UK plans Digital Economy Bill
May 18, 2016
By Colin Mann
The UK Government is to introduce legislation designed to create the right for every household to access high speed broadband, as well as protecting Intellectual Property. The proposals were outlined in the Queen’s Speech summarising the administration’s legislative proposals for the coming parliamentary session.
The purpose of the Digital Economy Bill is to make the UK a world leader in digital provision – a place where technology ceaselessly transforms the economy, society and government.
The main benefits of the Bill would be:
- To enable the building of world-class digital infrastructure including fast broadband and mobile networks.
- To support new digital industries.
- To reform the way government uses data to deliver public services.
- Strengthen protections for citizens in the digital world.
The main elements of the Bill are:
- A power to introduce a new Broadband Universal Service Obligation – giving all citizens and businesses the legal right to have a fast broadband connection installed. This would work similarly to the landline telephone USO, and just like for landlines there would be a reasonable cost threshold above which the very remotest properties may be expected to contribute to the cost of the installation. The Government expects the minimum speed to be at least 10Mbps initially, and the Bill would also include a power to direct Ofcom to review the speed over time to make sure it is still sufficient for modern life.
- A new Electronic Communications Code – to cut the cost and simplify the building of mobile and superfast broadband infrastructure.
- New and simpler planning rules for building broadband infrastructure.
- A new power for Ofcom to order communications providers to release data (such as customer complaints and broadband speeds data) in the interests of the consumer and competition. This would give consumers clear household-level information about broadband speeds from different providers, to help them make informed choices.
- New measures to make switching providers easier for consumers by allowing Ofcom to require communications companies to coordinate switches on behalf of customers. This would mean consumers would only have to deal with their new provider in order to switch.
- A new right for consumers to automatic compensation when things go wrong with their broadband service.
Protecting intellectual property
- Support for digital industries by addressing difference in online/offline copyright laws.
- Enable registered design owners to give notice of their rights more cheaply and flexibly.
Protecting citizens in the digital economy
- Protection for consumers from spam email and nuisance calls by ensuring consent is obtained for direct marketing, and that the Information Commissioner is empowered to impose fines on those who break the rules.
- Protection of children from online pornography by requiring age verification for access to all sites containing pornographic material.
The Government estimates that changes to the Electronic Communications Code will result in more than £1 billion of savings for the communications sector over a 20-year period, which they can pass onto consumers.
The publicly funded Superfast Broadband Programme has already ensured that coverage has been extended to an extra 4 million homes. A Universal Service Obligation set at 10Mbps could still benefit up to one million UK premises who might otherwise be left behind.