What is Ofcom?
The Office of Communications (Ofcom) is the UK communications regulator, overseeing the broadcasting, telecommunications and postal industries. Its principal duty is to regulate communications in the interests of consumers and citizens.
Ofcom is a public corporation, accountable to parliament, with the culture secretary being the responsible minister (except for postal services, where the business secretary is responsible). The culture secretary appoints the chair and non-executive members of its board through the public appointments process. Ofcom is funded through fees paid by the industries it regulates and is a net contributor to the Treasury, as it gives any proceeds from fines and penalties to the government (after retaining the amount needed to fund certain duties).
How has Ofcom changed over time?
Ofcom has a large remit and has gained substantial additional duties and powers over time. The body was first established by the Office of Communications Act 2002 and then given its full range of early powers in the Communications Act 2003, when it replaced five different TV and radio regulators.
Ofcom gained powers to regulate video-on-demand services in 2010 and the postal industries in 2011. It acquired further powers in 2017, including the regulation of the BBC. In 2020, Ofcom’s remit expanded again to cover regulation of video-sharing platforms such as YouTube. Ofcom is also set to gain more powers under the planned Online Safety Bill, such as to fine companies that fail to meet a new duty of care to protect users from harmful content online (see below).
What does Ofcom now do?
Ofcom’s wide-ranging functions and powers span economic regulation (such as the promotion of competition and the auctioning of radio spectrums) and content regulation (maintaining of a set of quality standards in TV). Ofcom does not generally resolve individual complaints, with the notable exception of complaints regarding TV or radio content, but may investigate if it receives many complaints highlighting a particular problem. Its main legal duties, and the methods it uses to meet them, are summarised in the table below and unless otherwise referenced set out in Section 3 of the Communications Act 2003 as amended:
The current Culture Secretary is Lucy Frazer. She interned at the Israeli Ministry of Justice before entering politics.