Out-Law News 1 min. read

Loosen rules to help us compete on internet-based calls, says BT

Telecoms giant BT has called for regulatory reforms to boost competition and investment in the digital communications market as it considers moving to a system of internet-based voice calls.

According to a report by the Telegraph, BT wants Ofcom to remove current rules that require it to operate a fixed-line phone network. Mark Shurmer, BT’s group director of regulatory affairs, said the company is looking for "a kind of 'sunset clause' that will help customers to plan" for the transition from the existing network to a new internet-based system, the report said.

In a statement, BT said it expects "all IP services will be used nationwide by 2025". It said a review currently being conducted by UK telecoms regulator Ofcom into digital communications "is an opportunity to roll back obsolete rules in this area to create a level playing field".

"Regulation has not kept up with the massive growth in competition and rapid pace of technology change over the last decade, whilst there are many overlaps between British and European laws which could be removed and simplified," a BT spokesperson said. "Such measures would improve efficiency, stimulate competition, and encourage investment in the UK's connected future."

Ofcom said it is "considering the kind of questions BT raises" as part of its review.

Ofcom has said that its strategic review of digital communications, launched in March, will look to ensure telecoms companies have the incentive to invest in their infrastructure and to innovate and flesh out future competition policy in the market. It will also look to identify whether there are opportunities for deregulation.

"Increasingly networks are providing connectivity, with many services delivered ‘over the top’," Ofcom said. "Internet players such as Skype and WhatsApp already deliver a wide range of voice, video and messaging services over broadband. Most of the UK’s fixed network operators now have plans to emulate these internet players, by delivering services over their broadband networks and eventually switching off their traditional voice networks. At the same time, companies continue to undertake targeted investment in new networks where the economics work."

"Given this, what is the scope for deregulating those networks and services which are downstream of any ‘enduring bottlenecks’, and relying instead on competition to deliver good consumer outcomes?" it said.

Ofcom said it intends to set out its "initial views and any next steps by the end of 2015".

In a separate call for input on the regulation of wholesale fixed call 'origination and termination' earlier this year, Ofcom suggested that the growing use of mobile phones, Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP) and text-based and social media services to initiate calls may merit the loosening of regulations that apply to BT and KCOM in the landline telephone market.

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