Policy paper

2010 to 2015 government policy: communications and telecomms

Updated 8 May 2015

This is a copy of a document that stated a policy of the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government. The previous URL of this page was https://www.gov.uk/government/policies/making-it-easier-for-the-communications-and-telecoms-industries-to-grow-while-protecting-the-interests-of-citizens Current policies can be found at the GOV.UK policies list.


Our telecoms market is one of the most open and competitive in the world. Effective deregulation has set industry free to create new services and set international standards.

We want to continue to encourage innovation and growth in the industry, but we also need to make sure consumers and other citizens are protected effectively. So, we work to make sure we are regulating our communications industry in a proportionate way that balances the needs of everyone involved.


We are:

  • making changes to the law and working with industry to ensure the consumer remains the main focus of the communications industry, which has changed very quickly over the last decade
  • making sure Ofcom has the funding and powers to regulate the communications and broadcasting industries, and making sure they do their job well
  • funding up to £150 million to improve mobile coverage in areas where coverage is poor or non-existent
  • supporting the introduction of 4G mobile communication to the UK
  • ensuring that media and technology are accessible to the widest range of people, including by encouraging the use of subtitles, and by hosting the e-Accessibility forum
  • working with industry, consumer groups, regulators and other interested parties to protect children online

We are also investing money to help the UK get the best broadband network in Europe.

You can read more about what we are doing to make sure our media and creative industries are able to grow and contribute to the economy.


The UK’s communication markets were opened with the privatisation of BT in 1984 and the introduction of competition. Further opening up of the market and the introduction of new services from the early 1990s brought many new companies into the market, leading to the UK becoming one of the most competitive communications markets in the world.

The Communications Act of 2003 made Ofcom the independent regulator for both the telecommunications and broadcasting industries in the UK, responding to the growing convergence of those industries.

Ofcom currently regulates broadcasting, including public service television broadcasters (BBC, Channel 4, S4C, ITV and Five), as well as telecommunications and the post.

Regulation of the telecommunications sector is based on UK implementation of the EU regulatory framework for telecommunications, first adopted in 2002 and updated in 2009.

Bills and legislation

The Office of Communications Act 2002 set up Ofcom, which now operates under the Communications Act 2003.

The Digital Economy Act 2010 set up new regulations for digital communications and broadcasting, including Ofcom’s role, Channel 4’s remit and anti-piracy measures.

Appendix 1: making media and technology more accessible for disabled people

This was a supporting detail page of the main policy document.

We want to make media and technology accessible to everyone.

Our eAccessibility Action Plan sets out ways to improve how government, businesses and organisations engage with people with special needs, for example by improving their access to online services and creating new business opportunities.

The eAccessibility Forum works to:

  • make sure disabled people in the UK have equivalent access to ICT networks, services and equipment in line with new EU legislation
  • support business in exploiting expertise in e-accessibility in the EU and globally
  • produce and implement an eAccessibility Action Plan that addresses the issues of people with particular needs so that they can partake fully in UK digital economy

The Communications Act 2003 also requires Ofcom and the government to encourage making easily usable equipment available to the widest range of people, including disabled people.

The Act also legally requires public service broadcasters and providers of online TV and on-demand movie services to provide subtitles, signing and audio description. This is monitored by Ofcom.

Sections 303 to 305 of the Communications Act require Ofcom to provide a code with guidance on what access services television services should provide.

We encourage service providers to take all reasonable steps to make their services more accessible to people with disabilities, as set out in the Equality Act 2010.

Appendix 2: reviewing regulations affecting communications

This was a supporting detail page of the main policy document.

We have looked carefully at all the laws and rules that affect the communications industry. Our report, Connectivity, content and consumers: Britain’s digital platform for growth, shows our priorities for the media and telecommunications sectors.

Our report sets out both changes that the government will make, and the issues we expect industry to address to ensure the consumer remains the main focus of an industry that has changed at an unprecedented speed over the last decade.

Some of the main issues in our strategy include:

  • addressing ‘nuisance calls’ and ‘bill shock’ (where phone or data bills can be run up without customers’ permission or understanding)
  • making sure that Public Service Broadcasters keep their prominent position in electronic programming guides
  • keeping children safe online
  • managing spectrum (the invisible airwaves that transmit data, for example to phones, tablets or other smart devices) more effectively
  • working out a new way to measure media plurality

Appendix 3: helping introduce 4G mobile services to the UK

This was a supporting detail page of the main policy document.

The term 4G refers to the fourth generation of mobile communications standards. 4G provides faster mobile internet access to laptops, smartphones and other mobile devices.

In February 2013, Ofcom, the independent regulator and competition authority for the UK communications industries, auctioned and awarded radio spectrum licences for 4G mobile communications in the 800 MHz and 2.6 GHz bands.

Making sure television signals aren’t affected by 4G interference.

4G transmissions in the 800 MHz band can cause interference to terrestrial television services i.e. the Freeview service. Satellite and cable TV services are not expected to be affected.

With Ofcom, the 800 MHz licence holders and other stakeholders, we are working to resolve the effects of interference so that viewers do not lose access to their television services.

The 800 MHz licence holders have set up a company, Digital Mobile Spectrum Limited (DMSL), to help households affected by interference. DMSL uses the name ‘at800’ in its communications with the public.

The at800 website has information about the service they offer for those experiencing 4G interference with their Freeview service.

In July 2012, Ofcom estimated (paragraph 11.2) that up to 2.3 million households might be affected by interference, and that approximately 900,000 of these households would use terrestrial television as their primary means of watching TV.

Since the 4G rollout began in summer 2013, confirmed cases of interference have been less than previously estimated. At800 expect no more than 90,000 households in the UK (with Freeview as their primary TV source) to experience interference due to 4G.

For the majority of households that do experience interference, it will be resolved through the fitting of a simple filter, one of which at800 supply free of charge to those households who rely on terrestrial television for their primary viewing.

An independent group, the 4G/TV Coexistence Oversight Board has been set up to give support and guidance to DMSL. In addition, we are making sure that all services (for example, emergency services communication systems) that were located in the 800 MHZ and 2.6 GHz spectrum bands are still able to work effectively when 4G is introduced.

Appendix 4: protecting children online

This was a supporting detail page of the main policy document.

The internet has transformed our lives for the better, it is one of the most profound and era changing inventions in human history.

But the growth of the internet as an unregulated space has thrown up major challenges when it comes to protecting children.

Society protects children by enforcing age restrictions for magazines, films and DVDs and setting watersheds for TV.

But with the increase of pornography on the internet combined with the explosion of the internet into our children’s lives, presents new challenges for keeping children safe from harmful online content.

Children learn about internet safety in school as part of the National Curriculum, and key events such as Safer Internet Day.

We are also working with industry, consumer groups, regulators and other interested parties to protect children online when using the internet both in the home and outside.

Outside the home, we have worked with industry to ensure:

  • all mobile phone operators have agreed that adult content filters will be put onto phones automatically
  • family friendly filters will be applied to public wi-fi by the 6 companies that provide 90% of public wi-fi

We are also exploring a family friendly wi-fi symbol which retailers, hotels and transport companies can use to show customers that their internet connection is properly filtered.

In the home

We have worked with the big 4 internet service providers – TalkTalk, Virgin, Sky and BT – who together supply internet connections to almost 9 out of 10 homes.

We have also agreed with them that:

  • by the end of 2013 all new broadband customers will have settings for family friendly filters automatically selected
  • by the end of 2014 all existing customers will have been presented with an unavoidable decision about installing family friendly content filters
  • only the adult account holder can change the filter settings
  • filters should cover every device connected to your home internet account, so users will not have to download filters for each device in their home

We want smaller internet service providers to adopt this approach. Ofcom has been asked to look at how well Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are doing and to report back regularly.

We will also prompt parents to think about filters when interacting with government services online, when sorting out road tax or registering for Universal Credit.

The UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS) is a group of more than 200 organisations drawn from across government, industry, law, academia and charity sectors that work in partnership to help keep children safe online.

Appendix 5: making sure Ofcom has the funding and powers to regulate the communications and broadcasting industries, and making sure it does its job well

This was a supporting detail page of the main policy document.

Ofcom (the Office of Communications) regulates the UK communications and media industries and is responsible for television, radio, telecoms and mobile communication services.

Ofcom’s principal duty under the Communications Act 2003 is to ‘further the interests of citizens in relations to communication matters’ and to ‘further the interests of consumers in relevant markets, where appropriate by promoting competition’.

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport appoints the Chair of Ofcom, but it operates independently of ministers.

Ofcom is funded by fees from industry for regulating broadcasting and communications networks, and direct funding (called ‘grant-in-aid) from the government.

Appendix 6: improving mobile coverage

This was a supporting detail page of the main policy document.

Some areas of the UK do not get good quality mobile coverage from network operators, or do not get any coverage at all. In some areas, especially remote rural areas, it might not be cost-effective for mobile operators to provide coverage.

Good mobile coverage helps businesses to grow and people to stay in touch, which can be very important for people who are vulnerable or isolated.

We are providing up to £150 million to improve mobile coverage in areas where there is currently no coverage from any of the Mobile Network Operators (MNOs). The first site in North Yorkshire went live in September 2013 and has provided coverage to more than two hundred premises where there was previously none.

The Mobile Infrastructure Project (MIP), received State Aid clearance from the European Commission in December 2012, which confirmed that the project was compatible with the rules of the single market.

The MIP is being run alongside our plan to improve the UK’s broadband network.