Telecoms regulator Ofcom has suspended its deadlines for consultations over new regulations in response to the turmoil caused by the coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak. The suspension could have a knock-on effect on the government's plan to roll-out full-fibre internet access across the UK by 2025.
The statement today comes after the UK was put in lockdown last night by the government in a bid to contain the spread of COVID-19 and to prevent the country's healthcare system from being overwhelmed. People have been ordered to work from home, where possible, and will be required to stay largely at home for an indefinite period of time.
We recognise that our planned work programme will need to be adapted and rescheduled
As a result, Ofcom claims that its current deadlines for a number of consultations and future-work plans will have to be put back. This will affect, in particular, Ofcom's role in pushing the UK's full-fibre roll-out and the consultation over the government's ‘online harms' plan to regulate internet content. The delay in implementing the government's online harms plan could, though, benefit the 200,000+ organisations that would be affected by it.
Ofcom opened its 2020-21 plan of work at the beginning of January, covering all the various aspects of regulation it was planning to tackle over the next year, commencing in April. The final plan was going to be published before the end of this month, but has been put back until the end of April.
#Covid19 update— Ofcom (@Ofcom) March 24, 2020
Today we've issued information to the sectors we regulate, which play a vital role in supporting families, businesses and individuals during these challenging times.
Read the full statement: https://t.co/Rwof7rZrvg
"We recognise that our planned work programme will need to be adapted and rescheduled so that our stakeholders can focus their time and effort on business-critical matters," the organisation said in a statement today.
It continued: "Ofcom consulted on our proposed Plan of Work for 2020/21 in January. We will publish a revised version at the end of April that takes account of the coronavirus crisis and provide a revised timetable for our work."
Compliance with regulatory obligations continues to be important. However, we recognise that the impact of the coronavirus means that it will not always be possible to meet these obligations
However, it added, it is "suspending all existing consultation deadlines and information request and putting on hold new consultations, decisions and information requests".
On top of that, "the implementation of new obligations may need to be delayed", particular the implementation deadlines of the European Electronic Communications Codes.
It concluded: "We will take a pragmatic approach to enforcement during this time. Compliance with regulatory obligations continues to be important. However, we recognise that the impact of the coronavirus means that it will not always be possible to meet these obligations.
"In such circumstances, industry should take decisions that support critical services, vulnerable people and those who are relying on communications services. We will support those decisions where they are in the interests of consumers and businesses."
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