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Ofcom's Consumer Policy under review
Friday 10 February 2006 10:11:00 by Andrew Ferguson

Ofcom has published a series of documents, outlining a consultation period that will run until 19th April 2006 allowing stakeholders to express their view as to what Ofcom should be doing in terms of consumer protection. It should be noted that broadcast TV and Radio are not part of this consultation, it is aimed at the telecommunications and rapidly evolving broadband market. The various documents can be accessed at www.ofcom.org.uk.

This review of consumer policy will be welcomed by many, our forums often see people complaining that Ofcom takes too long to react in a fast paced world. Additionally it seems people are not always happy with the existing Alternate Dispute Resolution schemes that only start to take effect after a dispute has been running 12 weeks. Four key aims are outlined in the Ofcom summary, related to how they see a consumer protection regime working:

  1. Well-designed rights and regulations – that will give consumers an appropriate level of protection without imposing an undue burden on suppliers;
  2. access to information about rights and risks – consumers should have ready access to information about their rights and about the risks they face e.g. from a new type of scam, so that they can take action to protect their own interests;
  3. effective complaints handling processes, operated by providers and others, and including provisions for awarding redress – consumers should have confidence that if a problem does arise, it will be properly dealt with, and that they can secure redress where appropriate; and
  4. active monitoring and enforcement – to ensure that providers comply with the regulations and that, when they fail to do so, appropriate penalties are imposed.

The last few years has seen Ofcom taking more of an active role in consumer protection in the broadband market, but there is still some way to go, and with the rapid speed of change in the market keeping up with developments is not always easy. One area coming to light is people trying to migrate back off a LLU based service onto a more traditional IPStream or DataStream service, at present this involves the slow and painful cease and provide cycle, rather than a fairly smooth migration. Ofcom and other parties have opened the local loop, but procedures seem too weighted towards corporate needs rather than the consumer who pays for it all.

We look forward to seeing the results, and hope it will lead to an improvement in how complaints and problems are handled in the sector. So now is the chance for the consumer to fill in a response to the consultation.

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