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 USO is back, and current policy is directed to ensuring it happens.
The debate has now moved on to the operation 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.