Ofcom, the communications regulator can now impose up to two million pounds in fines on organisations which fail to comply with an information gathering request, according to new dispute resolution guidelines published today.
The dramatic increase in powers reflects the serious view government takes of parties that fail to comply with enforcement authorities. The previous penalty level was just 50,000 pounds.
And it's a growing trend. Only recently was the Information Commissioner's powers to fine companies for actual data loss increased to £500,000.
The guidelines also make other important changes on how telecoms disputes are handled under section 185 of the Communications Act 2003.
Since the 2003 Act came into force, Ofcom has built up considerable experience of resolving disputes. Given that regulatory disputes must be resolved within four months, they can be highly resource intensive for both Ofcom and the disputing parties. The regulator considered it appropriate to review its processes in light of (i) experience, (ii) the increasing number of disputes being submitted, and (iii) the need to be ever increasingly efficient, especially in the context of constraints on resources following the Governments comprehensive spending review in October 2010.
The changes came into force on on 26th May 2011. They include
- the replacement of the duty on Ofcom to resolve network access disputes with a discretionary power for Ofcom to intervene in such disputes;
- as a result of the above change, Ofcom's mandatory duty to resolve disputes now relates only to existing obligations imposed on communications providers;
- the expansion of the category of persons able to refer certain disputes to Ofcom for resolution;
- a new requirement for National Regulatory Authorities (NRAs) involved in cross-border disputes to co-ordinate their activities and a power for Ofcom to seek an opinion from the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC); and
- Recovery of costs in resolving disputes from disputing parties.
E RADAR says
We want the communications markets to work effectively with a strong regulator that approaches telecoms disputes with objectivity and fairness. Ofcom must take into account the commercial sensitivities of information ear-marked for disclosure and work with the relevant companies to afford the appropriate levels of protection. High-level fines are also no substitute for reduced government funding across the regulatory sector.