eEurope Section 7eParticipation
for the disabled
39. OFTEL warmly welcomes the recognition
that digital technologies offer the opportunity to help overcome
the social exclusion experienced by some disabled people but,
equally, that the problems that some disabled users experience
in accessing and using these technologies need to be addressed.
40. Given the overlap between disabled and
elderly users and the ageing of the European population OFTEL
believes that there is a potentially huge market for products
aimed at people with disabilities and that, as a general rule,
the quality design of a "Design-for-All" product enhances
its appeal to the general population, ie there is no trade-off
but a win-win.
41. OFTEL welcomes the Commission's commitment
to ensuring disabled-friendly standards. However the traditionally
consensual approach to telecoms standardisation may not be appropriate
given the radically different market driven de facto standardisation
procedures of the IT world. Market players therefore need to recognise
the special needs of disabled people and ensure that these are
factored into product development and standard-setting.
The European Commission and Member States should
review the relevant legislation and standards programmes dealing
with the Information Society, with a view to ensuring their conformity
with accessibility principles and accelerating standardisation
42. OFTEL looks forward to participating
in this exercise. However it is worth noting that standards programmes
no longer tend to be national.
The European Commission will propose a Recommendation
to Member States to take account of the requirements of people
with disabilities in the procurement of information and communications
products and services.
43. OFTEL awaits the proposed Recommendation
The European Commission and Member States should
commit themselves to making the design and content of all public
websites accessible to people with disabilities.
44. OFTEL welcomes the principle, and indeed
one of the objectives of work currently underway on OFTEL's own
website is to improve accessibility for the partially-sighted.
There is already a large amount of information available in the
UK on good website design, from the RNIB (Royal National Institute
for the Blind) and the Employers' Disability Forum.
The European Commission will support the creation
of a Network of Centres of Excellence, at least one in each Member
State, that will develop a European curriculum module in Design-for-All
to train designers and engineers.
45. OFTEL supports the promotion of the
Design-for-All approach and welcomes this target.
Question 3: Will codes of conduct and co-regulation
provide sufficient protection? Is there a case for intervention
by national governments and the EU?
46. Regulation should be as light touch
as possiblealternatives to formal regulation such as co-regulation
or self-regulation should be considered wherever possible, although
there may be cases where some formal or informal regulatory action
is needed to protect consumers' interests. Nevertheless there
will be issues to address. As the e-commerce report makes clear,
there is a broader policy of building trust. Regulation can help,
but should not stifle innovation.
47. OFTEL already works closely with the
industry, through regular meeting with key industry bodies. There
are some examples of industry bodies working together on Internet
issues [descriptions edited from information on their websites]:
UK is the national registry for all Internet Domain Names ending
in .uk. Each country needs a central registry to store the unique
names used on the Internet and their associated numeric addresses.
Nominet UK is a not-for-profit company limited by guarantee. Thus
it has no shareholders, pays no dividends and its charges only
cover its running costs. Anyone or any organisation with an interest
in the Internet may become a member. The several hundred members
are mainly, but not exclusively, drawn from the Internet industry.
www.linx.orgThe London Internet
Exchange is a neutral peering point, which facilitates the interconnection
between Internet backbone providers. It therefore promotes competition
by lowering barriers (infrastructure costs) for new entrants.
LINX also performs some regulatory and public policy activities
on behalf of its members.
Watch Foundation (IWF) was launched in 1996 by PIPEX to address
the problem of illegal material on the Internet, with particular
reference to child pornography. It is an independent organisation
to implement the proposals jointly agreed by the Government, the
police, the two major UK service provider trade associations,
ISPA and LINX. Whilst content is not within OFTEL's remit, the
IWF is an example of co-regulation.
www.ispa.org.ukISPA was established
in 1995 to represent Internet Services Providers in the UK. It
aims to promote the interests of Internet Services Providers and
campaign for safe use of the Internet in a competitive market.
Over 90 companies involved in the provision of Internet services
in the UK are members of ISPA UK. ISPA represents around 90 per
cent of the UK dial-up market at present.
Internet forum was established to improve information flow between
OFTEL, the industry and consumers. It meets regularly to discuss
various issues, and has in the past addressed such topics as unsolicited
e-mail, Local Loop Unbundling, barriers to e-commerce and the
cost of Internet access. It is an open consultation forum that
provides for open policy debate.
48. OFTEL's interest in the Internet is
primarily in relation to access by other providers and consumers
to the Internet over telecoms networks. This focus on access issues
stems from OFTEL's role, in effect, of managing the change from
monopoly to effective competition in the fixed link telecoms market
segment given BT's powerful position.
49. OFTEL's approach to new market segments
is to start without any assumption that sector-specific regulation
is necessary. Only where there appears to be the potential for
a player with market power, in an existing regulated telecoms
market segment, leveraging that power into a new market segment,
would OFTEL consider the need for formal regulation in the new
50. In such circumstances, there would be
a choice of the most appropriate form of regulation ie:
51. Effective competition is the best regulator
in most circumstances. Where it is not present or, in some exceptional
cases even if it is present but does not address specific consumer
needs, then scope for self or co-regulation needs to be considered
before there is a recourse to formal regulation.
52. Self-regulation is initiated by stakeholders
other than the regulator, involves both users and suppliers, needs
to focus on outcomes of benefit to consumers and should be able
to respond more rapidly to changing circumstances than formal
regulation. Given the fast-moving nature of the Internet and Internet
access, the potential scope for self-regulation is significant.
The role for OFTEL in these circumstances is to monitor the effectiveness
of self-regulation primarily in terms of the impact on consumers.
53. Co-regulation, in contrast, involves
the sectoral regulator in an active role initiating or facilitating
action with other stakeholders. The option of imposing more formal
regulation is clearly present in co-regulation with this route
being seen as the "fallback" position if the voluntary,
co-regulatory route does not succeed.
54. OFTEL is seeking to maximise the opportunities
to encourage self and co-regulation to meet consumer needs in
a fast-moving market.
Question 4: Do the institutions of national governments,
on the one hand, and the European Commission, the Council of Ministers
and the European Parliament, on the other, function with sufficient
flexibility and coherence to promote the EU's objectives in the
field of e-commerce?
55. As already stated, OFTEL's role relates
more to telecoms infrastructure than to many of the services,
including e-commerce, that are available over it. The following
comments should therefore be taken in that context.
56. The existing institutional framework
and legislative provisions for telecoms stem largely from the
so-called "1998 package" of liberalisation Directives.
In seeking to end the mainly monopoly provision of telecoms services
in EU Member States, this package understandably focused primarily
on opening markets to competition. Nonetheless, new institutional
structures were put in place, namely the Licensing Committee,
the ONP Committee and the High-Level Committee of National Administrations
and Regulatory Authorities. All three committees, which each meet
every three to six months, are chaired by the Commission and act
as fora in which regulatory developments can be discussed; the
Licensing and ONP Committees also have limited comitology roles.
57. Some divergences of national approach
have emerged since 1998, within the scope for manoeuvre permitted
by the 1998 package. The different licensing regimes applicable
in Member States is one such example. Partly in response to this,
the National Regulatory Authorities (NRAs) for telecoms of the
15 EU Member Statesalong with their counterparts in Iceland,
Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland, which are also following
the EU liberalisation modelhave formed an informal body
known as the Independent Regulators' Group to strengthen co-operation
and the exchange of best practice in regulatory issues.
58. The issue of the appropriate institutional
structure has been identified by the Commission in its 1999 Communications
Review. This is addressed in response to the next question.
Institutions of national governmentsUK
59. In the centralised co-ordination of
policy in that area, OFTEL has been taking an active role in discussions
on e-commerce with other Government Departments, and will continue
to contribute, through DTI, the Cabinet Office Performance and
Innovation Units and other groups, to the development of policies
to promote e-commerce.
60. OFTEL has been working with DTI on the
Electronic Commerce Bill in its process through Parliament, and
on the implementation of the Electronic Signatures Directive.
61. OFTEL is currently working with OFT
to fulfil the Performance and Innovation Unit's remit to report
on possible competition barriers to e-commerce. OFTEL also co-ordinates
its strategy on e-commerce with the E-Envoy's Office within the
Cabinet Office and with other economic Departments within Government.
Question 5: Should existing EU institutional structures
be changed, or new ones created, to improve policy development
62. As already noted, the Commission is
addressing EU institutional arrangements for telecoms in its 1999
Communications Review. In its November 1999 Communication entitled
Towards a new framework for electronic communications infrastructure
and associated services: the 1999 Communications Review (COM
(1999) 539)", it specifically proposes to replace the existing
committees with a new Communications Committee (comprising the
Commission and the Member States) and High-Level Communications
Group (comprising the Commission and all NRAs with communications
63. OFTEL welcomes the Commission's proposals
for a new Communications Committee and endorses the advisory role
proposed for it in relation to nonbinding measures proposed by
the Commission services. It notes the consultative role envisaged
for the High-Level Communications Group in relation to European-level
industry and consumer organisations and relevant advisory groups
within the EU institutions. It also notes that the Group could
be required to report publicly to the Council and the European
Parliament on its activities every year. It welcomes these measures
to enhance the transparency of the Group and would welcome their
extension to include the Committee and enhancement wherever possible.
64. OFTEL believes that the Commission's
ideas in relation to the mechanisms for developing non-binding
measures need further development. Drafts of such measures need
to be developed in close co-operation between the Commission and
small, focused groups of experts. The High-Level Communications
Group, with its much broader range of interests, is likely to
be too large to play a useful part in this process; its remit
should be confined to more strategic matters. The constitution
of the group of experts will depend on the issue at hand, but
the Independent Regulators Group would be a suitable group to
invite to nominate experts in a large number of cases.
65. For similar reasons, the High-Level
Communications Group is not a suitable vehicle for resolving cross-border
disputes or considering differences of interpretation between
NRAs. OFTEL believes that the Commission should discuss with the
Independent Regulators Group and other pan-European regulatory
bodies appropriate mechanisms for dealing with such issues.
Question 6: How can structural change be brought
about fast enough to accommodate the growth of e-commerce?
66. The institutional reforms described
above focus on the regulation of telecoms infrastructure and associated
services in general rather than the promotion of e-commerce specifically.
OFTEL believes that the Department of Trade and Industry is better
placed to respond on this issue.
13 April 2000