Oftel faces axe in shake-up

The Government may scrap telecommunications regulator Oftel in a radical shake-up of the regulation of communications media

The Government may scrap telecommunications regulator Oftel in a radical shake-up of the regulation of communications media.

According to an Oftel spokeswoman, the watchdog may be merged with the Independent Television Commission (ITC) to create a single regulatory body responsible for the telephone, computer and television industries.

The aim of the body would be to promote competition, quality and value-for-money services. It would also be charged with maximising users' access to services.

But Derek Nicholas, a member of the competition and markets special interest group at the Telecommunications Managers' Association (TMA), said the proposal would present a conflict of interests, hindering effective regulation.

"Content and delivery are separate issues and may not sit well in one unitary authority," he said. "Content has cultural and social impacts that are not relevant to the delivery mechanism. It would be difficult to have a single body that regulates everything and conflicts could occur, such as the Government wanting to be able to read private e-mail."

Nicholas said the TMA would like to see the simplification of bodies involved in communications regulation, but warned that merging the watchdogs into one large body could lead to unacceptable levels of bureaucracy.

In the past, the TMA has been critical of Oftel, accusing the watchdog of being unable to exercise its powers, especially in the regulation of British Telecom.

David Edmonds, Oftel's director-general of telecommunications, said, "To ensure consistency in the converged world, there should be a single regulatory framework right across the electronic communications sector. The design of a new agency should start with a blank sheet of paper - simply combining current agencies along existing lines is not an option."

Currently, Oftel is responsible for regulating the delivery mechanisms used in the communications industry, whereas content is regulated by the ITC and about 20 other agencies.

Oftel's proposals come in response to the Government's communications white paper, due in the autumn. The Government's decisions will, however, be driven by European legislation. An Oftel spokesman said changes would start to occur in two to three years.

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