Sharon White dismisses threats of litigation if Openreach split is forced and says she does not see Ofcom governing the BBC
New Ofcom CEO Sharon White has said the regulator won’t be intimidated by BT’s opposition to any potential separation of itself and Openreach, adding that break-up is just one of a number of proposals being considered in the once-in-a-decade review of the UK communications market.
White, who assumed her position in March, told the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee that Ofcom was “some way from making a decision” and would consider strengthening, retaining or deregulating the current model as well as a more formal breakup.
Communications providers have sent submissions to Ofcom, arguing which parts of the market need to be looked at and where deregulation could occur. BT believes the Pay-TV market should be regulated, while Sky and TalkTalk advocate a BT-Openreach split.
When asked whether she would be intimidated by BT’s claim that any move to split up BT and Openreach would be met by “ten years of litigation”, White said the regulator would not be bulled and would look to work with industry to find the best outcome for consumers and businesses.
“I can’t say I’m easily intimidated, our drive is ‘what’s going to be the best possible deal for the consumer?” she said. “We don’t start with a position that the Openreach separation is broken because if you look at how the market over the last ten years in which regulation has been a part of it, although most if it has been through the companies themselves, it’s not a broken position.
“I would like to have an evidence-based conversation with BT and the other players about how we, for the next ten years, work towards a settlement that’s best for the consumer.”
The committee asked about the government’s green paper on the BBC, which proposes moving some regulation of the broadcaster to Ofcom.
White said it already carries out some of the regulation and would be open to taking on more responsibilities in areas it was experienced in, but said Ofcom should not be involved in the governance of the corporation and ensure the convergence of media and telecoms regulation was not reversed.
“We’re not seeking new responsibilities. If the charter process and the government decide we should have full responsibility, so impartiality as well as accuracy, then I think we will do the best possible job,” she said. “I suspect there will be resourcing implications and implications about structure, but it’s a responsibility we already do for the other broadcasters.
“The question of resourcing is an important one. Clearly as the person responsible for an organisation that has done really well, I think for the last 12 years, you are always mindful for the breadth of your remit and ability to perform your roles.
“I do not see there is a role for Ofcom in doing the core job of a trust, which is essentially setting the budget, strategy and audit functions of the BBC. Those decisions need to rest in the leadership of the BBC.”
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