Intervention needed to help marginalised consumers in Wales

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The big issue for the Advisory Committee for Wales is coverage, be it in telecommunications or broadcast media. 

The issue is driven by the absence of profitable commercial forces to provide citizens and businesses with the benefits of broadcast plurality and fast communications whether ‘on the move’ or at premises.

Mobile coverage for customers ‘on the move’ in Wales is poor.  It is made worse by the absence of roaming (other than for emergencies) and the absence of ‘use it or lose it’ clauses in mobile licences. 

Consumer experience

Topography and sparse traffic flows and population distributions mean that there can be a received experience which is far worse than the transmitted coverage claims.

The benefits of high speed broadband to citizens and businesses are similarly a coverage issue for both rural Wales and even parts of cities. 

The Superfast Cymru project will build the infrastructure but the concern is whether take up will be stimulated so that the benefits particularly to small business are achieved.

Coverage

Coverage is a key issue for broadcast media.  The advent of DAB radio has direct parallels with mobile ‘on the move’ coverage inadequacies.  DAB is also unlikely to offer a one for one replacement for FM.

Research on the user experience on DAB ‘on the move’ is vital as is research on how many FM radios would need to be replaced in homes after an FM switch off.  Media coverage, providing plurality of news remains an issue and strengthening community radio may in part help very local news.

Interventions

Ofcom exists because the markets it regulates are imperfect and therefore it intervenes to compensate for weak consumer power vis-à-visthe suppliers.  Interventions need to be tailored to take account of the difference consumer factors in each of the nations and more research on Welsh consumers is an important priority.

John Davies is Chair of Ofcom’s Advisory Committee for Wales