply taken on new technology forms. Now it is essential to have access to a mobile signal and a fast broadband connection in order to participate in society and economic life. The universal service obligation (USO) is back, and current policy is directed to ensuring it is adhered to.

The debate has now moved on to the separation out of the broadband provider, Openreach, from BT. Some argue that it should be entirely divested, as happened in the case of British Gas and its transmission networks in the 1990s. Others think it can be handled by internal separation. Whichever route is taken (and the latter may eventually end up as the former), much of the conventional utility framework is back on the communications sector agenda again, even as OFCOM tries to promote infrastructure competition.

Latest Publication

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The new broadband utility and the openreach debate

January 26, 2016

Communications Publication

The prime Minister has said that we should have, by right, access to fast broadband and it should be thought of like the services for electricity, water, transport and all the other utilities. He is absolutely right, but the implications of treating broad


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