Public Services > Central Government

Queen's Speech highlights Digital Economy Bill

David Bicknell Published 19 May 2016

Bill will introduce Broadband Universal Service Obligation, cover use of data by government to deliver better public services and consult on better sharing of publicly-held data sets to improve service delivery


A Digital Economy Bill intended to provide greater rights to access high speed broadband was one of 21 bills laid out in yesterday's Queen's Speech.

The speech, in which the government presented its legislative programme, carried details of bills which extended from reforming the planning system to introducing a "modern transport bill" intended to ensure the UK "is at the forefront of technology for new forms of transport, including autonomous and electric vehicles."

Other areas included a Higher Education and Research Bill intended to "support the establishment of new universities and to promote choice and competition across the higher education sector", and the well-previewed Prison and Courts Reform Bill which will give prison governors greater powers and pave the way for the closure of old and efficient prisons and the building of new ones.

The legislative programme also included three bills carried over from the previous parliamentary session, such as the Investigatory Powers Bill.

The thinking behind the Digital Economy Bill is intended to "make the UK a world leader in the digital economy," with its main benefits being to enable the building of world-class digital infrastructure including fast broadband and mobile networks; to support new digital industries; to reform the way government uses data to deliver public services; to strengthen protections for citizens in the digital world; and to satisfy a manifesto pledge to roll out universal broadband and better mobile phone connections.

The main elements of the Bill will be:

Fast broadband

- A power to introduce a new Broadband Universal Service Obligation (USO), giving citizens and businesses the legal right to have a fast broadband connection installed. This would work similarly to the landline telephone USO, and there would be a similar reasonable cost threshold above which the very remotest properties may be expected to contribute to the cost of the installation. The government said it expects the minimum speed to be at least 10Mbps initially, and the bill would also include a power to direct Ofcom to review the speed over time to make sure it is still sufficient for modern life.

- A new Electronic Communications Code to cut the cost and simplify the building of mobile and superfast broadband infrastructure.

- New and simpler planning rules for building broadband infrastructure

Empowering consumers

- 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..

- 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.

Government data and digital services

- Use of data by government to deliver better public services and produce "world leading research and statistics"

- Consult on better sharing of publicly-held data sets to improve service delivery whilst maintaining safeguards on privacy.

- New powers for public authorities to share information to combat public sector fraud

- Public authorities will be empowered to cut the billions of overdue debts owed to government by allowing early identification of and help for people with debts spread over a number of public agencies

- The UK Statistics Authority given easier secure access to data to produce more timely and accurate national and official statistics


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