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Queen’s Speech 2016 – Broadband USO and Internet Spying on the Agenda

Wednesday, May 18th, 2016 (12:18 pm) - Score 1,570
the queen uk

The annual State Opening of Parliament, in which the Queen is forced to wear unreasonably heavy head gear while robotically listing Government policy for the next 12 months, confirms that a 10Mbps Universal Service Obligation (USO) for broadband is on the way and we can all expect to be spied upon.

Admittedly the Queen’s Speech is historically somewhat of a sedate affair, which usually only serves to feed the media with a tiny sliver of new information on forthcoming Government policy and precious little else. On the other hand you do sometimes get a few surprises and there were a few small ones today, but nothing major.

The announcement predictably confirmed that the Government plans to introduce a legally-binding 10Mbps USO via the Digital Economy Bill (no relation to the notoriously rushed 2010 Digital Economy Act) that will be published around June or July 2016, which everybody already knew (here, here and here). “Measures will be brought forward to create the right for every household to access high speed broadband,” said the Queen.

The bill will also simplify planning rules for building broadband infrastructure and introduce changes to the Electronic Communications Code (EEC), which enables mobile and fixed line network providers to install and maintain electronic communication networks by giving certain rights to the providers and helping them to reach agreements with landowners.

The Government are keen to support the roll-out of faster broadband and to boost mobile coverage, which requires the ECC to become more flexible by making it both easier and cheaper for infrastructure developers to construct new wireless masts, cables and telegraph poles etc. The proposals were officially revealed yesterday and landowners appear to be far from happy (here).

Other Highlights of the Digital Economy Bill

* A new power for Ofcom to order communications providers to release data (such as customer complaints and broadband speeds data) in the interests of the consumer and competition. This would give consumers clear household-level information about broadband speeds from different providers, to help them make informed choices.

* New measures to make switching providers easier for consumers by allowing Ofcom to require communications companies to coordinate switches on behalf of customers. This would mean consumers would only have to deal with their new provider in order to switch.

* A new right for consumers to automatic compensation when things go wrong with their broadband service.

* Support for digital industries by addressing difference in online/offline copyright laws.

* Protection for consumers from spam email and nuisance calls by ensuring consent is obtained for direct marketing, and that the Information Commissioner is empowered to impose fines on those who break the rules.

* Protection of children from online pornography by requiring age verification for access to all sites containing pornographic material.

Most of the above have been covered before, although the new protection for consumers from SPAM email is an interesting additional and one that will probably end up being about as effective as previous measures against the Internet scourge (i.e. not effectively at all). Most spammers don’t care about consent or the law and are notoriously difficult to stop or track down.

Finally, the Queen confirmed that the Government would proceed with their plans to introduce the controversial new Investigatory Powers Bill, which will force broadband ISPs into logging a much bigger slice of your online activity (irrespective of whether or not you’re suspected of having committing a crime) and to then make that data more accessible to the security services and certain public authorities.

My government will continue with legislation to modernise the law governing the use and oversight of investigatory powers by law enforcement, security and intelligence agencies,” said the Queen. The Labour Party, Liberal Democrats and SNP are mildly opposed to some aspects of this, although we’re still waiting to see if any of their recommendations get implemented (here).

UPDATE 1:11pm

A comment from the UK Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA) and Virgin Media.

James Blessing, ISPA Chair, said:

“ISPA is pleased that the Government has put the digital economy front and centre of its upcoming legislative programme.

The Internet industry has invested significantly in making the UK ‘a world leader in digital provision and will continue to do so and so we support government action to remove barriers to rollout. We further support the principle of universal broadband, but there remain a number questions surrounding the USO that still need to be addressed, including funding and the impact on the market, so that the benefits of broadband can be felt as widely and effectively as possible.

We await further information on consumer measures, including automatic compensation, including how this will fit with the existing consumer redress framework.

Finally, ISPA notes the Government’s plan to legislate on its manifesto commitment on age verification for sites offering adult content. ISPA responded to the consultation and will now work with Government and members on this challenging and technically complex area.”

Tom Mockridge, CEO of Virgin Media, said:

“Government should be applauded for reforming the Electronic Communications Code. Cutting through the planning red tape will help us invest where demand for ultrafast broadband is greatest. Local authorities and land owners now need to work with us to grant permissions.”

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he is also the founder of ISPreview since 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
Leave a Comment
3 Responses
  1. M

    You can bet your bottom dollar that the Tories and Labour will end up using the parliamentary act to push the IPB now. Imagine the headache and stress that is going to put on the service providers with millions of customers and their networks. Those who can and will both deliberately and accidentally abuse it by DDoS’ing these systems by pushing so many connection requests out at once which will degrade the whole service for everyone. Then there is IPv6 which will eventually come and add more stress to the recording system. The whole idea is proposterous from a technical point of view and will end up making the QoS of our already terrible service providers even worse. Also, VPN’s will be compulsory for those that do not want this and the market in turn may explode for demand.

    • Bob2002

      It isn’t just the police of course who will have access to your Internet history, public authorities including HMRC, the Department for Work and Pensions and the Health and Safety Executive will also be able to access this communications data.

      Internet histories are not like telephone usage stats or bank transactions, they are fundamentally different and far, far, more personal than that. They are a reflection of a person’s moment to moment thoughts – a highly personal and sensitive affair. If the DWP decided to investigate a benefits claimant with mental health issues we might find looking at bank transactions acceptable, but would it be equally acceptable for John and Jane at the DWP to trawl through the Internet history and see the person had been visiting mental health groups or considering harming themselves in some way? The result is highly invasive against whoever the target is yet it will no doubt become the norm.

      I would advise anyone concerned about their right to privacy to run a VPN. It is possible to route specific applications through your VPN(others take standard routes) – there is an easy hack if your client doesn’t have this feature as standard –

      https://www.reddit.com/r/VPN/comments/4h90pz/is_there_a_way_to_make_only_some_of_my_windows/d2ovxbd

  2. dragoneast

    Get used to it. The real argument in favour of Brexit is so we can have more untrammeled intrusive control by the State. Perhaps because most people actually like it? It makes them feel safe and secure. It used to be the argument in favour of slavery after all.

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