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Digital Economy Bill enshrines right to broadband into UK law

Legislation introduced to parliament will place the right to broadband into law alongside measures to improve data sharing and online protection

The right to access broadband services of 10Mbps under a universal service obligation (USO) could become UK law as early as next spring, after the government presented the Digital Economy Bill to parliament.

The broadband USO, which has been a subject of much debate this year, would give every home and business in the UK the legal right to have a 10Mbps broadband connection installed if they request it, in an attempt to make sure no one is left behind.

In theory – although it is far below the government definition of superfast broadband, 24Mbps – the USO could go a long way towards addressing the needs of about 2.4 million UK properties that currently cannot access a 10Mbps broadband connection.

It is estimated that even with the combined efforts of commercial operators and the Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) programme, a million properties could still be without a 10Mbps connection when BDUK is scheduled to wrap up in December 2017.

The Bill will also include clauses to direct Ofcom to review the USO over time, as it will inevitably need updating as more services go online, such as ultra-high-definition TV.

The government claims that 90% of UK homes and businesses can now access superfast broadband services, but more needs to be done to remain ahead in a digital world.

Digital economy minister Ed Vaizey said: “We want the UK to be a place where technology ceaselessly transforms the economy, society and government. The UK has always been at the forefront of technological change, and the measures in the Digital Economy Bill provide the necessary framework to make sure we remain world leaders.”

To this end, the Bill will also lay the foundations for reforming the Electronic Communications Code to cut red tape and give communications service providers (CSPs) more powers to build and install networks.

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Alongside the broadband USO, the Bill will also give end-users the power to switch suppliers more easily, particularly when they buy multiple services from one provider, and to ensure they are properly compensated when something goes wrong.

The legislation will also contain a number of clauses intended to protect consumers online: by enacting age verification to access pornographic sites or applications; by enforcing penalties against spam emailers and nuisance callers who contact consumers without consent; by increasing sentencing options for online copyright infringement; and by making it easier for registered design owners to give notice of their rights.

The government claimed these measures would make the digital economy “safer, fairer and more secure”. ............................................

The Bill is expected to complete its passage through the Commons in the autumn, with Royal Assent expected next spring. .........................

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