Plans for new mobile and broadband consumer advocate
Over the weekend it was announced in The Telegraph that the Government is planning to legislate and create an independent advocate who will represent consumers and provide direct support to help them get a good deal.
It's clear that some mobile and broadband customers are vulnerable to unfair business practices.
We’ve already strengthened Ofcom’s powers to improve outcomes for consumers but a strong, independent consumer champion will empower customers and hold telecoms companies to account, as well as working with them to drive improvements in their services.
The consumer advocate will help deliver a Britain that works for everyone putting more money into the pockets of ordinary working people.Margot James, Digital Minister
The immediate thought and given the lack of firm information on what the plan for the advocate is we can only share our thoughts is that this seems to duplicate a lot of the work of Ofcom e.g. conducting research and representing consumers in key policy debates. The key difference seems to be that Ofcom does not intervene for individuals when there are problems where as the new advocate sounds like they will - but that carries a risk that many may start to use the advocate as their method of support.
Hopefully Mark of ISPreview will agree with us on this point, but while we both do have broadband listings we both do a lot more than just keep these up to date, but the idea of a body with legislation behind it that will directly support consumers to switch may scare the comparison sites that are dedicated to driving switching and spend money to get to the top of the google searches. One of the hardest problems if you are doing 'good deal' guidance is understanding every individual and with the increasing range of broadband connectivity options recommending is becoming increasing complex and doing this fairly from both the consumer and competing providers view points is very difficult.
A final thought if the new advocate is going to act against things like expensive mobile contracts that continue even though you have long since paid off any handset cost then we are taking a step closer towards actually having Government setting the price of retail services.
Making the Internet safer, treating consumers fairly are all noble goals but as a population we are very diverse and while many needs are common the differences that people actually notice and inform how fair they feel about a service or product can actually be very small. A consumer advocate that is guiding people to the best deal as the advocate believes it risks reducing the amount of innovation and may inhibit new market entrants and perversely may reduce the engagement of some consumers for example because a provider has a 'Best in Field' sticker awarded people will just buy that without conducting any further research.