Memorandum submitted by Consumer Communications
for England (CCE)
1. Consumer Communications for England (CCE)
is a statutory body established under section 54 of the Telecommunications
Act 1984 to provide advice to the Director General of Telecommunications
in relation to his functions. Members are appointed by the Secretary
of State (SoS) at the DTI. CCE represents the interests of residential
telecoms consumers in England, particularly those with least power
in the market. The committee is one of six Advisory Committees
on Telecommunications (ACTs).
2. CCE welcomes publication of the Draft
Bill and associated documents, including the Regulatory Impact
Statement (RIA). This submission focuses on some consumer issues
in the Draft Bill, including the Consumer Panel, since CCE is
eager to ensure that residential consumers are adequately protected
by the new legislation.
3. We note the general duties of OFCOM in
Clause 3. Although Clause 3(1) is not explicit, it appears that
in carrying out its work OFCOM should have regard to such of its
duties as appear relevant in the circumstances. But CCE believes
that OFCOM should have an overriding duty to promote the interest
of consumers, ie duty 3(1)(a) should take precedence.
4. However, the language used in duty 3(1)(a)
gives cause for concern. OFCOM is to further the interests of
"persons who are customers for the services and facilities
in relation to which OFCOM have functions". We note that
the term "consumer" appears to be used only in the Draft
Bill's treatment of the Consumer Panel. This will be for reasons
best known to the parliamentary draftsmen, but CCE would like
to be convinced that the Bill will provide protection to all users
and potential users of communications networks and services.
5. "Persons who are customers"
is too narrow. It seems to imply only persons with a contract
with a network or service provider and to exclude other users,
eg members of households, children, visitors etc. Clause 96 refers
to effective arrangements (including the Consumer Panel) for consulting
"customers", this term is also narrow. Relevant "persons"
and "customers" should be defined as widely as possible,
ie everyone in society in their role as a buyer or potential buyer
and user or potential user of communications services and facilities.
6. Rather than OFCOM, we believe that appointments
to the Consumer Panel should be made by the relevant Secretary
of State (SoS). This is essential to ensure a measure of independence
from the regulator. The SoS should also takes decisions on removal
of members, if the need should arise.
7. Clause 97 contains provisions for consumer
representation for each of the four nations of the United Kingdom
but does not prescribe how this should be put into practice. We
believe that there should be specific provision on the face of
the Bill that gives the Panel the power to establish and adequately
resource sub-committees for the regions/nations/other interest
groups that it considers necessary. We do not have a unanimous
view about whether the Panel should set up country committees
but we recognise that there may be a political necessity to mandate
8. The Consumer Panel is expected to advise
OFCOM and "such other persons as the Panel think fit".
CCE welcomes this wide brief. The ACTs' working relationship with
OFTEL allows CCE to respond to DTI and other government consultations
and to give views to other bodies, including the European Commission.
We believe that this benefits consumers and aids OFTEL in its
9. We note that the new Telecoms Ombudsman
will deal with disputes involving residential consumers and small
businesses with up to five employees. There is no mention of small
businesses in Clause 97, CCE believes that the Consumer Panel
should have regard to the interests of small businesses with up
to five employees.
10. We have not commented on the breadth
of matters which will be dealt with by the Consumer Panel but
will do so in our submission to the DTI/DCMS.