Digital Economy Act 2017 described as taking ‘baby steps’ into the digital future

The much-criticised Digital Economy Bill has just received the Royal Assent (Thursday 27 April 2017) and is now law in the UK.

The British Government claims that the new Act will do the following:

  • empower consumers and ensure everyone has access to broadband wherever they live, including rural areas which has suffered from a lack of broadband connectivity
  • build a better infrastructure fit for the digital future
  • enable better public services using digital technologies
  • provide important protections for citizens from spam email and nuisance calls and protect children from online pornography.

baby-stepsOn this last point, the NSPCC has already called on the British Government to regulate social media companies such as Facebook and Twitter and to fine these companies if they fail to protect children online.

Matt Hancock, Minister of State for Digital and Culture welcomed the changes that the Digital Economy Act 2017 will introduce.

“I’m delighted the Digital Economy Act has become law. This legislation will help build a more connected and stronger economy. The Act will enable major improvements in broadband rollout, better support for consumers, better protection for children on the Internet, and further transformation of government services.”

The Digital Economy Act 2017 includes provisions that:

  • give every UK household a legal right to request a fast broadband connection
  • give British consumers and businesses better information about communication services, easier switching and automatic compensation if things go wrong
  • cut the costs for new infrastructure and simplify planning rules
  • enable stronger enforcement of direct marketing laws
  • create civil penalties for online pornographers who do not verify the age of their customers, and ISP level blocking of non-compliant sites, and;
  • help protect consumers from “bill shock” by requiring mobile network operators to offer a bill capping facility
  • tackle the problem of “bots” in the online secondary ticketing market
  • provides an extension of the public lending right to cover e-books
  • ensures that on-demand television is accessible to people with disabilities.

However, not everyone’s full of the joys of Spring.

“We would of course have liked to see the government back 30Mbps in its entirety, and I do not accept that millions of consumers and businesses should simply be left behind,” said Louise Haigh, Labour Opposition spokesperson for the Digital Economy.

“This was an opportunity to prepare the UK for the ubiquitous future demanded by the digital revolution, and though this [government] amendment is a first step, it’s a baby step and nothing more.”

The Government had pushed back on a proposed amendment by the House of Lords that any broadband universal service obligation (USO) should have a download speed of at least 30Mbps.

Instead, this is now set at least 10Mbps and once superfast broadband uptake hits 75% coverage in the UK, the industry regulator Ofcom will be required to review the minimum broadband speed, although there’s no commitment to introduce super-fast broadband by 2020, something that campaigners had hoped for.

Many have criticised the Digital Economy Act 2017 for lacking ambition and a strategic focus for the growth of the digital economy as the UK prepares to leave the EU – the world’s single biggest digital economy – by 2019.


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