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Consumer representation in UK communications policy and regulation

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The paper seeks to examine the role of consumer representation in communications policymaking with a focus on the UK. It aims to review the role of the Communications Consumer Panel and to argue that there is an important role to play for a consumer advocate due to behavioural biases, information overload, and market failure. Design/methodology/approach: The paper is based on analysis of all relevant reports and documentation published by the Ofcom Consumer Panel, as well as participant observation carried out by the author as a member of the panel. It also analyses switching data to make the case that the communications sector may be unique in terms of the low levels of switching between suppliers. Findings: The paper finds that there is an ongoing role for a consumer advocate in media and communications and that this body should be independent of government and the regulatory agency. Research limitations/implications: The limitation of this research is that it focuses principally on only one sector, though it does reference a literature that covers other sectors, and in a paper of this length full comparison of other sectors would be impossible. Practical implications: The paper suggests that the communications sector would be well served by its own separate consumer representation body and that this should have close links to, but be independent of, Ofcom. Social implications: This paper has relevance to consumer representation in communications regulation and policy in countries beyond the UK. It examines the peculiarity of the communications market and the particular difficulties consumers face in fast moving technically challenging markets. Originality/value: The paper examines a particularly important sector of consumer representation at a time when policy on a new regulatory structure is being set. It offers the perspective of a researcher who has also been a member of the Consumer panel, and, as such, it provides valuable insight at a crucial time.

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