In its second Queen’s Speech in a matter of weeks, and basking in its unexpected definitive election victory, Boris Johnson’s government has indicated that it will introduce new laws to accelerate the delivery of gigabit-capable broadband across the UK, but without specific indications of any precise timetable of roll-out.
In the sections devoted to how the government aims to improve the UK’s technological infrastructure and level up access across the country, the administration promises to support the roll-out of gigabit-capable broadband across the UK with legislation to make it easier for telecoms companies to install digital infrastructure and to ensure all new homes are built with reliable and fast internet.
The new broadband legislation is intended to provide benefits such as boosting productivity, driving innovation in public services and, said the government, “giving people the fast connectivity they need to reap the benefits of the digital revolution”.
New measures will also aim to ensure that all new homes are built with the fastest connectivity available, increasing certainty for businesses investing in gigabit-speed networks.
The main elements of the legislation will also seek to create a cheaper and faster light-touch tribunal process for telecoms companies to obtain interim code rights (or access rights) for a period of up to 18 months. Such measures, first announced in October 2019, will mean they can install broadband connections where the landlord has failed to respond to repeated requests for access. The government has also committed to amending legislation so that all new-build homes are required to have the infrastructure to support gigabit-capable connections.
The new bill’s provisions would extend and apply to the whole of the UK, with the exception of legislative proposals relating to housing, which are devolved to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Reflecting promises made in the previous Queen’s Speech, the government has pledged £5bn to support the roll-out of gigabit-capable broadband to what it calls the hardest to reach 20% of the country and it adds that in the two years to 2021 the government will have already committed £650m to stimulate the market to deploy gigabit-capable connections in urban and rural areas.
In what it says will further support the commercial environment for investment, the government has also formally confirmed the regulation needed to maximise the deployment of gigabit-capable broadband with a commitment to spend £1.8bn to bring superfast broadband to over 96% of the country.
However, despite stating that thousands of homes and businesses will be connected each work during the lifetime of the Parliament, the new Queen’s Speech, like its predecessor, does not specify precisely when any of its targets will be met.
In one of the first public statements he made in July 2019 after becoming prime minister, Boris Johnson pledged he would work towards “delivering full-fibre [broadband] to every home in the land” by 2025, and in October 2019, chancellor Sajid Javid committed £5bn of public funding at the Conservative Party Conference to “support the roll-out of full-fibre, 5G and other gigabit-capable networks to the hardest-to-reach 20% of the country”.
Other plans for new tech legislation in the Queen's speech
- The Online harms whitepaper, published in April 2019, will be developed into legislation. The government will consider the input to the recent consultation on its proposals to determine the final policy. The plans include a duty of care on internet companies, to keep people safe online.
R&D funding and skills
- Under new funding plans, the government will prioritise investment in “industries of the future”, such as life sciences, clean energy, space, design, computing, robotics and artificial intelligence. The government’s ambition is to reach 2.4% of GDP spent on research and development (R&D) by 2027.
- Some of the new R&D spending will go towards “a new approach to funding emerging fields of research and technology”. The government said it will provide long-term funding to support “visionary high-risk, high-pay-off scientific, engineering and technology ideas”.
- The government will increase the tax credit rate to 13% and review what R&D-related costs qualify for tax credits, so that investments in cloud computing and data, which boost productivity and innovation, are also incentivised.
- A new fast-track immigration scheme for top scientists and researchers will see the current cap on the number of Tier 1 Exceptional Talent Visas abolished, to encourage more tech talent to the UK.
- The government will start an “integrated security, defence and foreign policy review”, which will include “a technological upgrade of our national security capabilities”. The review will “consider ways in which technological surprise could threaten our security” in the light of new threats from technologies such as “smartphones to autonomous drones”.
- The government will examine how to improve collaboration with scientists and technology companies to improve security, and consider how to strengthen British investments in space and the most advanced quantum technologies.