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Digital Economy Bill unveiled, includes legal right to fast broadband

Wednesday, July 6th 2016 by Phil Wilkinson-Jones

The government’s pledge to give everyone in the UK the legal right to fast broadband is a step closer to becoming law.

The Digital Economy Bill, which also proposes automatic compensation for broadband customers when things go wrong, was introduced to Parliament yesterday (5 July).

It will now be debated by MPs in the House of Commons and is expected to pass through the House of Lords in the autumn and become law in spring 2017.

The legal right to a fast broadband connection – first mentioned by Prime Minister David Cameron in November – will come in the form of a new Broadband Service Obligation.

It means households and businesses currently unable to access fast broadband will be able to request installation.

The definition of ‘fast’ is likely to be set at 10Mbps although Ofcom will be given the power to review the speed over time.

Also included in the Bill is a reformed Electronic Communications Code, which should make it easier and cheaper for providers to build broadband infrastructure.

Planning laws will be simplified, allowing providers to install equipment more efficiently and with “fewer regulatory hurdles”.

The Bill, if passed, will make it easier for consumers to switch broadband suppliers and guarantee automatic compensation for customers when providers don’t deliver as promised.

Digital economy minister Ed Vaizey said: “We want the UK to be a place where technology ceaselessly transforms the economy, society and government.

Stress and anxiety

“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.”

The Bill will also allow the Information Commissioner to better enforce penalties against nuisance callers and companies sending spam emails.

Earlier this year Baroness Neville-Rolfe, the minister for data protection and nuisance calls, called unwanted marketing calls “a form of harassment”.

Speaking at the Direct Marketing Association’s conference on data protection in February, she said the stress and anxiety caused by such calls could be “immense”, especially for vulnerable people.

She said the government had taken various steps to address bad practice in the industry but had more to do.

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