The UK telecommunications networks are a vital component of the country’s Critical National Infrastructure. Telecommunications has been going through radical change. Many of these changes are being influenced by the convergence of technologies, particularly computers and telecommunications, as well as broadcast, the Internet and other information services.
This convergence of technologies, has led to the era of the Information Society. It has always been acknowledged that telecommunications is essential for the economic, social and cultural development of society, but that requirement has become even more evident as the Information Age is increasingly recognized as the future of all societies.
From a regulatory perspective, the European Directives are encouraging a free market approach and the UK regulator Ofcom recognizes that this approach will bring new services, technologies and opportunities for increased innovation and potential for competition leading to reduced costs.
There are regulatory obligations on electronic communications providers in relation to resilience and emergency planning; for the wider market there are duties and powers provided through a number of different pieces of legislation.
However, the industry has shown its ability to work with government on a voluntary basis to improve emergency planning arrangements. These plans are well developed and regularly tested.
Most central and local government telecommunications systems are today provided by the industry, and there is a requirement for customers of these services to have some form of understanding of how the UK Telecom Network functions.
The telecommunications industry contributes around 4-5% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and might therefore be considered of relatively minor importance to the country. However, its own GDP does not reflect the wider importance that telecommunications plays in the economic and social well-being of the country.
Almost every UK business is dependent on telecommunications to transact business, as is every branch of central and local government and related public bodies.
The social life of the country is highly dependent on telecommunications too, be it the capability to broadcast TV to every home, for friends to ‘text’ one another to arrange their appointments or for anyone to summon the emergency services via 999.
The defense and security of the nation is also highly dependent on reliable communications. Telecommunications therefore has a ‘multiplier’ effect and its importance to the overall continuity of life and the democratic tradition of this country is immense.
Such is its importance that governments have recognized that the issue often transcends the narrower commercial interests of the companies who supply services and therefore government has some duty to assure the resilience of the country’s telecommunications systems and services.
For many years prior to 1984, telecommunications was run by the government as a statutory monopoly. It could ensure that the General Post Office (GPO) took due account of the requirement to serve the country in an appropriate way, with adequate provision for the resilience of the system.
Since 1984, not only has telecommunications been provided in an increasingly competitive commercial environment, but also a much wider range of services has become available – and come to be relied on – such as mobile phones and the Internet.
Government now has to proceed partly based on supporting statutes, but to a large extent by voluntary cooperation by the industry.