Ofcom is proposing new charging principles under which satellite broadcaster BSkyB should offer access to its platform on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory terms. The UK communications regulator is inviting comments before the new guidelines take effect.

Ofcom says that current guidelines designed to ensure fair access to the marketplace “do not provide sufficient clarity or certainty for broadcasters”. This has prompted disputes in the past with the major terrestrial channels.

Since 1997, BSkyB has been subject to regulation regarding the charges for what are termed Technical Platform Services. These include conditional access, geographic masking and regionalisation, access control for interactive applications, and electronic programme guide services.

Following a consultation period, Ofcom has published a draft statement on how it would in future interpret the regulatory conditions placed on BSkyB to offer such services.

The general principles are that Sky should be entitled to recover costs which it reasonably, necessarily and efficiently incurs in the provision of these services to customers and should be entitled to make a risk adjusted return on its investment.

Costs should only be recovered from customers that cause such costs to be incurred and they should be recovered in relative proportion to the benefits that each customer receives.

Significantly, Ofcom says that where Sky itself benefits exclusively or disproportionately, the costs should be paid by Sky rather than third-party customers.

Furthermore, Sky would be required to publish its charges or charging methodology, to enable customers to determine these costs without having to enter into a commercial negotiation.

Sky currently publishes a rate card for different types of interactive services and transactions which are largely linked to the revenues or benefits provided by each service. However, in the event of a dispute, Ofcom would apply the proposed principles of cost recovery to determine whether they were fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory.

Freeview free to offer more pay-TV channels
In a separate move, Ofcom is relaxing the requirements on some of the multiplexes on digital terrestrial television, commonly known as Freeview, to enable them to carry pay-television services.

The licences for three of the six multiplexes, known as B, C and D, currently state that all the channels they carry must be free-to-air. Ofcom says that this no longer requires regulatory intervention, although the obligation on public service channels, namely the BBC, ITV, C4, Five, S4C and teletext, to remain free-to-air remains unchanged.