Queen’s Speech: Digital Economy Bill promises fast broadband for every UK household
Among the various bills outlined during today’s Queen’s Speech was proposed legislation to ensure fast, reliable broadband for the entirety of the UK.
The Digital Economy Bill will encompass a legal right for every household in the UK to have access to high-speed broadband, with the government expected to enforce a minimum speed of 10 megabits per second (Mbits/sec) under a new broadband universal service obligation (USO).
“Measures will be brought forward to create the right for every household to access high-speed broadband,” the Queen said.
The 10Mbits/sec minimum is being proposed as an initial figure, with powers to direct Ofcom to review this over time to make sure it is “still sufficient for modern life”. If the bill goes through, customers could be entitled to compensation from internet companies for broadband outage, similar to the way water and gas and electricity companies are required to pay out if their supply fails.
The bill, which the government says will enable a “world-class digital infrastructure”, also includes new planning rules for building said infrastructure. Exactly how the proposed minimum will be funded is still open to consultation, although an industry levy is a possibility.
“Prioritising the digital revolution, which is transforming the face of modern business, is a key step to propelling the UK’s productivity,” commented Josh Hardie, deputy director-general of the Confederation of British Industry. “Ensuring that broadband reaches all corners of the country will breed a new generation of companies in an increasingly competitive environment.”
Elsewhere, there have been criticisms levelled at the government’s timescale for rolling out improvements to the UK’s digital infrastructure.
“Realistically, even if the government’s plans are pushed through, it could still take up to five or six years to roll out superfast fibre broadband,” commented Paul Evans, CEO at Boosty – a service that boosts fixed broadband speeds with smartphone 3G and 4G.
“By then the broadband infrastructure may not be sufficient to support a new generation of digital services. Right now, consumers and service providers need a quick fix while government and Ofcom decide how to enforce its legislation.”
If the proposed legislation goes through, it would see sizeable new powers granted to Ofcom at the time when the regulator may also be handed new responsibilities in regards to the BBC.