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Ed Vaizey to Oversee UK NGA Broadband and Digital Economy Act Rollout

Posted: 21st May, 2010 By: MarkJ
ed vaizey mpThe new coalition government, which is a mix of Conservative and Liberal Democrat party members, has officially made Ed Vaizey MP responsible for implementation of the controversial Digital Economy Act (DEA) and rollout of "superfast" Next Generation Access (NGA) broadband ISP services around the UK.

Vaizey is now the Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries, with joint responsibility as a Minister in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). Jeremy Hunt, the secretary of state for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport (DCMS), will oversee everything.

The news follows yesterdays publication of a finalised coalition agreement, which also saw the Conservative Party's plan for supporting superfast broadband deployment being officially adopted (here). The government wants BT and other infrastructure providers to open access into their underground cable ducts. They will also use part of the BBC's TV Licence fee to fund a wider superfast broadband rollout.

We note that the final agreement makes no mention of the Universal Service Commitment (USC), which promised to deliver a minimum broadband speed of at least 2Mbps to everybody in the UK by 2012. The previous Labour government claimed to have already set aside £200m+ for the project, which had cross party support.

Worryingly a government spokesman could not confirm to us whether the USC had been scrapped! That could spell serious trouble for Satellite operators who have been investing millions in the hope of a favourable outcome. It's unclear whether any of the initiatives to open up and re-farm existing radio spectrum for use by Mobile Broadband operators will be impacted.

Finally both Ed Vaizey and Jeremy Hunt will effectively be responsible for the Digital Economy Act (DEA), which was rushed into law as part of the pre-election "wash-up" process. Hunt had previously criticised the bill for being "weak, dithering and incompetent", before promising to review the act if the Conservatives got into power. Sadly both Vaizey and Hunt ultimately voted in favour of its final form.

Practical Liberal Democrat opposition to the Act appears to be evaporating as no mention of their promised repeal was stated in the final coalition agreement. Yesterday Hunt confirmed that there were no plans to repeal the act, instead indicating that the government wanted to see if it worked first before taking further action.

However rules to impose internet/website blocking (filtering) are still effectively on-hold as part of a separate parliamentary process, which was a Labour concession to get the Act pushed through. We suspect that this will not return, although the final act's wording still appears extremely ambiguous and does also allow customers to be cut-off from their ISP.
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