The UK governments much delayed Communications Bill, which seeks to update and expand upon Ofcom’s ability to regulate the internet, telecoms, media sectors and could also introduce new online censorship measures (e.g. enforced parental controls and piracy website blocking), is now expected to publish its first White Paper “later this year“.
The bill began in mid-2011 with a “wide-ranging review” of the 2003 Communications Act and the first Draft was originally expected to be published before April 2013. Unfortunately the recent controversy over copyright reform, parental internet controls, Jeremy Hunt MP and Vince Cable’s MP questionable positions on the BSkyB sale and other issues have all conspired to delay the process.
But the government’s Communications Minister, Ed Vaizey, has now confirmed that the related White Paper will not be published until “later this year“. Sadly Vaizey has refused to give any detail about what the paper might actually say because he said, “I wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise“. Thankfully Vaizey did at least attempt to “sketch out the issues“.
Ed Vaizey said (mobile connectivity):
“But rolling out 4G isn’t enough. Spectrum has many uses and there is a real need for more spectrum to be freed up and for the spectrum available to be better used. It needs to be used more flexibly; it needs to be allocated and re-allocated faster; it needs to meet the requirements of emerging technologies. In short it needs to support businesses to let them deliver for consumers.
We already have the world’s most ambitious programme to release public sector spectrum. But the White Paper will look ahead, and focus on mechanisms to ensure that we have the spectrum we need to meet the challenges ahead.”
Ed Vaizey added (consumers and parental controls):
“So real progress is being made, but we certainly aren’t making the mistake of thinking the work is done. We are working with industry to implement our new system, where every parent will be prompted to protect their child online. Protection will automatically be on if parents don’t make choices. No other Government has taken such radical steps before. And once this is in place, Britain will have the most robust internet child protection measures of any country in the world – bar none.
To support this, next week I will be meeting with key Internet Service Providers, the Internet Service Provider Association, Reg Bailey and Claire Perry, MP – the Prime Minister’s advisor on preventing the commercialisation and sexualisation of children. We want to review what has been achieved so far – and there is a lot – and to make sure ISPs do more, particularly in terms of raising awareness of parental controls.”
It’s interesting to note Vaizey’s remarks regarding censorship of adult websites being “automatically … on if parents don’t make choices“, especially in light of the recent consultation that very clearly appeared to shy away from requiring ISPs to block access to adult websites by default. But this could just be political rhetoric and we won’t know for sure until the bill is set out in public.
Ultimately the Communications Bill, which is not to be confused with the Home Office’s separate Communications Data Bill (i.e. Internet Snooping), aims to be put in place by 2015 and would support the sector for the next 10 years and beyond.