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Ofcom spent £10m in past 2 years desperately lobbing away sueballs

Does regulator have time to make policy?

Updated Communications regulator Ofcom spent nearly £10m over the last two years fighting off legal threats by providers, according to a Freedom of Information response.

During that time the regulator splashed the cash instructing lawyers to fight off legal challenges against its decisions, as well as salaries for in-house legal bods whose job it is to preempt threats before publication.

During the year 2014/15, Ofcom spent £4.4m on lawyers, down slightly from £5.1m the previous year.

However, this year costs may increase as the regulator is poised to publish its 100-page Communications Review, which is designed to set the regulatory tone in the sector for the next 10 years.

If the regulator does take the bold step of referring BT's Openreach to the Competition and Markets Authority to consider a formal separation, it may have to reach much further into its legal war chest.

One example of the sector's drawn-out legal wrangling was the auction of the 4G spectrum back in 2013, which took two years longer than expected due to multiple legal disputes.

In 2011, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport opened a consultation to consider lowering the threshold under which providers could challenge its decisions. It has been suggested this would make it more difficult for providers to challenge DCMS' analyses, and instead mount challenges based on a disagreement over material points of law. However, no decision has yet been made to amend the Communications Act 2003.

Last month the regulator's decision to force BT to set wholesale fibre prices for its rivals had to go to a tribunal, as BT disagreed with the market analysis on which Ofcom had made its decision.

TalkTalk simultaneously brought an appeal to tribunal because it said the new rules did not go far enough. ®


An Ofcom spokesman contacted The Register after the publication of this story to say: “Ofcom’s lawyers work with colleagues to help us take decisions on how best to protect consumers and promote competition in the sectors we regulate. Our legal team also helps to defend our decisions if they are challenged in court.”

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