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Strategic Review of Digital Communications - response from Citizens Advice to Ofcom

8 October 2015

Strategic review of digital communications report cover imageTelecommunications markets have transformed over the last 30 years as mobile phones have evolved from a niche luxury item to an essential service and the internet has become an increasingly integral component of so many aspects of modern life. Ninety five per cent of all UK households now have a mobile phone, rising to ninety nine per cent amongst young adults. More than four in five households (83 per cent) have access to the internet at home (note 1).

In this context it is vital that these markets are competitive and meeting the needs of the consumers they exist to serve. We therefore welcome Ofcom’s decision to carry out this timely and comprehensive review of telecommunications markets.

There are indications that these markets are working well - we have seen great leaps forward in technology and innovation while prices continue to fall. However, through our experience of helping consumers to resolve their issues, we know that these broadly positive macro trends mask a number of features which are detrimental to individual consumers and competition.

Over the last year the Citizens Advice Consumer Helpline has helped consumers with more than 21,000 enquiries about mobile phone hardware and service agreements, 6,500 enquiries about fixed line telephone services and 4,400 enquiries about internet service providers.

In the first quarter of 2015/16 mobile phone service agreements was the third most common issue reported to the Consumer Helpline, after second hand cars and energy. Mobile phone hardware was the fifth most common issue. Clearly the volume of issues we see partly reflects the size of different markets and the volume of purchasing decisions made. Even so, these are not envious comparators given the well known consumer problems in the second hand car and energy markets

These interactions give us unique and real time insight into the problems consumers encounter in telecommunications markets on a daily basis. We welcome the opportunity to feed these insights into Ofcom’s strategic review of digital communications. In this response we do not attempt to address every issue Ofcom raises in the discussion document. Instead, we focus in on four key areas which align most closely with our expertise and concerns as a consumer champion:

  1. Barriers to consumer engagement and decision making

  2. Standards of service and contract exit

  3. A ‘one stop shop’ for consumer advice

  4. Competition and supply side issues




Notes:- 1. Ofcom (2015) The Consumer Experience of 2014