A parliamentary log-jam that threatened to delay the creation of super-telco and media watchdog Ofcom was cleared today when the Government announced that time had been found to give the watchdog legal teeth.
Culture secretary Tessa Jowell won parliamentary time on Friday amid fears that the Bill could be squeezed out, delaying the new agency for two years, as parliamentary business managers struggled to timetable the Government's pending legislation.
It now seems certain that Ofcom, which will replace the five existing communications regulators - Oftel, the Independent Television Commission, the Radio Authority, the Broadcasting Standards Commission, and the Radiocommunications Agency - will be established by 2003.
Patricia Hewitt, trade and industry secretary, has said the Communications Bill, which will set out the powers and duties of Ofcom, would be published later in this parliamentary session.
Ofcom's management team are to be appointed by the Government ready for launch early next year, giving Ofcom a year to prepare for power before the Communications Bill becomes law.
Former director-general of the BBC John Birt and current ITC boss Patricia Hodgson have been tipped to head the new agency.
The new regulator faces tough decisions on the role of public service broadcasting and how broadband services will be offered.
Critics of the decision to create Ofcom are worried that it won't have the necessary expertise to regulate telecoms, content, decency and privacy, spectrum allocation, and the radio industry.
The Government will have to decide on the state-funded BBC's ambitious plans to launch digital TV and radio services, plans that have been slammed by the commercial sector for replicating what they already provide.
Telcos, meanwhile, have been angrily attacking BT for allowing the UK to fall behind in the race to upgrade the telephone network to provide broadband services, and for shutting them out of the market.
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