Digital Economy Bill Published

July 4, 2016

The government introduced the Digital Economy Bill in the House of Commons on 5 July. The full text is available here. The Bill’s long title states that it is a Bill to:

Make provision about electronic communications infrastructure and services; to provide for restricting access to online pornography; to make provision about protection of intellectual property in connection with electronic communications; to make provision about data-sharing; to make provision about functions of OFCOM in relation to the BBC; to provide for determination by the BBC of age-related TV licence fee concessions; to make provision about the regulation of direct marketing; to make other provision about OFCOM and its functions; and for connected purposes. 

According to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the Bill will:

enable the building of world-class digital infrastructure including fast broadband and mobile networks; give consumers the power to connect to the digital networks, such as superfast broadband and 4G, that underpin our economy and society; reform the way government uses data to deliver public services; and strengthen protections for citizens in the digital world.

Digital Economy Minister Ed Vaizey said:

We want the UK to be a place where technology ceaselessly transforms the economy, society and government. The UK has always been at the forefront of technological change, and the measures in the Digital Economy Bill provide the necessary framework to make sure we remain world leaders.

The DCMS press release continues as follows:

Nine out of ten UK homes and businesses can now access superfast broadband, but to remain ahead in a digital world we must have the necessary infrastructure in place. The Bill, which has its First Reading in the House of Commons today, will build the foundations for the future. The reformed Electronic Communications Code – the legislation underpinning the roll-out of digital communications equipment – will help drive investment in the UK’s digital infrastructure by giving communication providers the ability to install equipment more efficiently, and with fewer regulatory hurdles.

The Bill will also pave the way for the introduction of a new Broadband Universal Service Obligation – giving all homes and businesses the legal right to have a fast connection installed if they request it, helping to make sure no-one is left behind. The Government aims for the speed to be set at 10Mbps initially, and the Bill will also include a power to direct Ofcom to review the speed over time to make sure it is still sufficient for modern life.

With the variety of communication service packages and offerings available, consumers need to be able to easily identify the right services for them. The Bill will gives customers the power to switch suppliers with ease, including when they buy multiple services from a provider, and will make sure providers properly compensate their customers when things go wrong.

The Bill also includes clauses to improve the way government uses data to tailor public services. These clauses will break down costly barriers within the public sector through limited data sharing. This will help to alleviate fuel poverty, enable the delivery of seamless services through better access to civil registration data, tackle fraud and debt, and improve the UK’s research and statistics functions.

Lastly, the Bill will put in place a series of measures that will strengthen protections for citizens, helping to make the digital economy safer, fairer and more secure.

·        protect children from online pornography by requiring age verification for access to all pornographic sites and applications; enforce penalties against spam emailers and nuisance callers unless you have given consent;

·        Increase the sentencing options for people who infringe copyright laws online, bringing sentences into line with the current penalties available for “physical infringement”.

·        Enable registered design owners to give notice of their rights more cheaply and flexibly. The Bill will allow businesses to mark their designs with web addresses as a means of flagging the registered design rights they hold.

The Bill will have its first debate at the Second Reading stage, and it is expected to complete its passage through the Commons and move to the Lords in Autumn 2016 subject to parliamentary timetabling. Royal Assent is expected in Spring 2017.