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Nicholas Lansman, Secretary General, ISPA

Nicholas Lansman, Secretary General, ISPA

It has been a busy month since the UK voted to leave the European Union, with a new Prime Minister, a turbulent opposition and a host of new ministers getting to grips with their new portfolios. Amongst all this upheaval ISPA has been working with members to update them on the fast moving developments as well as continuing our core work representing the industry on key policy areas, meeting MPs to discuss rural broadband and the Universal Service Obligation, lobbying on aspects of the Investigatory Powers Bill, plus working on issues as diverse as broadband advertising, age-verification, ISP cyber-security and more.

So with all this in mind, we’ve asked Nicholas Lansman, ISPA Secretary General, to set out who the sector needs to know in the new Government, the status of some key pieces of legislation and the impact of Brexit on the sector. Read on…

New kids on the block…

There is a new top team at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), the most relevant ministry for the communications sector, responsible for broadband, telecoms and media. New ministers have arrived with their own priorities and ISPA has called for them to spell out their vision for Internet policy. Former Cabinet Office Minister Matt Hancock has replaced the long serving Communications Minister Ed Vaizey and former Policing Minister Karen Bradley is now the Secretary of State. They will be supported by the Internet Safety and Security Minister Baroness Shields, one of the few ministers to retain their positions under Theresa May.

The new Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (the result of a merger between the Business and Energy departments), headed up by former Communities Secretary Greg Clark still retains important briefs (including the Digital Single Market, intellectual property and technology investment) and is responsible for a new industrial strategy – something ISPA believes should have the digital economy at its very core.

The increasingly important cyber-security agenda is now in Ben Gummer’s remit after he was made Cabinet Office Minister. A new cyber security strategy is imminent and will have some interesting ramifications for ISPs.

Government business as usual?

Unlike after an election, this Government formed during an existing Parliament, so legislation that began under David Cameron is still progressing through Parliament and there are also a number of regulatory changes coming down the pipeline, so what are the big issues and what is their status?

  • The Investigatory Powers Bill – this Bill will mandate ISPs to retain records of customers’ Internet usage for 12-months and is now at an advanced stage in the House of Lords. There have been concessions on issues like oversight and privileged communications, however the core of the Bill remains unchanged.
  • The Digital Economy Bill – this wide ranging Bill includes provisions to create a legal right for 10Mbps broadband and automatic compensation for customers affected by service outages, as well as proposals relating to age verification and copyright law reform.
  • Broadband advertising. The Advertising Standards Authority is planning to radically shake up how broadband is advertised, for example including line rental in displayed prices as well as looking at phrasing and terminology.

ISPA is co-ordinating the industry response to all these developments and whilst the Investigatory Powers Bill is unlikely to change substantially, there are still some industry concerns and we will ensure industry is heard before the final vote in the autumn. The Digital Economy Bill has only just begun its parliamentary passage and there are still opportunities to engage with Government on this via consultations and as we have done with the ASA, we will work with members to make sure the whole range of providers are heard.

What does Brexit mean for ISPs?

The UK is unlikely to leave the European Union before 2019, so ISPs will still need to comply with legislation that comes in before that point. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the Network and Information Security (NIS) Directive are major examples (coming into force in 2017/18) and regulate how businesses use data and notify affected customers in the event of a data breach.

After Brexit, it is highly likely that UK privacy and data protection rules will need to match EU standards to ensure data can freely flow between the UK and EU, and getting an agreement in place may be made more difficult with the Investigatory Powers Bill in place (the EU-US agreement was made difficult due to surveillance concerns and a court case on whether the current UK rules breach EU citizens’ rights) is on-going.

It is too early to say how Brexit will affect overall business conditions, but rolling out infrastructure is expensive and seeking finance from abroad may be harder. Brexit could mean European Investment Bank opportunities dry up, the weaker pound makes it harder for UK firms to invest abroad and it is for industry to do all it can to show the UK remains open for business. However, there are opportunities too as public funding for broadband will no longer be delayed by State Aid rules.

Brexit is a complex and challenging area for all industries and we will be discussing the implications at our annual conference on 24 November. Details will be announced shortly on the @ISPAUK twitter page and our website www.ispa.org.uk.

Have your say!

What do you see as the major challenges for our industry over the next couple of years and later in a Brexit environment? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

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