Proposals by the Department for Media, Culture and Sport are looking to give Ofcom additional powers to demand information on a wide range of issues from communications providers(CP).
Updating current legislation, the proposals made in the not yet passed Digital Economy Bill would remove limitations on Ofcom’s power to gather data from CPs, allowing them to force operators into not just handing over existing data, but also generating new data on behalf of Ofcom.
This information could also be made public to enhance competition and fix what the DCMS describes as a ‘gap’ in knowledge between consumers and communications providers.
Examples of data to be made public given by the proposals include quality of service data, pricing information, coverage data and infrastructure details. In their rationale, Ofcom says this data will allow consumers to make better decisions, allow comparison sites to use more metrics for comparison, and increase the rates of switching across the communications industry.
The DCMS proposal states, ‘Consumer choice is restricted by a lack of information beyond price and tariff in many cases, when service quality issues are second only to price as a reason for switching among residential consumers.’ They continue, ‘Furthermore, there is also information asymmetry between firms and consumers, where firms have data on more performance/quality metrics than consumers, and are thus able to hide poorer aspects of their business from / promote the better parts to consumers.’
Outlining how poor awareness hampers consumer choice, the report highlights how while the annual percentage mobile users who switch suppliers is around 7%, it is much higher elsewhere, such as 36% for car insurance.
Separately, Ofcom will soon announce its delayed decision on changes to the switching process for the mobile industry, which could see whomever wins a customer’s business made responsible for dealing with their previous provider in order to port their number over.
Responding to the proposal, Vodafone told Mobile that they are already supplying coverage information to the regulator and will continue to do so. A statement by EE read, '“We agree that consumers should have access to relevant information which can help them to make informed choices about communication providers, and we think Ofcom should remain a leading source of information for consumers. Ofcom already has extensive information gathering powers and it will be important that consumers are presented with the right information, not just more information.'
Mobile contacted, O2, Ofcom and Three for comment and are awaiting their response.