The Office of Communications, or Ofcom as it’s better known, is the UK’s independent regulator for the communications industry. Awarded power from the government under the Communications Act 2003, it has a duty to care for the rights and interests of UK citizens and consumers while protecting them from harmful and offensive material. It also has a responsibility to promote healthy competition in the telecoms marketplace.
At the Intellect Conference 2008, the head of Ofcom, Ed Richards, made a speech. In it he touched on many issues but in an unusual move for Ofcom, towards the end of the speech he made some comments about file-sharing in the UK. In a section entitled “Sticking To Principles Of Good Regulation”, Richards stresses that Ofcom must not “duck difficult questions” where doing so would impact the long term success of the communications market. Of course, the question of online piracy is one such ‘difficult question’ in what Richards describes as a “complex digital environment”.
Richards notes that just because Ofcom has not been overly vocal on the subject of file-sharing, that shouldn’t be interpreted as disinterest: “To date, Ofcom has not made a lot of public noise about the piracy issue. But that should not be mistaken for a lack of interest or concern. Our formal locus may be limited. But this sort of piracy is something that affects network operators, ISPs, content creators and consumers , and as the converged regulator we have of course been keeping a watchful eye on developments.”
Going on to speak about the need for ISPs and telecoms companies to invest in improved systems for a developing Internet, Richards notes that these businesses need to be assured that they can return profit on their investments:
“An operator investing in next generation networks will not want it clogged up with illegal peer-to-peer content if that means no-one will pay to ensure a return on the investment, as we have seen in some Asia Pacific markets. And content providers, self evidently, do not want illegal traffic undermining their investment in IPR.”
Richards feels that the issue of piracy is important for network providers and creators of content alike, and says that he hopes business agreements can be reached to find a solution, presumably as an alternative to a government implemented strategy such as the controversial “3 strikes” idea.
ISPs make a lot of money from their subscribers, with media-hungry file-sharers investing in high-bandwidth premium packages more often than regular users. With around 6 million file-sharers in the UK, these customers are a significant driving force behind the need to create the next generation Internet Richards mentioned earlier.