Yesterday the Government launched the Digital Economy Bill which will see major improvements in broadband rollout, protects and prioritising consumers as well as children
The bill is designed to drive more productivity, create innovation, and enhance public services.
Read the letter by my Ministerial colleagues below which explains the bill.
DIGITAL ECONOMY BILL
Today we have introduced the Digital Economy Bill to the House. This is a significant milestone in delivering on our manifesto commitments to build a more connected and stronger economy.
The UK’s digital economy is growing fast. The digital sector contributed £118 billion to our economy and employed over 1.4 million people across the UK in 2014. Digital technology is transforming every sector and every aspect of our lives.New technology is radically improving the ability of businesses, individuals, and government to gather, analyse, access, and share information. These changes will drive more productivity, create innovation, and enhance public services.
The Bill will see major improvements in broadband rollout; better support for consumers; better protection for our children on the internet; and further transformation of government services.
Access to Digital Services
We made a manifesto commitment last year to provide universal broadband. The Bill will legislate to give everyone the right to request access to a fast broadband connection. This measure will ensure that no one is left behind or risks economic and social exclusion in the rapidly emerging digital world.
The Bill will also force telecoms companies to be much more transparent about the quality of service they actually offer. Ofcom will be given powers to ensure providers release data such as complaints, coverage and broadband speed so people can make informed choices, and will make it easier and quicker for consumers to switch providers.
Bill provisions will ensure automatic compensation for consumers and businesses if things go wrong with their broadband service. Customers will no longer have to seek redress themselves, but will instead receive refunds automatically for any loss or reduction of service.
Reforms in the Bill will drive investment in broadband. Communication providers will be able to have access to land on a similar basis to other essential utilities – a long overdue reform. This will make roll out quicker, and reduce the cost, especially in rural areas, making them more economically viable for competing providers.
We have successfully tested simpler planning rules for building broadband infrastructure over the last three years. We are now making these changes permanent to accelerate the building of communication networks. However, this is not a free for all and companies must still comply with a code of practice which will ensure that infrastructure is sited appropriately.
The Bill will include new measures to manage radio spectrum to increase the capacity of mobile broadband. The government wants to make better use of new technologies that allow unused broadcasting frequencies, known as ‘white space’ to be used, in particular a new technology known as dynamic spectrum access. The Bill will place the companies responsible for this technology under Ofcom’s remit so they are better placed to undertake their spectrum management duties and facilitate dynamic spectrum access.
Age Verification for Online Pornography
We committed in our Manifesto to ‘stop children’s exposure to harmful sexualised content online, by requiring age verification for access to all sites containing pornographic material’. This Bill delivers on that commitment, introducing a new requirement in law for commercial providers to have in place robust age verification controls for online pornographic content accessed in the UK. We will establish a new regulatory framework backed by civil sanctions to monitor, notify and enforce compliance with the law. We are also working with payments providers (Visa, Mastercard, Paypal and others) so that non-compliant sites face having these payment services withdrawn, and their business models disrupted.
The Bill addresses a number of important matters to protect intellectual property in the digital economy and on which there has been wide consultation. Firstly, it will bring criminal penalties for digital in line with those for physical copyright infringement, which has been a matter of concern for many colleagues over the years. Additionally the Bill will enable designers to mark their products with a weblink would make it cheaper and easier for them to inform the public of their rights.
Government must not just be an enabler of the digital revolution. We must be part of it and the Bill will enable us to use government data to deliver better public services, as well as world leading research and better statistics. We want to improve public services so that the right service is given to the right citizen at the right time. The Bill will enable the limited sharing of data between specified public authorities to better target public services for the most vulnerable and those in need, such as through the Troubled Families programme and assisting those living in fuel poverty. Enabling access to civil registration data such as births, deaths and marriages will mean that public authorities do not send letters to those who have deceased and will make it easier for citizens to interact and with public services.
The Bill will also make it possible for government to help citizens manage their debt more effectively and reduce the estimated £24.1billion of overdue debt owed to government, as well as detect and prevent the losses government currently experiences to fraudulent activity each year. The Office for National Statistics will be able to access detailed administrative data from across government and businesses to provide more accurate, frequent and timely statistics and to update how the census is managed, instead of relying on surveys. Finally, new powers will support accredited researchers to access and link de-identified data in secure facilities to carry out research for public benefit.
These proposals will help simplify a complex legal landscape which currently slows the pace of government’s work to modernise and are underpinned by strong safeguards – public authorities will have to comply with a Code of Practice when sharing information and of course the Data Protection Act.
Ofcom and other Regulation
Finally, the Bill includes a number of measures that enable our public bodies to carry out their functions more effectively. In particular, the Bill will broaden the BBC services that Ofcom can regulate and further detail will be published in the forthcoming Charter, as well as transferring the functions for making concessions to the licence fee to the BBC. The Bill will also give Ofcom the power to request data from communication providers where these are in the interests of consumers to do so, as well as allowing for a much more streamlined and effective appeals process when companies challenge Ofcom’s decisions.
The government is working to tackle the problem of nuisance calls. Building on existing measures, the Bill will require the Information Commissioner to issue a new statutory code of practice for direct marketing. The overall aims of the Code would be to support a reduction in the number of unwanted direct marketing calls; and to make it easier for the Commissioner to take enforcement action against those organisations in breach of the direct marketing rules.
We hope that gives you a good summary of what this important Bill will seek to achieve and in delivering a number of important commitments in our manifesto. If any colleagues wish to discuss the Bill in further detail over the coming weeks we would be very happy to find time.
ED VAIZEY MP THE RT HON MATTHEW HANCOCK MP
Minister of State for Culture Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General
and the Digital Economy