Monday, 31 October 2016

Plain language in action

You'll read a lot about why it's good to write in plain language. But how do you actually write in plain language?  The two simplest things you can do are:

- reduce sentence length to 15-20 words
- make the passive voice active

However, you don't want to spoil the flow. Or make a sentence sound just plain weird.  One example when it's fine to use the passive is here:

We are regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority 

Here, "we" - the regulated company -  is more important than the Financial Conduct Authority. So it is better to keep this passive.

You might think something fishy is going on if you saw:

The Financial Conduct Authority regulates our services

And now it's time for you to see a plain language rewrite. This is a press release from OFCOM, the British communications regulator. 


Promoting competition and investment in superfast broadband

Ofcom has today notified new measures to promote competition and investment in the growing market for superfast broadband.

Under a draft decision notified to the European Commission today, a new pricing rule would mean that BT must maintain a sufficient margin between its wholesale and retail superfast broadband charges in order to allow other providers profitably to match its prices.

The new pricing rule would preserve BT’s current flexibility to set its wholesale fibre prices, which in turn provides an incentive for future investment by the company in its fibre network. At the same time, the rule would mean BT could not set prices in such a way that might prevent other operators from competing profitably for superfast broadband customers.

BT is currently the largest retail provider of fibre broadband services over its network, but is required to allow other operators to use its network to sell superfast broadband to consumers under a process known as ‘virtual unbundled local access’ (VULA).

The draft regulatory condition notified by Ofcom to the Commission would require BT to ensure that the margin between its wholesale VULA charges and its retail superfast broadband prices is sufficient for rival operators to compete and make a profit.

Ofcom’s indicative assessment* is that BT is maintaining a sufficient margin under the new draft rules. Therefore, the condition is a safeguard which limits BT’s ability to reduce retail margins in future, and ensures that any increases in BT’s costs must be reflected in its prices.

BT currently provides BT Sport free to its superfast broadband customers, and the new rules take into account the costs and revenues of these sport channels, as well as other elements included by BT in its retail superfast broadband bundles.

The growing superfast market

When Ofcom introduced the requirement for BT to allow other operators to use its upgraded fibre network, there were fewer than 100,000 superfast broadband connections on this network.

That number has now risen to around 3.4 million, with providers regularly offering speeds of up to 76 Mbit/s, and take-up is expected to increase further over the coming years. Looking ahead, industry and policy-makers are also considering how the next generation of ‘ultrafast’ broadband services - which will provide speeds around 1 Gbit/s - can best be achieved. This may involve further investment to upgrade the infrastructure currently used to provide superfast broadband.

Today’s draft decisions are aimed at ensuring that different operators can compete in the developing broadband market in years to come, so that consumers benefit from competitive prices, network investment and high-quality, innovative services.

The measures are subject to review by the European Commission. Following this review, Ofcom expects to publish a final statement in February 2015. The new regulatory condition would commence from the beginning of March and remain in place until March 2017, when the current regulatory review period ends.

A statement on today’s draft measures is available online.


* Ofcom’s indicative assessment of BT’s compliance with the draft condition uses data sources from a mix of years, so the assessment will not precisely reflect the current position.

Ofcom’s principal duty under the Communications Act 2003 is to further the interests of citizens in relation to communications matters, and to further the interests of consumers in relevant markets, where appropriate by promoting competition.

Plain language version

What we’re doing to increase competition and investment in superfast broadband

Today, we announce new ways to make broadband companies invest more in the superfast and increase the number of providers in this market.

The European communications regulator announced that BT must keep a sufficient difference between what it pays and what it sells for superfast broadband. This will allow other providers to match its prices and make a profit.

BT would still be able to set the selling price for other high speed broadband providers. This would encourage BT to invest more in its network and allow other broadband providers to compete for customers and make a profit.

BT currently has the most number of  customers in the UK for broadband over its network. However, it must allow other providers to use its network to sell superfast broadband to consumers.

We have now recommended that the European Commission should adopt the European communication regulator’s proposals.

From our study*, we believe that BT can still make a sufficient profit in the new setup. As a result, this ensures that if BT’s costs increase, then this increase will also show in its selling price for superfast broadband.

BT currently provides BT Sport free to its superfast broadband customers. The new rules consider the income and costs from these sport channels and also from its other broadband deals.

The growing superfast market

When we required BT to allow other broadband providers to use its improved network, you had fewer than 100,000 superfast connections.

You now have around 3.4 million connections and providers regularly offer speeds of up to 76 Mbit/s. 

At this speed, you can download one CD of songs in just over a minute. We expect more people to use superfast services in the future.  The industry is already considering how it can achieve speeds of around 1 Gbit/s. 

At that speed, you could download one CD of songs in 5 seconds. We think that this will make broadband providers invest more in the superfast network.

Our announcement today allows broadband providers to compete and to invest more in the network.  Consumers will gain more from lower prices and quicker and better services.

The European Commission will review our proposals. We will make our final statement next month. The new rule starts in March and will last until March 2017. That's when the current review of regulation ends in the broadband market. 

You can read more about our announcement here. 


* Our study of how BT would comply with the new rules uses data from various years. You should not assume that it represents the current situation.

Our main duty is to enforce the Communications Act 2003. We make the communications market more competitive and we protect consumer interests.

A few points:

- In the end, I managed to reduce this by almost 100 words!
- I have not simplified "superfast" - as this is the main topic of the article.  If you must use jargon, explain it!
- Average sentence length has gone down from 26 words to just under 15 words.

Would you like to know some more plain language tips?  Send me an e-mail:

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