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Posts Tagged ‘Ofcom’

The new approach to improving people’s access to ultrafast broadband – will it work?

Concerns have been expressed about the UK’s relatively poor record of upgrading broadband services so that households can receive ultrafast connectivity. Some commenters have argued that future economic growth prospects will be harmed if the UK continues to lag behind its leading rivals.

Much of the fixed line system that allows people to connect to broadband was originally installed many years ago for the land-line telephone network. The so called ‘final mile’ consists of copper-based wiring that is carried from street cabinets to the premises of the end-user. This wiring is transported via a huge network of telegraph poles and cable ducts (small underground tunnels).

In order for people to gain connectivity to ultrafast broadband this copper based wiring needs to be replaced by fibre optic cables. This is commonly referred to as Fibre to the Premises (FTTP). Unfortunately, the UK has a relatively poor record of installing FTTP. Japan and Korea were forecast to have 70% and 63% coverage by the end of 2015 as opposed to just 2% in the UK.

Why is the UK’s record so poor? Many observers blame it on the structure of the industry. In other network industries, such as those for gas pipeline and electricity grids, the business responsible for managing the infrastructure, National Grid, is a regulated monopoly. This company does not directly supply services to consumers using the network it is responsible for maintaining. Instead, customers are supplied by the retail sector of the industry, where firms compete for their business. This sector includes the so-called ‘big six’ (British Gas; npower; SSE; Scottish Power; EDF; E.On) and a number of smaller suppliers such as Ovo Energy and Ebico.

The structure of the fixed line telecommunications sector is very different. The company that manages the ‘final mile’, Openreach, is a subsidiary of BT. BT also competes with other Internet Service Providers (ISPs), such as TalkTalk and Sky, to supply broadband to customers using this network. Its market share of 32 per cent makes it the largest player in the broadband market. Sky and TalkTalk have market shares of 22 per cent and 14 per cent respectively. Virgin Media also supplies 20 per cent of this market using its own network of ducts and cables.

Given that in most cases ISPs such as Sky and TalkTalk are stuck with the network Openreach provides, BT may have limited incentives to invest. It can still earn a good return from its infrastructure of copper-based wiring and avoid installing expensive FTTP. Dido Harding, the chief executive of TalkTalk, argued that:

“We need to separate Openreach from the rest of BT to create a more competitive, pro-investment market”

Ofcom, in its recent review of the market, has taken a different approach. Rather than creating an entirely separate monopoly business to manage the network (i.e. splitting Openreach from BT), the regulator instead opted for a policy of encouraging competition between different suppliers that deploy fibre optic cables. It states in the report that:

“We believe competition between different networks is the best way to drive investment in high-quality, innovative services for customers.”

This competition could come from ISPs such as TalkTalk and Sky or other smaller network providers such as CityFibre and Gigaclear.

One major problem with this approach is that potential new entrants might be deterred from entering the market because of the very high initial costs involved in building a new network in order to deploy FTTP. In particular, the costs of digging up the roads and laying the ducts are considerable. Matt Yardley, author of a study on the industry, said:

“It is widely accepted that civil works such as digging trenches account for up to 80% of broadband deployment costs.”

One way of reducing these costs and encouraging more competition is to allow rival firms access to the existing ducts and poles that are currently managed by Openreach. Once access has been obtained, these firms could effectively rent space inside the ducts and lay fibre optic cables alongside the existing copper-based wiring. Vodafone reported that a similar policy in Spain had reduced its capital expenditure of building FTTP by 40 per cent compared with constructing its own network of ducts and poles.

Ofcom first introduced this type of policy in 2010 when it launched its Physical Infrastructure Access (PIA) initiative. Unfortunately it has proved to be relatively unsuccessful with very little demand for PIA from rival firms. The success of this type of policy will depend on a number of factors including (1) the prices charged by Openreach to access and rent space inside the ducts; (2) the simplicity of any relevant administration; and (3) the availability and reliability of information about the ducts. With this last point, key issues include:

Where they are located .
How much space is available: i.e. is there enough space for firms to lay fibre optic cables alongside the existing wiring?
What condition they are in: i.e. are they flooded or clogged up with sand and mud, which will involve expensive work to make them usable again?

Firms did complain about the pricing structures and bureaucratic nature of the administration process under the PIA scheme. However, their most significant concerns were about the uncertainty that was created by the lack of information about the ducts and poles. For example, analysts from the consultancy firm, Reburn, argued that if a firm contacted Openreach to try to obtain access to the network it was informed that:

“We don’t know what condition the ducts and poles are in. Please pay £10 000 for a survey. Also unfortunately we are rather busy and we can only start in six weeks.”

Matthew Hare, the chief executive of Gigaclear, argued that it was like going to a shop where the assistant says:

“Give me some money, and I’ll tell you whether you can have it or not.”

In response to these criticisms Ofcom has introduced a number of changes to PIA, which has been re-named Duct and Pole Access (DPA). In particular, it has imposed a new requirement on Openreach to create a database that provides information on the location, condition and capacity of its ducts and poles. The database must be made available to rival ISPs and network providers. DPA must also be provided on the same timescales, terms and conditions to all businesses including other parts of BT – this is referred to as ‘equivalence of inputs’.

The first big test of this policy is in Southend where City Fibre is hoping to deploy 50km of fibre optic cables using DPA. However, reports in the media have suggested that the initial surveys have found very limited capacity in some of the ducts, which would make DPA impossible.

It will be interesting to see how the trial in Southend progresses. If it is successful, then DPA may be viable for about 40 per cent of premises in the UK. If it fails, then Ofcom might ultimately have to force Openreach to be completely separated from BT.

Articles
How the gothic city of York became a broadband battleground The Telegraph, Kate Palmer (22/5/16)
City Fibre first to mount BT challenge after Openreach is told to share network The Telegraph, Kate Palmer (1/3/16)
Challenges as CityFibre Moot Using BT Cable Ducts in Southend-on-Sea ISPreview, Mark Jackson (2/5/16)
CityFibre to build pure fibre infrastructure for Southend Networking (5/4/16)
Ofcom tells BT to open up infrastructure to rivals The Guardian, Rob Davies (26/2/16)

Questions

  1. Draw an average total cost curve to illustrate the economics of building a network of ducts and poles. Label the minimum efficient scale.
  2. To what extent does DPA create a contestable market?
  3. For DPA to deliver productive efficiency, what must be true about the economies of scale of laying fibre optic cables?
  4. In the run-up to Ofcom’s review of the telecoms industry, many commentators described Openreach as being a natural monopoly. To what extent do you agree with this argument?
  5. What are the advantages of marginal cost pricing? What issues might a regulator face if it tried to impose marginal cost pricing on a natural monopoly?
  6. Using a diagram, explain how the network of ducts and poles might be a natural monopoly in rural areas but not in densely populated urban areas.
  7. Discuss how Ofcom has tried to increase the level of separation between Openreach and BT.
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BT, Openreach and Ofcom

The government plans to improve broadband access across the country and BT is a key company within this agenda. However, one of the problems with BT concerns its natural monopoly over the cable network and the fact that this restricts competition and hence might prevent the planned improvements.

Ofcom, the communications watchdog has now said that BT must open up its cable network, making it easier for other companies to access. This will allow companies such as Sky, Vodafone and TalkTalk to invest in the internet network in the UK, addressing their criticisms that BT has under-invested in Openreach and this is preventing universal access to decent and affordable broadband. There have been calls for Ofcom to require BT and Openreach to separate, but Ofcom’s report hasn’t required this, though has noted that it ‘remains an option’.

BT has been criticised as relying on old cables that are not sufficient to provide the superfast broadband that the government wants. The report may come as a relief to BT who had perhaps expected that Ofcom might require it to sell its Openreach operation, but it will also remain concerned about Ofcom’s constant monitoring in the years to come. BT commented:

“Openreach is already one of the most heavily regulated businesses in the world but we have volunteered to accept tighter regulation … We are happy to let other companies use our ducts and poles if they are genuinely keen to invest very large sums as we have done.”

Its rivals will also be in two minds about the report, happy that some action will be taken, but wanting more, as Ofcom’s report suggests that “Openreach still has an incentive to make decisions in the interests of BT, rather than BT’s competitors”. A spokesperson for Vodafone said:

“BT still remains a monopoly provider with a regulated business running at a 28% profit margin …We urge Ofcom to ensure BT reinvests the £4bn in excess profits Openreach has generated over the last decade in bringing fibre to millions of premises across the country, and not just make half-promises to spend an unsubstantiated amount on more old copper cable.”

The impact of Ofcom’s report on the competitiveness of this market will be seen over the coming years and with a freer market, we might expect prices to come down and see improved broadband coverage across the UK. In order to achieve the government’s objective with regards to broadband coverage, a significant investment is needed in the network. With BT having to relinquish its monopoly power and the market becoming more competitive, this may be the first step towards universal access to superfast broadband. The following articles consider this report and its implications.

Ofcom opens a road to faster broadband The Guardian, Harriet Meyer and Rob Davies (28/2/16)
Ofcom: BT must open up its Openreach network Sky News (25/2/16)
How Ofcom’s review of BT Openreach could improve your internet service Independent, Doug Bolton (25/2/16)
Ofcom’s digital review boosts faltering broadband network Financial Times, Daniel Thomas (25/2/16)
The Observer view on broadband speeds in Britain The Observer, Editorial (28/2/16)
Ofcom tells BT to open up cable network to rivals’ BBC News (25/2/16)
Ofcom should go further and break up BT Financial Times, John Gapper (25/2/16)
BT escapes forced Openreach spin-off but Ofcom tightens regulations International Business Times, Bauke Schram (25/2/16)

Questions

  1. Why does BT have a monopoly and how might this affect the price, output and profits in this market?
  2. Ofcom’s report suggests that the market must be opened up and this would increase competitiveness. How is this expected to work?
  3. What are the benefits and costs of using regulation in a case such as this, as opposed to some other form of intervention?
  4. How might a more competitive market increase investment in this market?
  5. If the market does become more competitive, what be the likely consequences for consumers and firms?
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Interesting times in communications markets

There have been a number of recent developments in communications markets that may significantly alter the competitive landscape. First, the UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has provisionally cleared BT to takeover the EE mobile phone network. The deal will allow BT to re-establish itself as a mobile network provider, having previously owned O2 until it was sold in 2005. The CMA said that:

They operate largely in separate areas with BT strong in supplying fixed communications services (voice, broadband and pay TV), EE strong in supplying mobile communications services, and limited overlap between them in both categories of service.

BT will therefore be in a better position to compete with rivals such as Virgin Media who were early movers in offering. Second, O2 itself (currently owned by Telefónica) is the subject of a takeover bid from Hutchinson Whampoa who already owns the mobile network Three. Because the companies meet their turnover criteria, this deal is being investigated by the European Commission (EC) and the signs don’t look good. If it goes ahead, it would create the largest mobile operator in the UK and leave just three main players in the market. The EC is concerned that the merger would lead to higher prices, reduced innovation and lower investment in networks. Previously, considerable consolidation in telecommunications markets across Europe has been allowed. However, recent evidence, including the prevention of a similar deal in Denmark, suggests the EC is starting to take a tougher stance.

If we compare the two proposed takeovers, it is clear that the O2–Three merger raises more concerns for the mobile communications market because they are both already established network providers. However, it is increasingly questionable whether looking at this market in isolation is appropriate. As communication services become increasingly intertwined and quad-play competition becomes more prevalent, a wider perspective becomes more appropriate. Once this is taken, the BT–EE deal may raise different, but still important, concerns.

Finally, the UK’s communications regulator, OFCOM, is currently undertaking a review of the whole telecommunications market. It is evident that their review will recognise the increased connections between communications markets as they have made clear that they will:

examine converging media services – offered over different platforms, or as a ‘bundle’ by the same operator. For example, telecoms services are increasingly sold to consumers in the form of bundles, sometimes with broadcasting content; this can offer consumer benefits, but may also present risks to competition.

One particular concern appears to be BT’s internet broadband network, Openreach. This follows complaints from competitors such as BSkyB who pay to use BT’s network. Their concerns include long installation times for their customers and BT’s lack of investment in the network. One possibility being considered is breaking up BT with the forced sale of its broadband network.

It will be fascinating to see how these communications markets develop over time.

BT takeover of EE given provisional clearance by competition watchdog The Guardian, Jasper Jackson (28/10/15)
Ofcom casts doubt on O2/Three merger BBC News, Chris Johnston (08/10/15)
BT and Openreach broadband service could be split in Ofcom review The Guardian, John Plunkett (16/07/15)

Questions

  1. What are the key features of communications markets? Explain how these markets have developed over the last few decades.
  2. What are the pros and cons for consumers of being able to buy a quad-play bundle of services?
  3. How do you think firms that are currently focused on providing mobile phone services will need to change their strategies in the future?
  4. Why is BT in a powerful position as one of the only owners of a broadband network?
  5. Instead of forcing BT to sell its broadband network, what other solutions might there be?
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Stamp ‘profiteering’

46p – that buys you a First Class stamp. However, the price will now rise to 60p and the price of a Second Class stamp will increase to 50p from 36p, as Ofcom lifts some price caps. These significant price rises have seen shortages of stamps emerging across the country. As people anticipate the price rise, individuals and businesses are buying up stamps while they remain relatively cheap.

The problem is that this has started to result in a stamp shortage, so much so that the Royal Mail has now begun rationing retailers’ supply of stamps, capping each retailers’ supply this month to 20% of its annual allocation. A Royal Mail spokesman said:

“We are more than happy for retailers to receive the normal commercial return they obtain on stamps and no more than that … That is why we have put in place a prudent allocation policy to safeguard Royal Mail’s revenues and ensure there are more than enough stamps for people to buy both now and in the future.”

With postage volumes falling, as individuals turn to other methods of communication, Royal Mail says that this price rise is essential to keep this universal service going. Revenues have been low and the Royal Mail has been loss-making for some time.

However, while the price rise may help the Royal Mail, many businesses may suffer in its place. One optician, who sends out approximately 5,000 reminders to patients each year intends to bulk-buy 10,000 stamps in the hopes of saving some £1,400 when prices of stamps rise. An IT worker bought 20 books of 12 first-class stamps and said ‘If I could afford it, I would buy a lot more’. Many are unhappy at the ‘shameless profiteering at the public’s expense’, but whatever your opinion about the price rise, it does make for an interesting case of demand and supply. The following articles consider this stamp shortage.

Man’s 10,000 stamp panic: stampede for stamps leaves a 1st class mess as Royal Mail introduces rationing ahead of 30% price rise Mail Online, Colin Fernandez and John Stevens (15/4/12)
Stamps rationed by Royal Mail in run up to price rise (including video) BBC News (13/4/12)
Stamp rationing could hit pensioners Telegraph, James Hall (14/3/12)
Stamp sales limited ahead of price hike Sky News (13/4/12)
How stamp collecting came unstuck Guardian, Hunter Davies (13/4/12)
Royal Mail limits supply of stamps ahead of price rise Telegraph, James Hall and Andrew Hough (12/4/12)
’Profiteering’ Royal Mail limits supply of stamps before price rise Guardian, David Batty (13/4/12)
Royal Mail’s stamp price rises come into force BBC News (30/4/12)
How businesses will be affected by Royal Mail’s changing prices BBC News, Catherine Burns (28/4/12)

Questions

  1. If people expect prices to rise, what will happen to the demand curve? Illustrate this idea on a demand and supply diagram?
  2. If suppliers anticipate a price rise, what would their best strategy be?
  3. On a demand and supply diagram, illustrate the shortage of stamps that has emerged. If left to the free market, what should happen to the price of stamps?
  4. Why could pensioners and those in rural areas be the most adversely affected by this shortage and price rise?
  5. Why could ‘children and new collectors’ be priced out of the market?
  6. Why will small businesses be affected by this price hike? How could their customers be affected?
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Flying Sky High

With news of the economy contracting in the previous quarter, it was perhaps a surprise to some that BSkyB has seen growth in its customer numbers to above 10 million: much of this increase due to growth in broadband numbers. In the second half of 2010, BSkyB reported that revenues increased by 15% to £3.2bn and their pre-tax profits were also on the way up to £467m. These latest figures are likely to put increasing pressure on News Corp’s takeover bid for the shares they do not own in BSkyB (61%), as share prices increase by 2%. Last summer, a bid of 700p per share was rejected and while both companies did agree to work together to determine if a future merger was viable, these higher share prices put BSkyB in a much stronger position.

However, before anything else happens, Rupert Murdoch’s company is waiting for regulatory approval from Ofcom for this takeover. BBC reports sugges that Ofcom has made an:

“unambiguous recommendation that News Corp’s plan to acquire all of BSkyB should be referred to the Competition Commission for further investigation.”

The Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has spoken of his intention to refer this potential merger to the Competition Commission, following Ofcom’s recommendation. There are concerns about the impact on competition and Rupert Murdochs’ increased influence over public opinion, if this merger were to go ahead. Any delays in finalizing a deal could benefit BSkyB, if their financial performance continues. Analysts suggest that the delay could be 6 months, while any investigation takes place. If profits continue to rise, share prices may also go up, requiring higher and higher bids by News Corp. Watch this space!

BSkyB profits soar 26% to £520m putting pressure on NewsCorp to increase takeover bid Daily Mail (27/1/11)
BSkyB reports big jump in profits BBC News (27/1/11)
BSkyB spends £7m on News Corp bid Guardian, Mark Sweney (27/1/11)
BSkyB result to highlight pressure on News Corp Reuters, Kate Holton (26/1/11)
HD TV, broad demand boosts BSkyB Telegraph (27/1/11)
News Corp bud for Sky should go to Competition Commission, recommends Ofcom Telegraph (27/1/11)
Call off the hunt Financial Times (20/1/11)
Numis raises BSkyB on expected News Corp deal delay Reuters (21/1/11)

Questions

  1. Explain what type of merger it would be between News Corp and BSkyB.
  2. What are the arguments (a) for the merger and (b) against the merger? Consider the impact on the public, the competitors, the workers etc.
  3. What is the role of Ofcom and the Competition Commission? How do their responsibilities differ?
  4. As demand for Sky’s products increases, what could we expect to see in terms of price? Now explain why your answer may not happen!
  5. Why have BSkyB’s share prices been affected? Is it the demand of supply of shares that has changed? Illustrate your answer on a diagram.
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Good news for sports fans!

I hardly need to say that the title is no reflection on England’s World Cup performance – or lack thereof. Instead, it relates to the opportunity for more people to watch the Premier League, which I’m sure most of you’ll agree is good news!

In 2007, BT, Virgin, Top up TV and Setanta complained about Sky’s dominance within the pay-TV industry. We considered Sky’s dominance and the subsequent investigation by Ofcom in a posting in March: Is the sky falling in?. Ofcom ruled that Sky would have to reduce the price it charged to other broadcasters to show its premium sports channels.

In more recent developments, there has now been a deal signed between Sky and BT, which will allow BT Vision customers to view Sky Sports 1 and Sky Sports 2 from August 1st 2010 (just in time for the start of the new football season, for those that are interested!) There are still ongoing debates about how much BT will charge for these new channels and it will depend largely on the outcome of the Sky’s appeal against Ofcom’s decision about the prices Sky has set. Although this may be good news to BT Vision viewers (excluding the fact that the deal does not include Sky Sports 3 and 4), there are many who agree on just one point: the regulator got it wrong. The Premier League could lose millions due to a loss of exclusivity and BSkyB argues that Ofcom didn’t even have the right to make the ruling.

These mini disputes are likely to go on for some time, but at least we can be certain about one thing: Ofcom’s decision can’t be any worse than Capello’s decisions in South Africa! Bring on the Premier League!!

Articles
Sky Sports 1 and 2 available to BT vision customers BBC News (28/6/10)
BT to offer Sky Sports in time for soccer season Reuters (28/6/10)
BT signs BSkyB deal to show Sky Sports channels BusinessWeek, Simon Thiel (28/6/10)
Sky forced to cut price of sports channels Telegraph (31/3/10)
New ruling lets fans see Premier League on TV for just £15 a month London Evening Standard, Jonathan Prynn (31/3/10)
Virgin media cuts Sky Channels prices Digital Spy, Andrew Laughlin (11/6/10)
BSkyB, BT and FAPL join Ofcom appeal Broadband TV News (11/6/10)
Sky wrongfoots rival BT by raising prices Guardian, Richard Wray (30/6/10)
BT charges £16.99 for Sports 1 and 2 BBC News (1/7/10)
BT launches cheap package to view Sky Sports Guardian, Lisa Bachelor (1/7/10)
BT Wades Into Pay-TV Sports Market Sky News, Nick Phipps and Emma Rowley (1/7/10)
Sky Sports broadcast costs set to rise BBC News, John Moylan (1/7/10)

Ofcom report
Delivering consumer benefits in Pay TV Ofcom Press Release (31/3/10)

Questions

  1. Ofcom’s initial ruling forced Sky to reduce prices. What will be the impact on a demand curve? How might this affect consumer choice?
  2. Sky has 85% of the market. Would you class it as a monopoly? Explain your answer. Is this agreement between Sky and BT likely to reduce or increase Sky’s market power?
  3. How might other Pay-TV providers be affected by this decision?
  4. What are the disputes surrounding Ofcom’s decision? Why might the Premier League lose so much revenue?
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Is the Sky falling in?

In 2007, BT, Virgin, Top up TV and Setanta complained about Sky’s dominance within the pay-TV industry. Sky, who have an estimated 85% share of the market were investigated by Ofcom and a decision has now been made. Sky will be forced to reduce the price it charges to other Broadcasters for showing premium sport channels. The wholesale price of Sky Sports 1 and 2 (two of my favourite channels!!) will each be reduced by just over 23% to £10.63 a month each. The idea is that this decision will benefit consumers by increasing choice. However, Sky argues that it will be to the ‘detriment of consumers’ as incentives to invest and take risks will be blunted.

Furthermore, there are also concerns that it will mean less money going into sport. Rugby, football, tennis etc benefit from some very lucrative TV rights deals and if Sky is forced to reduce prices (it is appealing the decision), then the value of these deals is likely to decline, which may lead to less investment in grass-routes participation.

Whilst progress has been made within this area, critics argue that Ofcom have not gone far enough and should have extended their decision to more sport channels (not just Sky Sports 1 and 2) and even to the premium movie channels. This would again increase consumer choice and provide more people with access to premium TV. This would work alongside more innovation within the pay-TV industry, which has seen Sky being given permission to offer pay-TV services on freeview, which will open up pay-TV to millions more consumers. Whilst no action has been taken regarding Sky’s dominance of premium movie channels, this issue has been referred to the Competition Commission. Is Sky’s dominance over sporting events about to come to an end?

Articles
BSkyB ordered to cut sports channels rates Reuters, Kate Holton (31/3/10)
Sky forced to cut price of sports channels Telegraph (31/3/10)
Consumers are big winners in BSkyB ruling Financial Times, Ben Fenton and Andrew Parker (31/3/10)
BSkyB should shake hands and move on Financial Times (31/3/10)
Sky told to cut wholesale prices by regulator Ofcom BBC News (31/3/10)
Ofcom v Sky BBC News blogs: Peston’s Picks, Robert Peston (31/3/10)
BSkyB ‘restricting competition’ BBC Today Programme (31/3/10)
Ofcom orders Sky Sports price cut Guardian, Mark Sweney (31/3/10)
Sky ruling: Culture Secretary challenges Tories to back Ofcom Guardian, Mark Sweney (31/3/10)
Sky forced to cut the price for top sports events: Q and A Telegraph, Rupert Neate (31/3/10)
New ruling lets fans see Premier League on TV for just £15 a month London Evening Standard, Jonathan Prynn (31/3/10)
Regulator sets the fuse for shake-up of pay-TV Independent, Nick Clark (31/3/10)

Ofcom report
Delivering consumer benefits in Pay TV Ofcom Press Release (31/3/10)
Pay TV Statement Overview (31/3/10)
Pay TV Statement Summary (pdf file) (31/3/10)
Pay TV Statement Full document (pdf file) (31/3/10)

Questions

  1. To what extent will Ofcom’s decision to force Sky to reduce prices lead to an increase in consumer choice? Why is consumer choice good?
  2. Why has Sky been able to charge such high prices in the past, in particular for sports channels?
  3. According to the BBC News article, Sky shares were the biggest risers on the FTSE by midday on the day of the announcement. Why do you think this was the case?
  4. Would a similar decision on premium movie channels significantly increase consumer choice?
  5. Into which market structure does the Premium TV industry best fit? Consider the characteristics of the pay-TV industry. Into which market structure does it best fit?
  6. Why may Ofcom’s decision lead to less investment in sport at the grass roots?
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A faster spread of super-fast

Ofcom, the communications regulator, is keen to encourage the spread of super-fast broadband through investment in fibre-optic cabling. So far, super-fast broadband is available to around 46 per cent of the UK population. Both Virgin Media (formerly Telewest and NTL) and BT have invested in fibre optic cables, but Ofcom is keen to extend the use to rival companies.

It proposes two methods: the first is to give competitors access to BT’s cables; the second is to allow competitors to install their own cables using BT’s ducts and telegraph poles. In both cases BT would charge companies to use its infrastructure and would be free to set prices so as to ensure a ‘fair rate of return’.

The articles below consider this ‘solution’ and its likely success in developing competition in the super-fast broadband market through competition, or whether BT’s and Virgin’s market dominance will continue to the detriment of consumers. You can also find links below to the Ofcom report and summaries

Articles
BT welcomes Ofcom’s fibre access plans Reuters, Kate Holton (23/3/10)
Ofcom to encourage super-fast broadband Business Financial Newswire (23/3/10)
Ofcom tells BT to open its fibre network ShareCast (23/3/10)
Ofcom wants BT to open up infrastructure Financial Times, Philip Stafford (23/3/10)
Ofcom push to give broadband rivals access to BT tunnels Financial Times, Tim Bradshaw and Andrew Parker (23/3/10)
BT UK Pushes Ofcom to Open Virgin Medias Broadband Cable Ducts SamKnows, Phil Thompson (23/3/10)
BT welcomes Ofcom’s fibre access plans ISPreview, MarkJ (8/3/10)

Report and summaries
Summary: Enabling a super-fast broadband Britain Ofcom (23/3/10)
Review of the wholesale local access market: full document Ofcom (23/3/10)
Review of the wholesale local access market: summary Ofcom (23/3/10)

Questions

  1. What forms does competition take in the broadband market?
  2. What are the barriers to entry to the super-fast broadband market?
  3. Are fibre-optic networks a natural monopoly? Explain the significance of your answer for competition in the super-fast broadband market.
  4. Will Ofcom’s desire for BT to get a fair return on its wholesale pricing of access to its cabling, ducts and telegraph poles be sufficient to ensure effective competition and that profits are not excessive?
  5. Explain whether it would be in consumers’ interests for competitors to be given access to Virgin’s cables and ducts.
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X Factor aXes Lucie

Whether or not you admit it, most people are aware of what’s happening in the X factor. With massive viewing figures, the X Factor remains one the most highly viewed entertainment programmes, so it’s hardly surprising that demand for advertising slots is so high especially when people are waiting for news about the contestants. The X Factor pulls in £8000 per second from TV adverts and it is estimated that the charge for a 30 second advertising slot is a staggering £190,000, expected to rise to £250,000 for the live final. It looks like the recession has had little impact on those wanting to sponsor the X Factor.

Nevertheless, there has been some controversy this week. Every Monday morning we see stories about the contestants and this week was no exception. But, it wasn’t so much about the contestants this week, but rather it concerned the voting. Following the episodes over the weekend of 7th and 8th November 2009, both the ITV and Ofcom, the telecommunications regulator, received thousands of complaints as Simon Cowell gave his support to ‘Jedward’ over Lucie Jones, even though in earlier episodes, he had said he would ‘leave the country if they won’.

However, Ofcom has said that the X Factor won’t be investigated, as the regulator only investigates voting irregularities and the treatment of contestants and not the outcome of the programme. Meanwhile, speculation is rife that Simon Cowell either wants to keep Jedward on the show, because of their viewer ratings, or that by voting Lucie off, the public will rebel and vote Jedward off this week and Simon will avoid looking like the bad guy.

Who knew that the world of entertainment could be analysed using economics!!

Ofcom won’t investigate X Factor ITN (11/11/09)
750 complain to Ofcom over Lucie’s X Factor exit Wales Online (12/11/09)
£8k a second bonanza for X Factor ads as ITV chiefs cash in on Jedward mania Mail Online (11/11/09)
Watchdog rules out X Factor probe BBC News (10/11/09)
Thousands complain to ITV and Ofcom over X Factor ATV Network News, Doug Lambert (10/11/09)
X Factor: Simon Cowell is an evil genius and we love him Telegraph, Liz Hunt (11/11/09)
Simon Cowell’s evil genius rules The X Factor Guardian, Marina Hyde (13/11/09)
Resistance is futile in the face of this master of psychology Independent, Matthew Norman (12/11/09)
Jedward: X Factor twins John and Edward help ITV rake in advertising Telegraph (11/11/09)
The X Factor becomes the ‘British Superbowl’ as advertising fees soar Tines Online, Dan Sabbagh (11/11/09)

The Ofcom site can be found at:
Ofcom (Home Page)

Questions

  1. What is the purpose of regulation? What are the advantages and disadvantages of legal restrictions?
  2. What is the role of Ofcom? How does it regulate telecommunications and what other regulators are there?
  3. Why is the price for an advertising slot during the X Factor so expensive? What does this tell us about price elasticity and income elasticity of demand?
  4. Ofcom is not going to investigate X Factor. What are the main reasons behind this decision? Do you think this was the right decision?
  5. If a judge’s decision can increase advertising revenue, then from a commercial point of view does that make it the ‘right’ decision?
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Setanta: Another casualty of the recession, or just bad business?

Setanta is a sports broadcaster that emerged from an Irish dance hall in West London in the 1990s. Since 2004 it has grown rapidly, acquiring major sporting rights and acting as something of a rival to Sky. However, Setanta has now gone into administration following the collapse of talks with a US investor, its failure to pay a number of sporting organisations and the loss of its English Premier League games. Having less than 60% of the annual subscribers needed, and competing against Sky, it is hardly surprising that this broadcaster has now exited the industry. But, what are the reasons behind this collapse? Marketing, advertising, pricing, the recession or dominance by its competitors? What will be the impact of this bankruptcy on its employees, the Pay TV market, sporting organisations and its customers?

Offer made for stake in Setanta BBC News (12/6/09)
Troubled sports channel stops broadcasting CBBC Newsround (24/6/09)
Setanta goes off air with loss of more than 200 jobs Guardian, James Robinson, Leigh Holmwood (23/6/09)
Blavatnik offers Setanta lifeline BBC News, Robert Peston (12/6/09)
Last-ditch effort to save Setanta BBC News (9/6/09)
Football’s minnows braced to take full force of Setanta collapse Guardian, Owen Gibson (24/6/09)
UFC: After Setanta divorce where now: Bravo, Viring, Channel 5 or Sky? Telegraph, Gareth Davies (23/6/09)
Setanta sports taken off air in Britain Times Online, Dan Sabbagh (23/6/09)

Questions

  1. How was Setanta able to expand so quickly? Is this part of the reason for its failure?
  2. Premium content, such as Premier League matches, is already dominated by BSkyB. What does the collapse of Setanta mean for the structure of the Pay TV market?
  3. What reasons could explain Setanta’s inability to attract sufficient subscribers? Is its collapse a consequence of the recession, or are there other factors? What are they?
  4. Who will lose out from Setanta’s bankruptcy? Think about all those connected with Setanta. What will happen to the Scottish Premier League, which has paid the SPL clubs out of its own pocket? Will it get this money back?
  5. Do you think there were any other options open in a bid to rescue Setanta? If Ofcom had stepped in to regulate the industry, would it have made a difference?
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