Strategy, focus, communication
In launching its plan of work for the 2020/21 financial year Ofcom’s stated aim is to “make sure people and businesses in the UK get the best from their communications services.” Five strategic priorities and four areas of focus have been identified as key to delivering on that aim with the support of ongoing investment in broadband top of the strategic list.
It’s easy to see why broadband takes top billing. As the Ofcom report says: “Communications are central to how people interact with businesses and each other.” And with the average broadband speed having risen from 6.9Mb/s in 2008 to 54.2Mb/s in 2019, communication and connection options have grown considerably.
In its report Ofcom acknowledges that some areas of the country still have some way to go before they can benefit from the broadband revolution. Their report estimates that some 155,000 homes and businesses are still unable to get decent broadband. This seems low when viewed against the FSB report, which we highlighted in 2019, which estimated that 30% of small businesses suffered from download speeds of less than 10Mb/s. Either way, by putting broadband connectivity at the top of its strategic priorities Ofcom is signalling its commitment to improving speeds and access across the country.
This ambition also ties in with two more of Ofcom’s strategic plans; to ensure online communications work for people and businesses and to enable strong secure networks. These look more specifically towards protecting consumers from harmful content online and ensuring that communication networks are resilient and secure.
Both have important implications for businesses which rely on an effective and trusted communications infrastructure in order to trade. So whilst fast broadband links could potentially enable businesses to take advantage of internet telephony (VoIP), robust communication networks could enable them to put in place effective online or cloud communication structures.
For example, maintaining a hosted virtual switchboard service not only delivers the functionality of a large PBX at a fraction of the cost, it can also play an important role in business continuity planning; enabling calls to be switched seamlessly even in the event of access to business premises being blocked. Other facilities such as the ability to send bulk SMS messages to employees or customers, or phones being diverted to individuals or around hunt groups, can also help to inform and maintain business communications. In turn this enables leaders to focus on a swift return to business as usual rather than in worrying about ongoing communications issues.
The focus on protecting consumers from harmful content online also looks towards reducing nuisance calls and scams; areas which affect businesses and consumers alike. Working in collaboration with the Financial Conduct Authority and others, Ofcom is looking towards a coordinated industry-led response to scams being introduced in 2020.
The Ofcom plan is currently open for consultation with a closing date of 25 February. Public events are also being held in London, Edinburgh, Belfast and Cardiff in January in order to give people and businesses a chance to comment on the proposals.