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The Digital Economy Bill implements a number of policies broadly related to the digital economy. This paper covers the key issues debated at Committee Stage. The Bill:

  • creates a ‘Universal Service Obligation’ (USO) for broadband services;
  • introduces a revised Electronic Communications Code (which governs how mobile communication infrastructure is built);
  • introduces age verification for online pornography;
  • updates intellectual property rules for digital industries;
  • allows for greater data sharing between public bodies for specific reasons;
  • introduces a new statutory code for direct marketing; and,
  • updates OFCOM regulation of the BBC and transfers responsibility for TV licence age-related concessions to the BBC.

The Bill was introduced in the House of Commons on 6 July 2016, with Second Reading on 13 September 2016, Committee Stage between 11 October and 1 November, with Report and Third Reading scheduled for 28 November. The majority of the Bill applies to the whole of the UK.

The contents of the Bill have been relevant to a number of Government announcements since Second Reading and the Government introduced a number of amendments in Committee; a number are also proposed at Report.

At Committee Stage a number of areas of the Bill were debated and subject to amendment:

  • On the USO and Broadband a number of amendments sought to refine the USO, deal with mobile contracts and mobile coverage, particularly in rural areas, but the Bill was not changed;
  • The Government tabled amendments to the Electronic Communications Code;
  • There was significant debate and proposed amendments around the role of Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and whether they should be required to block sites that do not implement age verification; there was also debate around the regulator’s powers. On 20 November 2016 the Government announced amendments would be tabled at report stage to allow for the regulator to direct ISPs to block sites not complying;
  • Government amendments were made to the data sharing elements; other amendments, whilst unsuccessful, sought to query levels of data protection and levels of transparency of data sharing;
  • The transfer of age-related licence fee concessions to the BBC was challenged but was not amended;
  • New clauses were proposed, but unsuccessfully, on the prominence of TV channel menus and allowing the Information Commissioner to take action against individuals (rather than companies) in breach unsolicited communication regulations. In the second case the Government planned to make their own changes here, which have since been announced;

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