Ofcom has set out the next steps it will take to ensure availability, take up and effective use of communications services following analysis that shows there is more to be done to achieve widespread access and inclusion across the UK.
Digital communications services, such as broadband, mobile phones and digital TV, are playing an increasing role in the way many of us stay in touch, work, learn, play, shop and access public services. Ofcom has a duty under the Communications Act to encourage the availability of communications services.
Following proposals set out earlier this year, mobile phone users will from today be able to call the emergency service numbers (999 and 112) from another network if their own network is unavailable and an alternative provider has coverage.
The phone will automatically switch over to whichever network operator has the best signal in that area. This will provide added reassurance to consumers should they need to call 999 or 112 and will be of particular benefit to those in rural areas across the UK. The successful launch of emergency mobile roaming is the result of a joint effort between Ofcom, the mobile network operators, emergency authorities and the fixed operators who act as call handling agents.
Ofcom’s next steps, following its recent consultation, include:
Services for disabled consumers – Ofcom will evaluate the existing text relay service which enables hearing and speech impaired people to use the telephone. Ofcom welcomes and supports the national trial of an emergency text service for disabled consumers which began in September 2009.
Ofcom has also published a consultation on the future of TV access services (requirements on TV channels to provide subtitling, signing and audio description). Ofcom has also recently launched ‘Switch On!’ – a resource for practitioners working with people with learning difficulties and disabilities together with its partners Mencap. ‘Switch On!’ offers an Ofqual approved qualification.
Addressing mobile phone ‘not spots’ – mobile voice network coverage in the UK is generally good but some problems persist, particularly in rural areas. Ofcom will focus on persistent so called not-spot areas and work where it can to facilitate better mobile coverage by investigating the causes of some persistent mobile coverage not spot areas of poor or no reception.
Ofcom will also undertake research to explore the technical quality of services such as mobile broadband speeds that consumers receive from mobile devices.
Broadband Take up and Digital Participation – the Government’s Digital Britain Final Report asked Ofcom to form and lead a Consortium for the promotion of Digital Participation and to develop and deliver a Social Marketing Programme and Targeted Outreach. This initiative forms part of government’s National Plan for Digital Participation.
Universal Service Obligation (USO) – later this year Ofcom will publish a review on the implementation of the existing USO for fixed-line services to determine whether the way in which the services are offered and funded are meeting the needs of consumers. The USO ensures, amongst other things, that all consumers have access to a basic set of fixed-line services at an affordable price.