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This year hasn’t been too shabby for the UK. We witnessed the proud moment when Andy Murray lifted the Wimbledon trophy in July and subsequently winning Sports Personality of the year. We also waited in anticipation as Prince George was presented to the world by William and Kate.

Darren Farnden, Head of Marketing

Darren Farnden, Head of Marketing

Meanwhile in the UK comms industry, it seems the year has been full of the Government’s unrealistic plans. Here’s a little reminder of some of the key events.

The Snooper’s Charter

The draft Communications Data Bill, also known as the “snoopers’ charter” was first proposed by the Home Office back in June 2012. It was described as a ‘vital tool’ to help police and snoopers catch paedophiles, terrorists and other serious criminals.

The Bill, which expanded on the existing Internet snooping laws (RIPA), required ISPs to collate information by law on the activities of customers and store the information for up to a year. Authorisation to access this information was self-authorised by senior members of the police, intelligence agencies and the tax agency.

After receiving a barrage of opposition, the Bill was thankfully kyboshed by the Liberal Democrats’ Nick Clegg in April and we eagerly awaited to see if it was mentioned in the Queen’s speech in May. However, no direct reference was mentioned apart from a cryptic statement in relation to matching Internet protocol addresses.

“In relation to the problem of matching internet protocol addresses, my government will bring forward proposals to enable the protection of the public and the investigation of crime in cyberspace.” Said the Queen

We’ve not heard anything since about the Snooper’s Charter, so hopefully that’s the end of it. Something to celebrate at least.

Content Blocking

Back in August, David Cameron declared his passionate plans to force all ISPs to block adult content by default in a bid to protect children from being exposed to pornography, whilst also stamping out access to child porn and sexual violence. For new customers, the filters would be part of the sign-up process, whilst existing customers would need to be contacted to establish whether they wanted the filters installed.

We applauded Cameron’s passion for trying to maintain the innocence of children but questioned the placement of responsibility. We argued it should be put in the hands of the parents and guardians in our article ‘Who’s really responsible Mr Cameron’ and urged for an ‘opt-in’ solution to be used, rather than putting a blanket measure in place across everyone.

At this point in time the law hasn’t yet been made compulsory. However Sky, TalkTalk and BT have already implemented such filters, which are set to “on” as default.

As if ISPs didn’t have enough on their plates, in December the European Court of Justice (ECJ) announced their plans to require ISPs to block websites deemed to be infringing copyright while the Government determined that ISPs should prevent access to those sites promoting ‘extremism’by blocking their IP addresses.

While of course any nation would be happy to prevent the promotion of violent extremism, especially in terms of terrorism, blocking sites based on a single IP address is simply not viable in today’s age as it runs the risk of blocking thousands of other sites running on the same server with the same IP address. We find it somewhat surprising that the supposed technical consultants advising Government haven’t considered this.

Continuously ISPs and search engines are coming into the firing line for access to content the Government deems unacceptable not being prevented. The problem is, it appears to be a requirement that is just expected of us. There’s no help with how we (ISPs) go about blocking such sites and no help towards the costs. The wishy-washy solutions the Government wants to put in place won’t even stop the problem as such blocks are easily circumnavigated by using VPNs and proxies.

We foresee this will be a battle that continues well into 2014, although we won’t hold our breath on a realistic solution.

BDUK

Like last year, the £1.2bn Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) project, which aims for 90% of UK premises to have access to superfast broadband (25Mbps+) by May 2015 and 95% by 2017, seems to have filled the industry news on a weekly basis.

Along the way, the project has been heavily criticised for lack of competition since Fujitsu pulled out, slow progress, wasted funds, and legal challenges. In July, the National Audit Office and Public Accounts Committee (PAC) investigated whether the BDUK offered value for money. The NAO’s report concluded the rollout was two years behind schedule and seriously lacked competition with BT emerging as the only company in line to win subsidised contracts.

BT Retail also received criticism for the amount of funding contributed being “lower than originally modelled” with the NAO claiming they would in fact only contribute £356m (23% of capital costs) to the fund, despite promising in 2012 £1bn of its own money.

There were also concerns over the lack of transparency on costs and their postcode-based superfast broadband speed and coverage data, which could leave smaller ISPs in limbo for years. In September, the PAC published its final report which accused the Government of allowing BT to build a “quasi-monopolistic position which it is exploiting by restricting access to cost and roll-out information”. We commented on the report ourselves in our article ‘They may say that, we couldn’t possibly comment’.

However as we reach the end of 2013, it would appear things may not be as delayed as previously claimed. Speaking at a Westminster eForum, Simon Towler from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said the project was going well and noted 42 out of the 44 BDUK projects had completed procurement, with 100,000 premises receiving superfast broadband. “That will increase by 10,000 premises per week, rising to around 25,000 per week and then 40,000 per week in the summer of next year,” he said.

So with the NAO predicting a delay of two years and the DCMS indicating good progress, who should we believe? Honestly, it’s hard to say. It’s certainly a topic we will be covering with interest next year.

So, what will 2014 bring?

No doubt the year ahead will continue to see the Government making ill thought out plans for ISPs to partake in. We believe they will continue to push their plans for all ISPs to block all sorts of content they deem to be unacceptable for public consumption.

The BDUK will continue to be a key topic as we draw closer to the 2015 deadline and we will continue to see a ‘will they, won’t they’ question over whether the deadline will be met. As we said earlier, it’s certainly a topic we will continue to cover.

2014 will also see more news on the chosen ‘Gaining Provider-Led’ (GPL) migration switching process following Ofcom finalising its new system early next year. ISPs will be granted a year’s grace to prepare, however we expect to see much debate from ISPs about the cost involved in implementing such systems.

Have your say!

What do you think 2014 will bring? What issues have affected you and your business in 2013? Let us know by sharing your thoughts below.

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