Big tech accountability? Read how we got here in  The Closing of the Net 

Does Ed Richards believe  this cleft stick policy can be effective in the  digital age?*


 Ed Richards,  chief executive of the UK telecoms regulator Ofcom, has  told Parliament that he does not expect the first letters to be sent out under the Digital Economy Act for at least a year. Speaking to the Culture, Media and Sport committee earlier this month, he said that there were ‘internal clearance processes' to be gone through, as well as the European Commission all of which could take ‘some months'. On top of that, Ofcom has to set up the new appeals body mandated by the act - if the EU approves it.


Based on an uncorrected transcript of the committee proceedings ( see link below), Ed  Richards  was put under pressure by ‘content creator' of  romantic novels,  and former EMI press officer,  ( not entirely a disinterested party) Conservative MP Louise Bagshawe.  She wanted to know  why he couldn't move more  quickly to get the warning notices out to alleged P2P infringers.


Mr  Richards  explained that the Initial

Obligations Code is doing the rounds of government ministries where it is undergoing checks. The Initial Obligations Code is the prerequisite for the ISPs to send out warning letters to Internet users.  He expects that we will ‘not be in a position such that the ISPs are sending letters, for another 12 months'.


Ms Bagshawe's  colleague, the Labour MP Tom Watson, suggested rather cynically that he could ‘feel her anxiety and frustration' at the ‘slothful approach' of the Conservative Liberal government on this issue.


Ed  Richards explained to Ms Bagshawe that the Judicial Review brought by BT and TalkTalk had caused a hold up. He felt it could have been a waste of time to begin work on implementing the Act,  if the Judicial Review had then asked the government to ‘go back to the drawing board'. He had agreed with the Ministry  that they would take no further action whilst  the Review was pending. Now that the judgement has been delivered, he says he is in a position to move things forward.


What is interesting is Mr Richards'  revelation that "the code is done". Ofcom consulted on the Initial Obligations Code one year ago. Nothing has been heard since  and it  is my understanding that industry - well, the Internet industry - hasn't seen it.


Ed Richards'  comments on the appeals body were also rather curious. Iptegrity  readers who followed the Telecoms Package saga will know the difference between an administrative body and judicial tribunal. This appeals body is the former, but it will be performing a quasi-judicial role in meting out punishments to British citizens which would otherwise go through the courts.  I find it odd that the chief regulator  talks as though he were setting up a call centre.  When asked about  the work needed to set up the appeals body, he said:


"What will drive the costs is the volume or the level of activity. What will also drive the costs is the level of appeals."


Even more  interesting was the questioning on website blocking. Pushed by Ms Bagshawe to agree  that  the recent blocking of websites in the US  had been "effective",  Mr Richards' then seemed to backtrack : "  the notion that you could say that website blocking will, in all cases, be effective is just nonsense' he said. Ofcom will produce a ‘balanced technical analysis' of the issue, he said.


Mr Edwards seemed further taken aback when Ms Bagshawe put it to him that the BPI (British music industry /IFPI) only wants to block 12 websites.


" Yes, but those would be the ones the BPI are concerned with. I think the MPAA might be concerned with others; the Premier League would be concerned with a different collection again; publishers of electronic books will be interested with a different set. So quite quickly it could become a substantial number."


Well, Mr Richards, we could have told you that years ago. It's a shame you lobbied for traffic management in Brussels. Be careful what you wish for.


 This article has been prepared using an uncorrected transcript of the hearing of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee,  on the Word of Ofcom,  with evidence given by  Ed Richards, chief executive,  and Dr Colette Bowes, chairman of Ofcom. None of the participants have yet had the opportunity to correct the record and it is not yet approved. 

* The cleft sticks is a  reference to Evelyn Waugh's novel Scoop .


The correct attribution for this article is: Monica Horten (2011) Ofcom chief: DE Act kick-off delayed by a year 16 May 2011 .  


This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial-Share Alike 2.5 UK:England and Wales License. It may be used for non-commercial purposes only, and the author's name should be attributed.



Iptegrity in brief is the website of Dr Monica Horten. I’ve been analysing analysing digital policy since 2008. Way back then, I identified how issues around rights can influence Internet policy, and that has been a thread throughout all of my research. I hold a PhD in EU Communications Policy from the University of Westminster (2010), and a Post-graduate diploma in marketing.   I’ve served as an independent expert on the Council of Europe  Committee on Internet Freedoms, and was involved in a capacity building project in Moldova, Georgia, and Ukraine. I am currently (from June 2022)  Policy Manager - Freedom of Expression, with the Open Rights Group. For more, see About Iptegrity is made available free of charge for  non-commercial use, Please link-back & attribute Monica Horten. Thank you for respecting this.

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