2017 is once again set to be a big year for the industry with significant policy developments on the horizon. In the coming year, the Digital Economy Bill will become law; there will be changes to Ofcom’s General Conditions; and the Investigatory Powers Act will be implemented. There will also be new Government funding for full-fibre broadband and changes to broadband advertising rules – all against a backdrop of Brexit and political instability. In the light of these developments it is incredibly important that the breadth of Internet industry views are heard and that is where we turn to industry bodies such as ISPA, to ensure we have our say. Nicholas Lansman, Secretary General from ISPA informs us of the key areas they are currently involved in and what we should be aware of in 2017.
The 10Mbps USO
The Digital Economy Bill is currently making its way through the House of Commons and is set to bring in a number of changes which will have a wide ranging impact on ISPs. Most notably the Digital Economy Bill codifies into law the Universal Service Obligation for broadband, giving everyone in the UK the right to a broadband connection, currently drafted at a speed of 10Mbps. Most of the actual detail of the Obligation is due to come from secondary legislation and at the end of last year Ofcom published their report on the design of the USO, which planted the ball firmly in the Government’s court, laying out three scenarios. How the Obligation will be funded and the exact specification of the provision are still in the air, with Government set to consult again on the USO in the coming months.
How the Obligation is funded will be a key concern for many ISPs and ISPA has been making the case for the tremendous social benefit of broadband connectivity, highlighting that the Obligation should not be funded through an industry levy alone, which is ultimately likely to be handed back to the taxpayer.
The proposed ‘age verification system’
The Digital Economy Bill also delivers on the Conservative Party Manifesto promise to ensure age verification on websites that provide pornographic content. Whilst not originally targeted at ISPs, the provisions have become hugely important as the Bill has progressed. The Bill will require pornographic websites to age-verify, with sanctions for those who do not comply. Originally, Government had looked to solely sanction these websites by targeting their ancillary providers, and depriving the sites of revenue streams. However, during the course of the debate over the Bill, MPs began to push for ISP blocking as a back-stop for non-compliant websites and the Government introduced ISP blocking provisions.
This issue is still very much live, as the Bill progresses through the Lords. The detail of how this provision will be implemented is hugely important for many ISPs, and ISPA have been pushing for a proportionate approach, in both scope and application. ISP blocking needs to be a last resort for the regulator.
Changes to Ofcom’s General Conditions
In general, the changes only reflect small amendments. However, Ofcom have recognised that the Conditions have failed in several key areas, including complaints handling. Ofcom are proposing a new code that contains:
- Strengthened provisions on the transparency of the complaints process
- The provision of information to consumers at different stages of the process
- More effective signposting of access to ADR when complaints become deadlocked
- Improved record-keeping and monitoring requirements for communications providers
ISPA will be responding to this consultation and monitoring this area. Whilst broadband already has an extremely robust complaint handling system, recent consultations by Ofcom have implied that they believe the system needs an overhaul, thus they may look to go further in this area.
The ‘Snooper’s Charter’
The Investigatory Powers Act (Snooper’s Charter) also became law at the beginning of this year. The large and wide-ranging legislation provides a legal framework for the acquisition of data, interception of communications, communications data retention, equipment interference, bulk warrants, and other technical obligations.
Whilst most of the provisions which became law at the beginning of the year are simply replacing RIPA, there are new provisions in the Bill such as Internet Connection Records (ICRs) which ISPs served a notice will have to keep record of for the first time.
Importantly, the Home Office have repeatedly highlighted that if ISPs are not subject to communications data retention powers at the minute or in discussion with the Home Office in relation to this area, then they will not be subject to the new powers in the short term. While there is no guarantee that this will always be the case, until the Home Office approach an ISP there is no obligation to retain data not ordinarily retained for business purposes. Thus it is likely that for the majority of smaller ISPs, they will not feel a huge difference. ISPs do not have the right to discuss the notices they are under publicly, and there will also be a settling-in period before many of the provisions come into force.
For more information on ISPA’s involvement or stance on any of the issues discussed above please see their website.
We agree with ISPA that there are some concerning changes with serious impact on our industry coming up over the next few months and we need to ensure our voice is heard in any and all consultations. We will of course keep you up to date of any further developments via this blog too.
Have your say!
Are you aware of the forthcoming changes and new legislation? Are you concerned how it may affect your business? Let us know your thoughts and have your say by leaving us a comment below.
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