HC Deb 17 June 1999 vol 333 cc218-9W
Judy Mallaber

To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport how the Government are implementing the proposals in the Green Paper regulating communications, approaching convergence in the information age. [87773]

Mr. Chris Smith

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and I have today published a report 'Regulating Communications: The Way Ahead', setting out the way forward on the regulation of the converging industries.

The Government's proposals for an evolutionary approach to the regulation of the converging communication sectors to take account of convergence proposed in last July's Convergence Green Paper received widespread support in the consultation it initiated.

The new statement makes clear the Government's determination to ensure that the UK can take advantage of the opportunities convergence of telecommunications, broadcasting and information technology will bring. It shows how the Government are adapting the UK's regulatory framework to take account of changes in markets and technology, notably through modernisation and strengthening of competition law and deepening co-operation between OFTEL, the ITC and the Office of Fair Trading.

Changes in these fast moving markets will eventually amount to a transformation and so demand new approaches to regulation to achieve policy goals. But the pattern and timing are far from clear. Our rejection of a big bang approach to reforming communications regulation in favour of the evolutionary approach outlined in last year's Convergence Green Paper has received widespread support. Most of those who commented supported this approach, recognising the uncertainties about the pace and direction of change. We believe that the changes we have made and continue to make will ensure that consumers and businesses alike are well served by flexible and effective regulation.

The document announces a number of important new initiatives to promote UK competitiveness and protect the consumer interest in the converging communications sectors. In particular it: proposes new models for a reformed system of telecommunications regulation, including the possibility of ending licensing, to take account of the fact that we now have many different operators; announces a detailed assessment of the regulation of commercial TV broadcasting to ensure that the differences in regulation between different commercial broadcasters are no more than is necessary to protect the public interest; sets out a number of measures to take account of developments in commercial radio broadcasting; details the steps to be taken in implementing the lifting of restrictions on BT's provision of entertainment services including the amendment of local cable licenses to remove "build obligations" in certain circumstances.

Copies of the report have been placed in the Libraries of the House.