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Last week the Digital Economy Bill 2016-7 was passed by both Houses of Parliament and now receives Royal Assent which means it will be law imminently. The new legislation brings with it a number of important new implications for the industry (with some last minute changes to be aware of) so we’ve provided a summary of the key points below:

30Mbps USO scrapped in favour of 10Mbps

The 10Mbps USO for broadband has been on the cards for quite some time and its approval comes as no surprise to us. However, quite recently a proposal was passed by the House of Lords to increase this to 30Mbps by the existing 2020 deadline which seemed completely implausible to us. This has since been scrapped and the original 10Mbps confirmed; however a further clause to increase the USO has now been included. The Government will now be able to raise the USO’s minimum speed, once 75% of households have been upgraded to ‘superfast broadband’ services.

A full consultation is now expected to be held to iron out the details of the USO implementation, funding and requirements on industry.

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Automatic Compensation for broadband faults

The new law also supports the plans from Ofcom to implement an automatic compensation scheme for delayed fixes following loss of service, missed engineer appointments and delays with the start of new services. We raised our concerns about this in our article “UPDATE: Where there’s blame there’s a claim – really?” but it seems the plans are now likely to proceed, albeit after further industry consultation by Ofcom.

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Age Verification Measures

The controversial plan to force websites providing access to legal “adult” content to implement tough new age verification systems has also been passed. The new law will mean all websites providing such content will need to implement these new age verification systems or the BBFC (British Board of Film Classification) will be able to force ISPs to block access to the site. At present there are no details as to how the verification system will work, we expect those details will also follow (like the USO and auto compensation consultations that also still need to be held).

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10 years in jail for copyright infringement

The sentencing options for copyright infringers will be toughened, with 10 year custodial sentences introduced. Whilst the Government claims they are not expecting these harsher sentences to be used on P2P users and that they are instead aimed at targeting higher profile offenders, the current wording of the Bill has raised concerns over its interpretation and there is potential for unscrupulous companies to exploit this, as per the previous cases of ‘law firms’ sending threatening letters and demanding payments.

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Further implications

The Bill also introduces a new Direct Marketing Code which aims to make it easier to prosecute firms that send out spam. The ECC (Electronic Communications Code) has been revised to make it easier and cheaper for telecoms and broadband developers to access and build on private land; changes to limit appeals against new regulation from mobile and broadband providers will be introduced to limit ‘pro-consumer’ measures introduced by Ofcom being tied up in legal challenges; and Ofcom will gain new powers to obtain more information from ISPs and mobile operators to improve information on local broadband speeds, service quality and consumer complaints.

Passed in the wash-up again!

If you’re thinking that despite the Bill being passed, a lot still seems to need ironing out through further consultations and industry input – then you’d be right! Once again, this important and contentious Bill has been passed through a pre-election wash-up to ensure it goes through before any parliamentary changes come into force, which basically means it’s been a rush job at the end of this current Parliament. Whilst many of the aspects have been well debated and widely expected, the finer details as to how any of this will actually work have not yet been shared because in essence they don’t know yet! The Government is hoping the next stage of ‘consultations’ will iron all of that out. Sound familiar? This approach worked out so well with the last DEA, didn’t it!

So, what do we think?

We’ve covered all of these proposals in detail in our previous articles (which we’ve provided links to) and as there have been no further details released on how they will be implemented or funded our opinions remain pretty much the same.

In summary, we’re glad the 30Mbps USO proposal was dropped in favour of the 10Mbps option as we believed achieving 30Mbps by 2020 was implausible. We’re now keen to see how the Government and BT/KCOM plan to achieve the 10Mbps USO for the final 3% and how this will impact on the industry.

With regards to automatic compensation, as we said in our previous article we have concerns over how this will work in practice. How will they identify where the fault truly lies, especially within the wholesale channel and is the compensation truly proportionate to the consumer’s monthly charges?

Similarly, we have concerns over the effectiveness of the proposed age verification system and the potential for harm if consumers sensitive personal data needs to be stored in order for it to work. If such highly sensitive data was leaked or hacked this would be of real concern. We also stand by our long-term opinion that the best way to tackle copyright infringement is for the entertainment industry to evolve and embrace technology instead of fighting against it – those who have done this over recent years have thrived.

Until further details are released following the numerous consultations that now need to be held, we will not truly understand how any of the new requirements will affect ISPs – let’s hope common sense prevails in all of the above cases and any industry concerns are adequately addressed. We will of course keep you updated.

Have your say!

Do you think the new legislation will have an impact on your business? What do you think about the new USO, age verification requirements, automatic compensation plans and tougher copyright sentences? Let us know with a comment below.

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