Memorandum submitted by the Welsh Advisory
Committee on Telecommunications (WACT).
1. The Welsh Advisory Committee on Telecommunications
(WACT) is one of the four national committees set up under the
Telecommunications Act 1984 to advise OFTEL. The Secretary of
State for Trade and Industry appoints its chairman and members.
2. WACT naturally concentrates on issues
that affect consumers in Wales, and takes a particular interest
in the needs of the rural areas. This submission thus focuses
on the consumer issues in the draft Bill, especially the Consumer
Panel, and on regional representation.
3. It has not been possible for our full
committee to meet before the deadline set by the Joint Committee.
A fuller response, discussed by the full committee, will be made
to the DTI/DCMS consultation.
4. While having concerns with regard to
consumer and regional representation, we welcome the draft Bill.
WACT has believed for some time that the plethora of regulatory
bodies covering broadcasting and telecommunications should be
rationalised. A common set of objectives applied in all areas
will encourage consistent decision-making. A single powerful regulator
covering the whole range of communications will reduce the possibility
of important matters not being addressed, avoid duplication, and
make it easier to react as the communications world changes.
OF OFCOM (CLAUSE
5. We are unhappy that the list of duties
should be presented as though all have equal priority. We believe
strongly that OFCOM's principal duty should be to further the
interests of consumers and citizens. All the other duties listed,
though welcome, must be secondary to this principal duty.
96 AND 97)
6. We welcome the proposal to establish
a Consumer Panel, but have concerns about its independence, scope,
7. The proposal that OFCOM will appoint
the Consumer Panel members is unwise, and will compromise its
independence and credibility. Regulators are under great pressure
from the industries they regulate, which makes it very important
that the consumer voice comes with maximum authority.
8. The scope of the Consumer Panel is limited,
essentially to the interests of consumers in relation to the provision
of electronic communications networks and services. This is too
restricted. Given the existence of the Content Board, it is understandable
that the Consumer Panel's remit should not include content per
se, but there are many other aspects of OFCOM's work on which
a strong consumer voice is needed. These include the use of the
radio spectrum, media ownership, and the awarding of broadcasting
9. We are pleased to see that it is proposed
to make the Consumer Panel represent the needs of small businesses
as well as individual consumers.
10. We are also pleased to see that there
will be a member of the Consumer Panel representing the needs
of Wales, but wish to see further statutory protection for regional
issues. This is addressed below.
11. Just having a member of the Consumer
Panel for Wales is not enough for effective representation of
the needs of consumers in Wales. There are many aspects to these
needs, notably the Welsh language, BT's effective monopoly in
most of Wales, the terrain and economic disadvantages of much
of Wales, the distinctive regional broadcasting services and the
need to work closely with the Welsh Assembly.
12. The needs of different parts of Wales
are not uniform. Thus there is a clear need for the member of
the Consumer Panel for Wales to be supported by a statutory advisory
committee with members representing different interests within
Wales. The Bill should establish this committee (and similar ones
for the other countries). If it is left to the Consumer Panel
to establish such committees, their creation and continuing existence
will be insecure. (WACT itself is an example of a statutory regional
committee protected in law under previous legislationthe
Telecommunications Act 1984).
13. The White Paper recognised the importance
of relationships with the devolved administrations. It is very
disappointing to see nothing in the Bill to give effect to this.
We believe that OFCOM should be required to liase with the National
Assembly for Wales on relevant matters, that the National Assembly
should be at least consulted on the appointment of persons representing
the interests of Wales (such as members of the Content Board,
Consumer Panel, and advisory committees), and that the National
Assembly should be entitled to reports from OFCOM and the Consumer
Panel on how their work affects Wales.
14. OFCOM should be required by the Bill
to establish an office in Wales (and also in Scotland and Northern
Ireland). The existing ministerial assurance on this matter is
not enough; it would not necessarily survive a change of government.
15. There is a great deal to be applauded
in the draft Bill, and there will be other issues that WACT will
wish to highlight. This preliminary response addresses some immediate
concerns, and we would be delighted to have the chance to discuss
them further with you.