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The Digital Economy Bill – first outlined by the Queen at the State Opening of Parliament –  has now been introduced to Parliament and it has made for some fairly interesting reading. However the concerns that we raised back in May haven’t been assuaged.

“Universal” Service Obligation

Let’s take the Universal Service Obligation (USO) for starters. The Bill Overview Factsheet says:

“What are we going to do?

  • Empower consumers and provide better connectivity so that everyone has access to broadband wherever they live”.

The proposal, as we know, is that this will be achieved by giving “every household a legal right to request fast broadband connection” (again taken from the Factsheet) and that ‘fast’ in this case means 10Mbps. But. At no point does it mention that ‘fast’ speeds aren’t guaranteed. From our perspective this is akin to the “right” under employment law to request flexible working. You can ask all you like – it doesn’t mean you’re going to get. Ultimately this ‘promise’ means quite literally nothing in real terms.

And while we’re on the subject of access to faster connectivity, Ed Vaizey has used the publication of the Bill to crow “Nine out of ten UK homes and businesses [our emphasis] can now access superfast broadband”. We’d ask the Government for further proof on this as we’re unaware of any such published statistic, given that Openreach work on homes passed not businesses.

Compensation for consumers

The Bill also outlines new provisions relating to compensation for consumers when things go wrong with their broadband service. The Bill’s actual wording [again with our emphasis] is:

“In making such provision as OFCOM consider appropriate for protecting the interest of the end-users they may require a communications provider to pay compensation to an end-user on failing to meet a specified standard or obligation”.

Woolly wording if ever we saw it – your guess as to how this proposal will actually look in practice is as good as ours.  

Protecting against pornography

The Government also says we can look forward to “protecting children from online pornography by requiring age verification for access to all sites and applications containing pornographic material”. By what magic they’ll be able to reach out of the screen and verify that the user in front of it is of age isn’t specified.

Indeed, in its consultation response they “acknowledge that implementation of an ambitious policy will present technical difficulties” and “recognise that protections put in place are likely to be challenged by the more technically able and determined users of online pornographic content”. So that’ll be the large proportion of techno-savvy young people whom this approach is supposed to protect then.

A majority of those who responded to the consultation didn’t even agree age verification should be in place, but that’s democracy for you.

Government digital services

The proposals under this banner have been applied with a very broad brush and cover everything from “enabling government to deliver better public services and produce world leading research and statistics” to “help citizens manage their debt more effectively and reduce the billions of overdue debt owed to government”. But its the proposal for “new powers for public authorities to share information” that really made our ears prick up – not least of all because of the wide-ranging powers already proposed in the Investigatory Powers Bill. Ironically, on the same day that the Digital Economy Bill was published, it was revealed that Police forces across the UK have been responsible for “at least 2,315 data breaches” over the last five years [according to research by Big Brother Watch]. Given this unfortunate timing, surely this can be considered the very definition of fiddling while Rome burns?

Have your say!

Have you read the measures proposed by the Digital Economy Bill? Do you think that more engagement with the industry is required as the Bill makes its way through the Houses of Parliament and Lords? Whatever your opinion, leave a comment for us below.

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