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What a Majority Conservative UK Government Means for the Internet

Saturday, May 9th, 2015 (8:12 am) - Score 2,217

The political landscape today is radically different from how it began the week, with the Conservatives having successfully won a slim overall majority. But what does that mean for broadband connectivity and Internet access in the United Kingdom? We take a quick, politically neutral, look.

Admittedly we already have a fairly good idea of what’s going to change or not because the Conservative side of the previous coalition Government tended to be the driving force behind most of the broadband and Internet related policies. As such there will be a continuation of many familiar aspects and a revival of some, perhaps less popular, policies.

For example, the Broadband Delivery UK programme is expected to continue as planned. But the new Government will also come under pressure to detail and define its Budget 2015 proposals for bringing “ultrafast” (100Mbps+) broadband to “nearly all homes“, although the commercial operators (e.g. BT and Virgin Media) will already be doing most of the leg work for this and initially without recourse to public funding.

A review of their proposal for a 5Mbps Universal Service Obligation (USO) is also anticipated, which will perhaps form part of Ofcom’s recently announced Strategic Review (here). Ofcom will also consider whether or not BT and their Openreach division need to be completely broken up, but this seems like a highly unlikely outcome given the regulators past form and BT’s recent threat not to invest in “ultrafast broadband” if this were to occur.

But arguably the most significant and controversial change could be the Home Secretary’s (Theresa May) desire to have a third go at getting the hugely controversial Internet Snooper’s Charter (Communications Data Bill) pushed into law, which threatens to force ISPs into logging a much bigger slice of everyone’s online activity and that may possibly include snooping on encrypted communications (nobody is quite sure how the latter will even be possible).

The above move will of course be significantly easier without opposition from the Liberal Democrats, although it remains unclear whether the new Government would push forward with its original Comms Data Bill or adopt a revised version. The latter was developed following strong criticisms by the Joint Committee (here), but the public has never seen it.

So here’s a quick run-down of roughly what we expect from the new Government’s next five years in office.

Internet Policy

* A third attempt to revive Internet snooping laws.

* Moves to snoop on or prohibit encrypted communications (sounds unworkable).

* Greater support for expanded website blocking measures, such as against terrorist websites as well as the usual illegal child abuse content etc.

* It’s also possible that Rights Holders may be given easier access to have copyright infringing websites blocked, but that is not yet confirmed. In any case we wouldn’t be at all surprised to see even tougher moves to crack down on online piracy. A voluntary piracy warning letter scheme is also being introduced by ISPs.

* A new age verification requirement for access to all sites containing pornographic material. This might work in the UK, but it seems unenforceable elsewhere and will as always be very easy to circumvent.

Broadband Policy

* Provide superfast broadband coverage to 90% of the UK by 2016, extending to 95% by 2017.

* Provide basic broadband (2Mbps) for all by 2016.

* Explore options to get near universal superfast broadband coverage across the UK by 2018 (note: Europe’s deadline for this is 2020). The Conservative manifesto also confirmed that they would explore further top slicing of “the [BBC TV] licence fee for digital infrastructure to support superfast broadband across the country” (there could be around £300m to be found from this).

* Continue to improve public WiFi coverage in various UK cities.

* Offer Connection Vouchers (worth up to £3,000) to 50 cities and surrounding areas in order to help businesses install superfast broadband.

* Support the private sector in making 100Mbps+ “ultrafast” broadband “available to nearly all UK premises” (e.g. the £40bn UK Guarantees Scheme, which works by providing a sovereign-backed guarantee to help projects access finance. Virgin Media is using this and BT can do the same for their G.fast roll-out).

* Review the potential for adjusting the current Universal Service Obligation to include a 5Mbps broadband speed requirement.

* Subsidising the costs of installing superfast capable satellite services to rural areas (most likely the final 1-2%). This will not be popular with a lot of communities, the restrictions and problems of Satellite are increasingly well understood.

Mobile Policy

* Provide up to £600m to support the delivery and change of use for the 700MHz spectrum band to further enhance the UK’s Mobile Broadband connectivity. Additional mobile spectrum will also be freed for use by mobile and wireless broadband solutions. But this will require Digital Terrestrial TV to be swapped to a different band, which might create the odd problem (although most set-top-box kit can already support the necessary bands).

* Extend the geographic coverage of 2G (voice and text) networks from 80% today to 90% by 2017 (the target for 3G and 4G is 85%). Part of this is contingent upon their plans to update the Electronic Communications Code (ECC), which could make it easier and cheaper to install new infrastructure. But land owners are opposed to having their income from land access cut, Ofcom don’t plan to lower their spectrum licence fees and there’s opposition to allowing the construction of taller masts. In short, this could be a difficult policy to achieve.

* Extend 4G population coverage to 98% of premises (indoors) across the UK by 2017. Commercial operators are already almost certain to achieve this and probably by a year or so earlier than demanded.

* Support the on-going development of future 5G mobile technology.

The only less certain area is the immensely complicated issue of EU membership and the impact that a referendum, which might take us out of Europe, could have on harmonisation of the various telecoms and Internet related rules and regulations. We will have to explore that too in the future.

No doubt we’ve probably overlooked a few things above, but as we said at the start it remains a broad continuation of existing policy.

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
Leave a Comment
21 Responses
  1. Avatar X66yh says:

    A ban on VPN’s except those on business subscriber lines sound quite feasible and do-able.

    1. Avatar Steve Jones says:

      Really? Just how do you suppose that’s going to work when there are many millions of people that use VPNs for work in almost any location type you care to name. Homes, coffee shops, hotels and much else. Are you really going to force every householder who wants to use a VPN for working from home to have business account. Then, if they do, how are you going to make sure that’s for legitimate business purposes?

    2. Avatar Dragon says:

      How to you detect the use of the VPN, there are VPN programs designed explicitly to hide their purpose.

      If they force backdoors on encryption then they just create a deliberate weakness in the system that will be exploited by cyber-criminals.

      Keeping logs of everything everyone does will be expensive for the ISP’s and will probably only catch people who are sloppy, the real danger is it forces more criminals underground and actually makes it harder for the security services to do their jobs.

    3. Avatar FibreFred says:

      Hahah not a chance

      A lot of the workforce is mobile these days logging on from wifi hotspots , their home , hotels etc etc

      All using vpns, bans on VPNs will not happen

    4. Avatar Bob2002 says:

      @FibreFred

      I actually do expect some action against VPNs sooner or later. VPNs are the world’s worst kept secret for hiding your IP address and content. Do you really think the Home Secretary and intelligence agencies/police are going to politely sit back and allow more and more people to use them for whatever purpose they want without penalty?

      Just because a law is stupid or controversial doesn’t mean politicians won’t put it on the books.

    5. Avatar nknklnkl says:

      As people have already said VPNs are used by many people for their everyday work. most security policies (and possibly some ISO certifactions?) require them.

      The majority of people use standard residential/hotel/3G/4G connections for their VPN.

      What’s stopping someone from tunneling their traffic over ssh or another encrypted medium if VPNs were “banned”.

      It’s completely daft and another idea thought up by people who don’t understand how technology works.

      “A new age verification requirement for access to all sites containing pornographic material.” – young teens will find there way around anything like this in minutes!

      More should be spent on educating people rather than trying to control/snoop/inhibit how people want to communicate over the internet.

  2. Avatar tonyp says:

    I think we will see the ‘Great British Firewall’ after the Chinese model. A lot of government control will be set up in the name of Security, justified or not.

    The internet will continue to be enhanced with higher capabilities so long as it is used for business and shopping. But like politicians, the ‘net will become boring and expensive but everyone will need it to fill in government forms. Even if they can’t afford it. Whatever happened to the ‘bonfire of red tape’?

    A new look at the Register of MP’s interests could be worth a look to see what will happen to piracy regulations! Also who will be the government advisers on Internet matters? I suspect there will be court cases about sites being blocked for commercial benefits for the few. Possibly there will be financial scandals on a scale unprecedented due to the inability of quasi-legal regulators to monitor trading activities resulting in a South Sea Bubble effect. I expect the US Authorities will get their way more frequently with extraditing Brits to their jurisdiction and banging them up for impossibly long terms.

    And if we leave Europe……

    Anyone for mainland Europe?

    1. Avatar Steve Jones says:

      The UK is relatively light on IPRs compared to many continental countries. Several of the latter imposed taxes on blank recording media. France jealously protects IPRs such that originators are entitled to a portion of profits on subsequent resale of works of art. In 2013 Germany came very close to passing a law that would have, in effect, banned use of thumbnail images and short textural extracts in search engine results.

      The EU commission is currently consulting on the matter of digital rights. I really don’t expect their recommendations to be any looser than those in the UK. Indeed, it might well be the reverse.

    2. Avatar Steve Jones says:

      Oops. I was too late. It appears that a version of the French “Droit de Suite” system has been imposed on the UK through an EU directive.

      http://www.artnews.com/2012/01/11/droit-de-suite-debate-heats-up/

  3. Avatar GNewton says:

    “consider whether or not BT and their Openreach division need to be completely broken up, but this seems like a highly unlikely outcome given the regulators past form and BT’s recent threat not to invest in “ultrafast broadband” if this were to occur.”

    This shows you the true face of BT, doesn’t it?

    How could BT possibly follow through with such a threat if Openreach was a completely independent company, not part of BT anymore?

    1. Avatar FibreFred says:

      The true face of Bt ?

      What wanting to keep its own unit and assets to itself? Gosh the horror!

      It won’t happen as I’ve said loads of times and now with the incoming boss of Ofcom touting less regulation its even less likely and it was very unlikely before

      I know it won’t please you but… move on still plenty of other things to gripe about like running fibre through copper etc

    2. Avatar Steve Jones says:

      To make this really simple for you, it would be the (new) OpenReach board which would probably make the decision not to invest. That’s essentially because, without a guaranteed retail customer that would promote the product, it would be a high risk investment. Bear in mind that it was BT Consumer that is responsible for the vast majority of promotion of GEA-FTTC (and the only major ISP selling GEA-FTTP), very probably because LLU products are more profitable for the other ISPs.

      The alternative would be for the independent Openreach to take the modest, but guaranteed return from the fixed network and return it to shareholders via dividends. There are many city investors who would support that and be unwilling to take the risk of a large capital investment. It would be up to others to (maybe) put the capital, maybe by using the PIA (passive infrastructure) products. That is renting access to ducts and poles.

      Of course it’s difficult to second-guess this, but that’s essentially a summary of the position. Now whether it’s bluff or not, who knows. However, one thing is for sure, any splitting off of Openreach would introduce a huge amount of uncertainty whilst the mechanics and legal/regulatory/financial issues were sorted out. Investments would most likely stop dead for a period.

    3. Avatar GNewton says:

      @Steve Jones: Thank you for sharing your thoughts, unlike the BT trolls here who have nothing constructive to say here.

      “Investments would most likely stop dead for a period.”

      Wouldn’t the opposite be true? An independent Openreach would essentially own the last mile access network, including VDSL lines, cabinets, and a few fibre lines, in addition to its own backbone network. So that alone would guarantee it many customers (ISPs), and it would also have to become more innovative (unlike BT), because otherwise other telecom companies may eventually build their own more modern last mile access networks.
      BT could then focus on what it believes it does best: BTSports, TV, being an ISP, and other adventures along the lines of a media concern. And it would prevent one ISP of having an unfair advantage over its competition.

      Another thought of line is this: Have an independent Openreach, subject to strict regulation (something different than Ofcom, the latter doesn’t really do its job) with a view of not having to build multiple parallel access networks. After all, we don’t have duplicate power lines or water pipes going into end user’s premises either. Openreach would have to set realistic market prices to ensure future access network upgrades or investments. The government could even become a bigger shareholder in this company in return for aids in network investments.

    4. Avatar TheFacts says:

      ‘So that alone would guarantee it many customers (ISPs)’ – FTTC has 22 home and 52 business ISPs.

      ‘become more innovative’ – http://www.btplc.com/Innovation/index.CFM

      ‘other telecom companies may eventually build their own more modern last mile access networks’ – they have been for 30 years.

    5. Avatar FibreFred says:

      🙂 @TheFacts

      I really do wonder why he bothers, why put so much effort and waste your life writing the same hatred over and over.

      Openreach won’t get split off, no point in posting about it, you hate BT we get it so.. just don’t bother using them, constantly banging the same old worn out drum will change nothing at all. Complain to Ofcom in writing about all of your woes, Ofcom not working? Write to the government with your sorry tales about BT and Ofcom or better still if you don’t like how things work in this country… move abroad because I can guarantee you this, nothing you ever post on this website will change anything that you complain about.

      There’s no post the same gripes 1000 times to get to get heard and get some action system 🙂

      Everyone is entitled to their own opinions of course, the thing is everyone knows yours already and has done for years so…. not much point in repeating it really you’ve not said anything new that I’ve noticed for a very long time as GNewton or JNeuhoff

    6. Avatar GNewton says:

      @TheFacts: What other telecom companies (other than Virgin, or it’s various cable company predecessors) has built widespread last mile access networks over the past decades?

      As regards innovation: Let the customers be the judge on it, your link leads amongst others to a funny article entitled ‘BT researchers recognised for workplace morale study’, I guess that cannot include BTs customer services which to this day has a poor reputation, just look at BTs own business forum. 🙂

      About the number Openreach customers: Sounds about right, where did you get this number from? Anyway, this was in response to Steve Jones who thinks that an independent Openreach might loose customers, which I reasoned is not likely.

      BTW.: Ignore these trolls who have nothing better to do than complaining about other posters.

  4. Avatar adslmax says:

    still be a shambles of a network run by cowboys end of….

  5. Avatar Bob says:

    Sajid Javid mentioned Internet ID in an interview a while back so I think we now know the direction they’re heading in.

    Also the Chinese selectively enforce their VPN ban which is what I think we may see over here, where they raid your house if they have suspicions regarding your data traffic, it could well end up like many bad laws though, just put on the heap so it can be used by a future government when the time is right.

    1. Avatar Steve Jones says:

      Your house can already be raided following due legal process (that is with a warrant issued by a judge), and there is already a legal principle that you have to provide encryption keys in the course of an investigation where this is justified (potentially in court). Indeed, it’s an offence not to do so.

      So I don’t think it changes much at all. Those powers already exist. What matters is not the existence of powers so much as the way that they are implemented using due legal process. In other words, what matters is the regime and it’s accountability to the populace. People seem to forget this; if that ever fails, everything else is pointless.

    2. Avatar Bob says:

      This would serve as an addition reason.

  6. Avatar Al says:

    Never mind ultra fast, I’d settle for superfast still waiting for superfast lancashire to deliver my new cabinet, Signs first appeared for a few days in Nov 14 and a concrete slab appeared I can only assume that was the foundation for the new cabinet. Since then cabinet has moved to UR despite it saying Coming Soon since August last year when BT updated the availability checker to cabinet level. Not amused. I have zero confidence that my cabinet will be enabled by their planned 97% of lancashire by end of Jun this year. The only thing it can be is a ducting issue, as it’s virtually next door to the power sub-station. It might not be so bad but I’m on a 20CN non-LLU Market A exchange.

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