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Government publishes UK Digital Economy Bill

Warwick Ashford

The government has published the Digital Economy Bill aimed at strengthening the UK's communications infrastructure.

The Digital Economy Bill, outlined in the Queen's speech, attempts to translate Lord Carter's June Digital Britain report into law.

Key measures include:

Business secretary Peter Mandelson said: "The Digital Economy Bill will give creative and digital industries the framework to develop competitively and make the UK a global creative leader."

The most controversial elements are measures against unlawful file-sharers. Under the bill, all internet service providers (ISPs) will send out letters to those identified as file-sharers. Content owners will have to pay a fixed fee, set by Ofcom, to have that letter sent to the ISP's customer.

If that fails, the secretary of state would have to go to Parliament before the ISPs could be forced to suspend users or take other technical measures.

That decision will be made only if the lesser measures fail to cut unlawful file-sharing by at least 70%, but it is not clear how this will be measured.

Stephen Timms, the minister for Digital Britain, insisted that around 90% of the ISP market supports the policy. New business models are making file-sharing less attractive, he said.

Government ministers promised that the £6 landline telephone tax will go a long way to making sure that 90% of the country gets access to fast broadband by 2017.

The new tax, however, will be implemented only if the government manages to get a Finance Bill through before the next general election.


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