The digital economy
Recent politics has been dominated by Brexit, whilst the important Digital Economy Bill, which had its first reading this month, has been lost in the background.
The headline policy of the bill is that there will be a universal service obligation upon the communications industry under which consumers will be guaranteed access to a minimum 10 Mbps download speed, with provision to increase this minimum in future. We certainly have the technology to do this, and it is economically important to ensure all parts of the country have access to decent broadband, much more so than the geographically limited super-fast broadband projects that previous administrations have promoted. What the bill leaves unanswered is who will finance this obligation, whether it will be the nation, the industry, or the individual consumers in those remote rural areas. However, in a post-Brexit Britain, it may be easier for government to provide subsidies to BT and other British companies to extend our national infrastructure.
Coupled with this, the bill will give Ofcom increased powers to regulate communications providers and mobile operators, and penalise them for failing to comply with license commitments. Service providers will also have a statutory duty to compensate customers if service obligations are not met.
Another element of the digital economy bill is that it will harmonise online copyright laws with physical copyright. Currently, industrial scale copyright violation carries a maximum sentence of 10 years if the offender is manufacturing physical media such as disks, whilst the same degree of piracy via online downloads would only carry a two year sentence. The bill will also carry increased penalties for nuisance calls.
A contentious area of the bill is creating an age-verification regulator to publish guidelines about how pornographic websites should ensure their users are aged 18 or older. The regulator will be able to fine those which fail to comply. The problem with this proposal is that it is difficult to see how technology can achieve this, and given that the vast majority of porn websites are hosted outside the UK, it isn't obvious how a UK regulator could impose any sort of effective regulation. As desirable as this might be, it might be better for the economy if the Digital Economy Bill was slimmed down to those things which were achievable, and which MPs can sensibly debate.
Another bill which is in the formative stages, the Investigatory Powers bill, also might include the technologically impossible. Speaking of this bill, Earl Howe (Deputy leader of the House of Lords) said it would provide the British government with the ability to force Communication Service Providers to develop and maintain a technical capability to remove encryption that has been applied to communications or data", as if it is possible for national laws to over-rule the laws of mathematics.
Digital economies around the world are affected by recent changes in international guidelines. Led by led the UK's Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), the International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network (ICPEN), a global network of consumer protection authorities with 58 countries as members, has published new guidelines on online reviews and endorsements, bloggers, and even tweets. Following the UK's lead, its guidelines recognise the deception of the fake reviews and includes the requirement that digital influencers should disclose any relevant commercial relationships that they have with businesses featured in their online content.
26th July 2016
This article comes from the SKILLZONE email newsletter, published monthly since January 2008, and covering topics related to technology and the internet. All articles and artwork in the SKILLZONE newsletter are orignal content. If you would like to receive the newsletter direct to your inbox each month, please SUBSCRIBE here. It is free, and you don't get added to any other mailing lists. It uses best-practice confirmed opt-in only, and you may unsubscribe at any time.