back to article Save Ofcom! Telcos and consumer groups call for end to legal disputes

Consumer groups and two telcos have written to the government in support of Ofcom's attempts to revamp its appeals process and stop legal challenges from obstructing its rulings. Which?, Consumer Futures, Three and TalkTalk have all signed a letter to culture secretary Maria Miller and business secretary Vince Cable that says …

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A stitch in time

> Ofcom has nearly every new regulation challenged, often on legal technicalities

Doesn't that just mean that Ofcom employs crap lawyers - who don't know how to draft regulations that are actually legal?

Instead of Ofcom bleating about the naughty telcos who spot the holes, which they should have spotted earlier and then use those flaws to delay the introduction of new rules that would benefit the public to the telcos' detriment (I bet they don't challenge anything that is good for them), why not actually get someone competent to look over the proposed rules before they are enacted?

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Re: A stitch in time

Doesn't that just mean that Ofcom employs crap lawyers - who don't know how to draft regulations that are actually legal?

I suspect it means that the legal money pot at Vodafone, O2, EE, etc is *much* bigger than the legal pot at OFCOM. If you're a multi billion pound company, spending a few hundred thousand pounds on lawyers to delay, or trivially amend a rule, might make business sense.

I've seen it mentioned several times that the private sector has deeper pockets for legal costs than the public sector.

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Re: A stitch in time

Sorry but that is unjustified criticism of the situation.

What is happening is that the large telcos are reviewing the regulations that are being presented and challengine minor technical points of law. Like everything in this world that has to do with judgements there will always be differences of opinion between parties as to the meaning of certain terms, phrases or sentences and in terms of regulations, those disputes must be resolved in a legal environment (i.e. tribunals in this instant).

I work with legal contracts everyday and spend a lot of my time agreeing with customers the meaning of specific clauses in order to ensure that both parties have a common understanding of the "intent" of the clause in order to avoid disputes later down the line. When those contracts deal with complex issues there will often be much discussion about the intent of both parties in the wording that is being proposed.

With respect to OFCOM I suggest that they add the traditional statement, that the regulations apply until or unless found to be illegal or void by a competent court or tribunal. That would put the rules in place first and any challenge would only be effective if it was found to be valid by the courts. Many of the current challenges are often lost by the telcos but the delays the claim introduces is of benefit to them. Remove the benefit and it may well prove it also gets rid of many of the claims.

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Happy

Re: A stitch in time

Partly true. But also there is a problem with the system.

I have sympathy with this even though I think Three arn't fit to do other that resell services from a competent wholesale operator (for ENTIRE UK Mobile Spectrum or even entire EU Mobile Spectrum) and I think Ofcom need abolished or reformed as the Country's Infrastructure, spectrum protection and Consumers are low on priority but raising money for Treasury and keeping major Mobile & Telco & Tat manufacturers happy is high on agenda.

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Re: A stitch in time

" Many of the current challenges are often lost by the telcos but the delays the claim introduces is of benefit to them. Remove the benefit and it may well prove it also gets rid of many of the claims."

Getting the challenges deemed vexatious would help too.

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Re: A stitch in time

"That would put the rules in place first and any challenge would only be effective if it was found to be valid by the courts"

A good start, but I think they should go further: Simply make OFCOM (in law) the arbiter of its own rules. So they set the rules, they decide what they mean, telcos that don't like it can go play in other markets they like better.

What's the point of a supposed regulator that can't set regulations without somebody else deciding what they mean? As OFCOM are appointed and overseen by government there's no big deal to allowing them to say how their own rules should be interpreted (in fact this is largely what happens in other regulated sectors).

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Re: A stitch in time

Making OFCOM it's own arbiter could go very wrong, very quickly. A couple of large white envelopes from the telcos to impressionable people on the right committees and the public could be in a world of hurt.

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Re: A stitch in time

Ofcom are judge, jury, and gaoler for many aspects of policy in the UK. They are only too keen to cry that the EU told them to do something (PLT), but drag their feet over other EU recommendations (SSB on CB), whilst ignoring laws on statute (EMC). Scrapping them and splitting off their functions to other bodies should be a priority for the government!

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Re: A stitch in time

"Scrapping them and splitting off their functions to other bodies should be a priority for the government!"

I work in a sector where the current regulator OFGEM is slated for closure and replacement by the probably inevitable next (Labour) government. In practice this means that we have a lame duck regulator who's going to do nothing for the next two years, and then a further two years (minimum) to design, legislate for the new regulator, and then recruit and get up to speed.

I believe OFCOM are a crummy and ineffectual regulator, but simply moving responsibilities to new bodies won't necessarily make those new bodies any better. Far better in my view to sack Tony Blair's placeman chief executive, and make the existing organisation work.

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Re: A stitch in time

"Making OFCOM it's own arbiter could go very wrong, very quickly"

But that's where we are already, that regulation is toothless and beneficial to the telecoms industry.

As a general rule the civil service are not very open to bribery, so I don't see the "envelope" argument as a big challenge (they're brown, not white, by the way). And you could say that the current system is open to financial persuasion in excatly the same way, you simply bribe different people.

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Re: A stitch in time

> I've seen it mentioned several times that the private sector has deeper pockets for legal costs than the public sector.

Yes, that's my understanding, too. A corollary being that they can afford to employ better (and more) legal counsel.

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Anonymous Coward

@Ledswinger

"...Tony Blair's placeman chief executive..."

You'd probably have to swing the axe a bit more widely than the chief exec. Peruse the list of Ofcoms top tier and the likes of their advisory committee and dig into the history, and you quickly see how far the deck is stacked against the consumer.

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Mushroom

Ofcom's decisions can be derailed too easily, through technical challenges that ignore the substance of the regulator's judgments

Well of course we wouldn't want technical information to interfere with the running of our telecoms industry, would we?

Don't worry Ofcom we wub you weally.

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A little more careful reading would help realise that "technical" here isn't referring to engineering issues, but to trivial points of law.

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