Proposed changes to UK law affecting telecoms operators

In today’s Queen’s speech (which sets out the UK Government’s legislative agenda), a number of proposals were made which will impact the UK telecoms sector:

  • the right for every household to access high-speed broadband (although the explanation suggests that this will not be a true ‘universal broadband service obligation‘);
  • a well over-due modernisation of the electronic communications code which deals with the way that communications providers access public and private land;
  • a new power for Ofcom to order the release of information from communications providers;
  • a power to enable Ofcom to make consumer switching easier;
  • a right for consumers to get automatic compensation from communications providers when their broadband goes wrong; and
  • updating police and security services’ investigatory powers.

Broadband Universal Service or a rabbit out of a hat?

Whilst I have discussed the UK’s proposed ‘Broadband Universal Service Obligation’  before on this blog, the notes to the speech today provide more detail and indicate that the UK is moving towards something rather softer than a true Universal Service Obligation (by which I mean the provision of a specified minimum level of service for all at an affordable cost).

The weasel words come on page 14 of the explanatory notes:

“…giving all citizens and businesses the legal right to have a fast broadband connection installed. This would work similarly to the landline telephone USO, and just like for landlines there would be a reasonable cost threshold above which the very remotest properties may be expected to contribute to the cost of the installation. The Government 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.”

The questions that arise are what constitutes a ‘reasonable cost threshold‘ and ‘very remotest‘. It would be perfectly possible to set these two thresholds at a level where this proposal costs very little to implement and is consequently achieved quickly. A cynic would want to pay careful attention to how these are set and whether this will make a material difference to what is already being delivered by a combination of market forces and existing initiatives.

Updated Electronic Communications Code: boring, but essential

This is perhaps the most important initiative announced in the Queen’s speech and has the potential to have the most significant impact on the deployment of telecoms infrastructure, and I hope builds on earlier proposals for reform which were tabled, then withdrawn.

Other proposals and next steps

There was nothing buried in the notes today worth highlighting in relation to other proposals, so I will watch how they are fleshed out as things proceed.

Of course, with the sword of Brexit (and potential change of personnel within the Government) hanging over this agenda we will have to wait and see what happens on June 23rd.