Ensuring a nation of connected citizens

31 October 2014

Ofcom has today published a report outlining work to help ensure that everyone in the UK benefits as much as possible from communications services.

Ofcom’s Citizens and Communications Services report looks at the availability, accessibility and affordability of communications services in the UK.

The report highlights the progress made over the last 10 years in ensuring communications services have kept pace with the changing needs of UK citizens, as well as developments in technology.

It also assesses the challenges facing Ofcom, Government and industry in ensuring the benefits of the communications market are shared across society and the growing expectations of UK citizens are met.

Availability, accessibility and affordability

Ofcom’s principal legal duty includes furthering the interests of citizens - all members of the public in the UK - in relation to communications matters.

The UK has a strong record of ensuring that communications services are widely available and the market delivers meaningful choice and low prices to citizens. While good progress has been made over the past 10 years, there is still more work to do.

Availability of communications services

  • Landline: almost all UK premises can have a telephone landline service.
  • Broadband: broadband is now almost universally available, average speeds have increased to 18.7Mbit/s, while superfast broadband has been rolled out to 78% of the country and is increasing. The UK picture is uneven, however, and a significant minority of households, particularly those in rural areas, receive poor speeds but are currently unable to upgrade to faster services.
  • Mobile: over 99% of UK premises now receive both 2G and 3G outdoor mobile coverage from at least one operator. Seventy-three per cent of premises currently receive 4G outdoor coverage from at least one operator. Coverage ‘not-spots’ persist in certain locations, however, particularly in some rural areas. Mobile emergency call roaming was introduced in 2009 to ensure callers can contact the emergency services in areas where their own mobile network isn’t available.
  • DTT: following digital switchover, over 98.5% of people in the UK can now watch at least 20 free-to-view TV channels on digital terrestrial television (including all the main public service broadcasting channels).

Accessibility of communications services

  • Emergency SMS: the introduction of emergency SMS in 2011 ensures that deaf and hard-of-hearing citizens can contact the emergency services easily.
  • ‘Next generation’ text relay: now allows people with hearing or speech impairments to hold faster, more fluent telephone conversations on a wider range of mainstream devices.
  • TV access services: UK viewers now receive significantly higher levels of subtitling, signing and audio description than they did in 2004.

Affordability of communications services

  • Price decreases: over the past 10 years, consumers have benefitted from significant reductions in prices across most communications services. The average amount spent on broadband services decreased by 48% between 2004 and 2012, while the average spend on mobile and landline services decreased by 23% and 28% respectively.
  • Safeguard cap: a cap on the price of second class mail seeks to ensure everyone can continue to afford a basic postal service.

Addressing current and future challenges

With the needs and expectations of UK citizens growing and technologies rapidly changing, the report also considers current and future challenges facing Ofcom, policymakers and industry. These include:

1) Delivering wider availability of quality broadband services

Challenges and opportunities:

  • delivering wider availability of superfast broadband.
  • securing a better service for the 3% of UK homes that cannot receive at least 2Mbit/s

Ofcom is taking action by:

  • providing technical advice to support the Government's programme to roll out superfast broadband; and
  • publishing broadband speeds data by provider to help consumers make informed choices and incentivise providers to improve performance.

2) Improving mobile coverage and reliability

Challenges and opportunities:

  • addressing weaknesses in mobile coverage; particularly indoors, in some rural areas, and on road and rail routes.

Ofcom is taking action by:

  • helping to improve mobile coverage and address not-spots through an extensive work programme. This includes imposing a 98% indoor mobile coverage obligation on a 4G licence awarded to O2, which other operators intend to match.

3) Protecting the interests of disabled consumers

Challenges and opportunities:

  • increasing standards in the quality of live TV subtitling, signing and audio description, and improving the availability of speaking TV guides.

Ofcom is taking action by:

  • regularly reporting on the quality of broadcasters' subtitles and requiring channels to identify areas for improvement to benefit viewers; and
  • reviewing signing arrangements for low-audience TV channels and assessing the feasibility of introducing speaking TV guides.

4) Helping low income households

Challenges and opportunities

  • supporting the 7% of people who would like to have broadband but don't because of cost; and
  • helping the minority (2%) of people who report having been in debt or falling behind on payments while trying to manage their telecoms costs.

Ofcom is taking action by:

  • reporting annually on the prevalence of debt and cost as barriers to participation and raising greater awareness of the most affordable deals; and
  • improving links between debt charities and communication providers to encourage them to be more responsive to the changing circumstances of customers.

5) Maintaining resilient and reliable access to emergency services

Challenges and opportunities

  • improving information to better identify the location of mobile phone callers.Ofcom is taking action by:
  • monitoring the effectiveness of a new industry initiative to allow the emergency services to get better mobile location information, based on GPS.

Dame Patricia Hodgson, Ofcom Chairman, said:Our ability to access, use and rely on communications services determines how fully we can play a part in our economy, society and culture. They oil the wheels of our daily lives.

 “The UK has a strong record of meeting the communications needs of its citizens, but we recognise that there is more work to do. Plans are in place to address issues of service quality and coverage that still affect many people. We are also working hard to address the needs of the most vulnerable in society, particularly those who struggle with poverty or disability.”

 Ed Richards, Ofcom Chief Executive, said: “Like all developed economies, the UK is completely transforming its communications infrastructure. When Ofcom began, fixed broadband and mobile data use were in their infancy. Today, we are on the way towards a transformation of our digital networks, with superfast broadband and 4G mobile data services spreading across the country and take-up rising fast.

 “We have made very good progress over the last few years, but there is plenty more to do in the future. We need more investment, better coverage, faster services and higher rates of take-up, with the kind of competition that has positioned the UK well so far.

 “If we can maintain the current rate of progress and continue to improve availability, then there are going to be more exciting and more widespread opportunities for growth and innovation across the UK.”

ENDS

NOTES FOR EDITORS

  1. Today’s report complements Ofcom’s Cost and Value report, published in January this year, which describes how competition and innovation has improved the range and quality of UK communications services over the last decade.