Ofcom CEO Sharon White outlines her vision for a post-Brexit framework that ensures the right outcome for consumers

Ofcom CEO Sharon White outlines her vision for a post-Brexit framework that ensures the right outcome for consumers

In a speech to the Institute for Government, Sharon White presented Ofcom’s priorities for the communications sector post-Brexit; stressing the need to retain a regulatory framework that works for UK consumers and UK businesses. Leaving the EU will mean “choices about replicating, or replacing??? EU laws, as well as opportunities for Ofcom “to preserve the best of the EU Framework???, “improve it??? and “avoid making things worse???.

To determine which EU laws to retain, Sharon White described a triple test that would apply for each piece of legislation:

  • Does it prioritise the interests of UK consumers and the wider public?
  • Does it promote competition and investment?
  • And it does it support UK companies’ ability to trade successfully in the EU, and globally?

Maintaining certain cross-border regulatory principles would prove a challenge however. Citing the County Of Origin principle as an example of a successful EU rule that has effectively removed hurdles for broadcasters and attracted investment in the UK, Sharon White indicated that its retention would require coordination with other EU Member States post-Brexit. And this would depend on the UK’s ability to remain an influencing voice in Europe. Under the Audio Visual and Media Services EU Directive, broadcasters are allowed to transmit across the EU provided they comply with the regulations of the country where they originate (e.g. UK broadcasters can currently broadcast in any EU Member State if they comply with UK broadcasting rules). It is unclear how this framework will evolve after Brexit, and this is generating concerns for the creative industry.

On the assessment of future mergers and acquisitions of UK telecom companies, Sharon White hinted the opportunity for Ofcom to take a more active role to protect consumers by introducing additional protections in areas where the regulator is currently limited by EU regulations. Some may see here an attempt for Ofcom to gain additional powers to oversee consolidations, but Sharon White stressed that this was not “regulatory creep??? “nor is it about powers for the sake of it???…

A few weeks ago, the BSG held its Annual Conference on the theme of Brexit and its impact on the communications sector. A concern reiterated by speakers related to the accountability and peer review mechanisms by EU institutions which are at risk of being lost post Brexit. Whilst Sharon White stressed the importance for Ofcom to retain its independence post Brexit, she didn’t exclude a shift of responsibilities and it is now unclear how its remit will evolve in the lack of EU oversight.