Boost to digital infrastructure

The telecoms regulator Ofcom will have its powers boosted by proposals in the upcoming Queen’s Speech. In the digital economy bill, it is thought that where will be a strong focus and aim to upgrade digital infrastructure and strengthen intellectual property rights.

The legislation will be put forward this week and hopes to improve national broadband coverage, help customers switch providers, and improve consumer experience. In alliance with the technology proposals, it is also thought that there will be plans to improve signal coverage of mobile networks as well as crack down on nuisance calls and pornography sites that do not verify age. The bill is expected to hand Ofcom new powers to make telecoms providers help customers switch to rivals, as well as provide automatic compensation for faults in broadband services.

Among the plans discussed were conversations around raising the threshold for companies to appeal Ofcom decisions up to the level of legal review. Ofcom has often complained that it gets bogged down in legal action by large media and telecoms groups simply seeking to delay its rulings. However some telecoms companies have opposed the move, fearing a “judge, jury and executioner” style regulator.

The proposals mark a big change in attitude by the Conservative party towards Ofcom, which will also come at a point when the regulator could be handed new responsibilities over the BBC.

The legislation is set to bring in powers for the government to impose a universal service obligation for a minimum broadband speed of at least 10 Mbps. The proposal could be funded through an industry levy, although the details are still out for consultation.

Intellectual property rights are expected to be strengthened with the coordination of jail terms for acts of piracy. The last Digital Economy Act — introduced by Lord Mandelson in 2010 — contained controversial attempts to crack down on piracy that resulted in several legal challenges.

The Information Commissioner’s Office will be handed greater protection to fine companies making nuisance calls, according to two people with knowledge of the situation, while the government is likely to crack down on pornography sites that do not bring in age verification. It is expected to stop short of imposing any network-level blocking, however.

Most consumers are happy that these changes are in their interest and will make overall improvements to how you buy telecoms.

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