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The Office of Communications ( ) or, as it is more often known, Ofcom, is the independent regulator and competition authority for the communication industries in the United Kingdommarker. Ofcom was initially established in the enabling device, the Office of Communications Act 2002, but received its full authority from the Communications Act 2003. At this point, technical standards regulation seems to have disappeared from the regulatory landscape.

On 29 December 2003, Ofcom inherited the duties that had previously been the responsibility of five regulatory bodies:



Administrative leadership

The current Chairman of Ofcom is Colette Bowe, the founding chairman of the Telecoms Ombudsman Council and chaired Ofcom’s Consumer Panel from its inception in 2003 to December 2007. The current Chief Executive is Ed Richards, who previously was Chief Operating Officer, and is responsible for Strategy, Market Research, Finance, Human Resources and other functions. Richards was Senior Policy Advisor to Prime Minister Tony Blair for Media, telecoms, the internet and e-govt and Controller of Corporate Strategy at the BBC [49250].

The first chairman of Ofcom was David Currie, Dean of Cass Business School at City Universitymarker and a life peer under the title Lord Currie of Marylebone. The first chief executive was Stephen Carter, Baron Carter of Barnes, formerly a senior executive of JWT UK and NTL and now Minister for Communications, Technology and Broadcasting [49251].

The future of Ofcom is in doubt, as the leader of the Conservative Party, David Cameron has said that if his party were elected, they would scrap it [49252].

Responsibilities

Ofcom's responsibilities are wide-ranging, covering all manner of industries and processes. It has a statutory duty to further what it considers the interests of citizens and consumers by promoting competition and protecting consumers from what it considers harmful or offensive material. Some of the main areas over which Ofcom presides are licensing, undertaking research, creating codes and policies, addressing complaints and looking into competition. Ofcom has developed a reputation for its tendency to issue a large number of consultations.

Consultations

Ofcom considers consultations to be a vital way of helping it to make the right decisions based upon the right evidence. Consultation starts with publishing a document (all of which are published on its website), asking for views and responses. If the document is perceived to be long and complicated, a plain English summary is usually published. They then allow a period of around ten weeks for interested persons, companies or organisations to read the document and send in their responses.

After this period, Ofcom will normally publish all of the responses on their website (excluding any which are marked by the respondent as confidential). After the consultation has closed, Ofcom will prepare a summary of the responses, and may use this as a basis for some of their decisions.

Programme complaints

As the regulatory body for media broadcasts, part of Ofcom's duties are to examine specific complaints by viewers/listeners about programmes. When Ofcom receives a complaint it firstly asks the broadcaster for a copy of the programme, and it then examines the programme to see whether it is in breach of the broadcasting code. Ofcom also asks for a response from the broadcaster to the complaint. Considering these, Ofcom will mark the complaint as either upheld or not upheld, or alternatively 'resolved'.

Licensing

Ofcom is responsible for the management, regulation, assignment and licensing of the electromagnetic spectrum in the UK, and licenses portions of it for use in TV and radio broadcasts, mobile phone transmissions, private communications networks, and so on. The process of licensing varies depending on the type of usage required. Some licenses simply have to be applied for and paid for, others are subject to a bidding process. Most of the procedures in place have been inherited from the systems used by the previous regulators. However, Ofcom may change some of these processes in future.

Sitefinder Database and Freedom of Information

Sitefinder is a database and web-front end set up and maintained by Ofcom as a result of recommendations of the Stewart Report to the Government in 2000. It is a voluntary scheme under which mobile network operators send information on the location and operating characteristics of individual mobile phone base stations (or masts)nationally.

In September 2007 an Information Tribunal ruled that the public should have access to the information contained within the database through Freedom of Information Act 2000 requests . However as Ofcom has no power to compel mobile phone operators to use the database, UK mobile phone operators consequently ceased sending updates to the database.In response Ofcom appealed the Freedom of Information ruling, along with one UK mobile operator - T-Mobile which has led to accusations of the organisations complicity with the mobile telecommunications industry in keeping information about mast locations secret . Ofcom's reasons for the appeal have ranged from preventing terrorist attacks on the sites of phone masts to protecting the intellectual property of the mobile telecommunications industry.

As of April 2008, the High Court found in favour of the Information Commissioners Office over Ofcom's objections. It is publicly unclear at this time if Ofcom intends to appeal this ruling

Postal services

As of 2009, a government-sponsored bill to transfer the operation of the Royal Mail to Ofcom had been passed by the House of Lordsmarker and was before the House of Commonsmarker for further consideration. The bill would establish a new regulatory regime for the postal services sector, including transferring regulatory responsibility from Postcomm to Ofcom, with the primary duty of Ofcom in relation to postal services being to maintain the universal 6-day a week service.

See also



References

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