UK consumers and businesses are being asked to voice their opinions on how the provision of broadband Internet and other data services should be regulated.
Individuals will be probed by the UK telecomms watchdog Oftel on a number of issues, including whether to introduce protection for operators that invest in broadband infrastructure at the risk of driving up prices for customers.
Oftel will publish a consultation document within the next few days setting out its views on control of broadband services in the UK and asking for public comment. Consultation periods typically last three months.
Speaking at the FT World Telecommunications Conference in London today, Oftel's director general David Edmonds said consumers, industry and the media are well positioned to comment on the control of broadband services.
"I see the role of regulators in relation to competition and convergence being at an absolute minimum," said Edmonds. The forthcoming discussion document "sets out our views and asks the questions of industry, consumers and even the media, because we believe they'll be much better placed", he added.
Analysts said looking for public comment is in line with Oftel's mission to protect consumers. "Broadband is a very important technology both through the Internet and any proprietary broadband system developed - so consumers have a very large stake," said Ade Ajibulu, an Internet analyst at Analysys in Cambridge.
Oftel is undecided over whether to protect telecomms companies that invest in broadband connections to customers and risk forcing high prices on end users, or to protect consumers by allowing a flood of new entrants that can piggyback existing infrastructure.
"Should regulators see this as a consumer rights issue or as a products rights issue?" asked Edmonds.
"In the end, customers are reliant on someone making an investment in assets. If our approach is to harsh, competition will be non-existent because no-one will invest the capital," he said.
"From a network provider perspective, they've made the investment to provide high speed access. Why should they be required to provide this infrastructure to the benefit of players in the ISP market, especially when they are not dominant?" he added.
Broadband presents some different regulatory issues to the traditional telecomms industry, said Analysys' Ajibulu. "You're not starting from a position where you have an entrenched incumbent," he said. But PSTN incumbents will be have some advantage, being able to offer broadband access to ISPs across their existing copper networks, he added.
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