The Digital Economy Bill contains new measures to make broadband part of the universal service obligation, to boost broadband switching and enhance consumer compensation, and to reform the Electronic Communications Code.
Universal Service Obligation
The Bill would give businesses and households the right to request an “affordable broadband connection” from a designated provider or providers, “up to a reasonable cost threshold”. The government has said that its ambition is to set the initial minimum speeds at 10 Mbps, although this is not stated on the face of the Bill.
The process for designating a universal service provider or providers does not appear to have been changed from that in the Communications Act 2003. However, a new section gives the Secretary of State the power to order a review of the universal service order.
Switching broadband provider
The Bill does not itself change the procedure for switching broadband providers, but it does give Ofcom the power to “require communications providers to stick to specific switching arrangements that could, for example, eliminate the need to contact the provider you are leaving”.
Ofcom will also be empowered to “require a communications provider to pay compensation to an end-user on failing to meet a specified standard or obligation”. This is as much detail as the Bill itself provides, but an accompanying factsheet (pdf) says that Ofcom will “consult further on the detail of the scheme which we expect to be in place from next year”.
Reforms to the Electronic Communications Code
The Bill would overhaul the Electronic Communications Code, which regulates the relationship between communications network operators and land owners. Among the changes are a “no scheme” land valuation system, similar to that enjoyed by utility providers; changes to ensure that code rights continue to apply when infrastructure or land is bought and sold; and the introduction of specialist tribunals to take the place of the courts in resolving disputes between communications providers and land owners.
The government estimates that the benefits of these reforms to the communications sector are likely to reach £1 billion over a 20-year period.
The Digital Economy Bill also contains age-verification measures, which we discussed in detail in a previous article.