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Queen’s Speech sets out plans for Digital Economy Bill

The Queen’s Speech announced plans to make the UK a world leader in the digital economy and reiterated a commitment to making fast broadband a legal right

The government announced a series of measures in in the Queen’s Speech as part of the Digital Economy Bill, which aims to make the UK a “world leader in the digital economy”.

The Digital Economy Bill wants to make the UK a “place where technology ceaselessly transforms the economy, society and government”.

“Measures will be brought forward to create the right for every household to access high speed broadband,” said the Queen.

“Legislation will be introduced to improve Britain’s competitiveness and make the United Kingdom a world leader in the digital economy.”

These measures include a commitment to rolling out fast broadband to all citizens, and introducing a broadband universal service obligation.

The obligation will ensure that all citizens and businesses have the legal right to have a fast broadband connection installed.

“This would work similarly to the landline telephone USO [universal service obligation] and, just like for landlines, there would be a reasonable cost threshold, above which the very remotest properties may be expected to contribute to the cost of the installation,” the background notes on the speech said.

“The government expects the minimum speed to be at least 10Mbps initially, and the bill would include the power to direct Ofcom to review the speed over time to make sure it is still sufficient for modern life.”

The promise of making fast broadband a legal right was first made in November 2015 by prime minister David Cameron. 

In March 2016, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport launched a consultation on delivering the proposed 10Mbps broadband universal service obligation. 

Alison Vincent, chief technology officer at Cisco UK and Ireland, said the Digital Economy Bill reflected the government’s support to making the UK a digital leader.

“By laying the foundations and establishing broadband as an essential pillar to the future of the UK economy, businesses will be able to drive innovation and build a framework that will improve productivity, fuel collaboration, capitalise on business opportunity and accelerate the UK digital economy,” she said. 

Ofcom given more power

As part of the measures announced in the speech, Ofcom will be given a new power, allowing the regulator to order communications providers to release data on complaints and broadband speed, aiming to give citizens more transparency when choosing a provider.

Consumers will also be able to get automatic compensation if anything goes wrong with their broadband.

The government will allow Ofcom to require providers to co-ordinate the process when customers switch providers.

The government also announced an Electronic Communications Code, which aims to “cut costs and simplify the building of mobile and superfast broadband infrastructure”, which it estimates will generate £1bn of savings for the communications sector over 20 years.

Simpler planning rules for building broadband infrastructure will also be introduced.

Legislation to pioneer driverless cars

The Queen’s Speech also announced laws to make the UK ready to pioneer driverless cars, as part of the Modern Transport Bill.

“My ministers will ensure the United Kingdom is at the forefront of technology for new forms of transport, including autonomous and electric vehicles,” she said.

This includes “legislation that will put the UK at the forefront of safe technology in the autonomous vehicles industry, such as drones and spaceplanes,” as well as ensuring appropriate assurance “is available to support the use of autonomous and driverless vehicles”, according to the background notes on the speech.  

In 2015, the government announced a £20m fund to research and develop driverless car technology in the UK. 

Gordon Morrison, director of government relations at Intel Security, said the announcement on diverless cars “is a clear example of where the government is actively pursuing cutting-edge technologies that will not only support our economy, but also position the UK as a global leader in transport technology”.

“However, it is crucial that in its pursuit of innovation, the government doesn’t neglect the security essentials which will guarantee not only the success of these new technologies, but also the safety of its users,” he added.

Data sharing

Other commitments as part of the Digital Economy Bill include a consultation on better sharing of publically held data sets “to improve service delivery while maintaining safeguards on privacy”, as well as giving the UK Statistics Authority “easier secure access to data to produce more and timely and more accurate” statistics.

In February 2016, the government launched a data sharing consultation, which included proposals to allow data to be used for research purposes and making unlawful disclosure a criminal offence.

Public authorities will also be given new powers to allow them to share information to combat public sector fraud.

Commenting on the Queen’s Speech, Josh Hardy, deputy director-general at the CBI, said: “Prioritising the digital revolution, which is transforming the face of modern business, is a key step to propelling the UK’s productivity.

“Ensuring that broadband reaches all corners of the country will breed a new generation of companies in an increasingly competitive environment.”

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