As the telemedia industry undergoes some seismic shifts and attention, as ever is the issue is on how to regulate it in a changing world, Paul Skeldon meets David Edmonds CBE the new Chairman of the soon to be renamed PhonepayPlus (PPP) to see where he is planning to take both the regulator and the Industry
The telemedia and PRS industry in the UK has never had an easy life: there is always a crisis of one kind or another, but in the 20 years that I have covered it, it has always managed to carry on. It may get into trouble – not always of its own making – but it always comes out the other side.
But right now it faces perhaps its biggest set challenges to date. And the challenges aren’t regulatory, criminal, or related to bad apples: this time the industry faces a raft of problems from technology and how consumers use it.
Into this maelstrom steps David Edmonds CBE as the new chairman on Phonepay Plus, who comes to the organisation at a time when the industry needs a total rethink in terms of not only how it is regulated but also what its regulator should regulate. He also takes the helm as the organisation reels from that Judicial Review. Does he have the toughest job in telecoms?
“It is a market in decline and has been for five years – my view is that we need to address this: to encourage new business, encourage competition and simulate activity. That is my personal agenda,” Edmonds says. “To this end I see PPP’s role very much to work with all levels of the PRS sector to develop. I don’t start with ‘let’s restart’ but taking the industry on from here.”
Edmonds role as chairman is to, in his words, “run an effective board” and one of his first moves has been to clear out some board members and bring in some fresh blood. He also made acting chief executive Jo Prowse permanent.
And this partnership is key to where PPP goes next. Edmonds is striking in his ‘can do attitude’ and, having met PPP chairmen before, one of the few that seems to actually want to promote the industry. Edmonds’ attitude also chimes with that of Prowse (who I interviewed in Telemedia magazine back in July 2015 in Telemedia magazine issue #38). Both seem to be fixed on making it work both for industry and the consumer.
“The consumer needs protecting, there is no doubt about that, but I believe they are best served by having access to a range of good services that are current and economic and the can feel assured that they can use them because there are regulations in place to protect them if it does go wrong,” he says.
In his view, PPP is almost like a kite mark: it’s approved and the service is safe to use. A much more refreshing approach to the one we have had in the run up to the Judicial Review, where one felt that the organisation was sitting waiting to pounce on anyone who may (or may not in some cases) have done something wrong.
This air of being more in tune with the industry and inclined to helping the business to do business – while also protecting consumers – has led to Edmonds ruminating on the Code of Practice. “We need to look at the Code and appraise whether we need so much complexity and detail,” he says. “I would like to simplify the code in context of industry saying what it does and doesn’t need.”
Edmonds cites his extensive experience in the regulation of telecoms – he oversaw unbundling – and in regulating the legal industry where he says common sense tends to rule in regulation. “It isn’t about protecting the consumer at all costs no matter what,” he emphasises. “We have to adjudicate around what make sense. We need to perhaps look at Rapid Reaction Teams to stop things going wrong early, rather than focus on lengthy investigations to fine people and put them out of business.”
Instead he stresses that it is all about the users. “16.5million people use PRS and enjoy it, I don’t want to get in the way of that, we just don’t want anyone getting ripped off.”
Edmonds has a refreshingly simple view of PPP’s role and, if he can take it forward in his role, then it could be a real boon for the industry at a crucial point in its evolution.
The arrival of PSD2 (see page 13) and the mooted idea that network operators are thinking about how to promote Charge to Mobile more effectively (see page 1) all mean that things are changing for the industry and the regulator needs a fresh approach.
This is also set to be reflected in a new name for PPP – to be revealed in the Summer – that more accurately shows what the body now does regulating not only PRS, but also charge to mobile and more.
“It’s my role to promote debate and to ask the industry – all parts of it – how to make it work,” he says. “It is a hard job as we have to pull together our own regulations, Ofcom’s, the ASA’s, the FSA’s and each MNO’s rules and try and make it all work. It can be done. We have already started to reach out to these outside bodies to look at how to work together and, with the MNOs, on perhaps how best to harmonise all their individual rules and ours’ to make this simpler for the value chain.”
It is a tough task indeed, but visiting PPP’s office to talk to Edmonds you get a sense that the air is somehow different: its less combative for starters and there seems to be a real air of wanting to work with industry rather than against it to create services that are what consumers want. Yes, they have to protect consumers too, but the real emphasis seems to lie on making it work. Let’s hope it’s a brave new dawn at PPP and for telemedia.