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Monday, May 16, 2016

UK digital bill to boost infrastructure and services (legalise content blocks under net neutrality law) - FT

Legislation will be put forward on Wednesday to improve national broadband coverage and help telecoms customers switch providers, according to people familiar with the plans. Other proposals will help mobile groups improve signal coverage, as well as crack down on nuisance calls and pornography sites that do not verify age.
The regulator has long complained that it gets bogged down in legal action by large media and telecoms groups simply seeking to delay its rulings. At present, decisions made by Ofcom can be taken to the Competition Appeal Tribunal, with some cases taking years to be resolved. Many companies in the telecoms industry have opposed the move, fearing a “judge, jury and executioner” style regulator. But Ed Richards, former Ofcom chief executive, has argued that the watchdog is defending up to 10 of its rulings in the courts in any week, forcing it to employ scores of lawyers.
The proposals mark a big change in attitude by the Conservative party towards Ofcom, which five years ago was heading for the “bonfire of the quangos”. The added protection for Ofcom’s powers will come at a point when the regulator could be handed new responsibilities over the BBC.
The bill is also expected to hand the body new powers to make telecoms providers help customers switch to rivals, as well as provide automatic compensation for faults in broadband services. The culture, media and sport department declined to comment before the Queen’s Speech.
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.
The bill is also expected to help mobile operators erect masts to improve coverage in rural areas by making landowners rent out sites based on the value of the land and preventing them demanding a “ransom” payment.
Intellectual property rights are expected to be strengthened with the harmonisation 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.

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