Regulators are careful with words. As an offshoot of government, they are concerned with legality and presentation in the same way that politicians are. And like politicians, if you listen to everything regulators say, occasionally you will catch them saying two different things to two different audiences. Last week, Ofcom, the UK communications regulator, issued its annual plan for 2015/16. The intended audience for that document is not you and me. We deal with specifics that rarely feature in such plans. The document is aimed at people who monitor the generality of the regulator’s work, assessing if they are doing too much, or too little, and if their focus is in the right places. However, the plan did include a statement on how Ofcom had changed the way it oversees telecoms metering and billing accuracy. This is the headline they gave:
We have reduced regulation relating to telecoms providers’ metering and billing obligations
What is your impression of the change they made, based on this statement? Ofcom say they reduced regulation – this is a popular thing to do because regulators are usually accused of burdening business with excessive bureaucracy and red tape. But what did Ofcom say when they argued for this change? Ofcom said they were scrapping accuracy thresholds because they wanted zero tolerance for error. You cannot have anything less than zero, but zero tolerance means tougher regulation, not lighter regulation.
So what is the actual situation? Have the rules become easier, or harder, for telcos? Ofcom’s plan goes on to say the following about the impact of this change:
This should ensure general accuracy of billing, so that providers do not have to meet differing billing requirements. It also introduces a consistent approach across residential, small and large business customers and wholesale services.
Neither easier, nor harder, but more equal… We shall have to see if Ofcom later decides that some telcos are more equal than others.
Speaking of which, I asked Ofcom why they needed to instigate an “own-initiative monitoring and enforcement” program for billing accuracy, so soon after they “reduced” the regulations in a way that “should ensure the general accuracy of billing”. They have not replied.