Amongst the political noise of the Brexit campaign, the UK’s legislative plans set out in the Queen’s speech yesterday received less attention than usual. But there were some important points to note for the technology sector;
Better broadband, and ... other things
A Digital Economy Bill, as expected, will introduce a new Broadband Universal Service Obligation. This will give businesses and individuals alike a legal right to have a fast broadband connection installed – at an initial minimum speed of 10Mbps with scope for review by Ofcom. This is not just a problem for rural homes. Reports suggest that even business parks have a problem, with almost half unable to access speeds above this threshold. Note that there will be a reasonable cost threshold with properties in remote locations expected to make a contribution to the cost of connecting.
The proposed Digital Economy Bill goes much further than this and will also:
- reform the Electronic Communications Code that facilitates the installation and maintenance of electronic communication networks, after a failed attempt to address the problems last year .
- introduce simpler planning rules for building broadband infrastructure
- allow Ofcom to order the release of data about broadband speeds, customer complaints etc, to enable users to make more informed choices, and introduce rules to promote easier service switching for consumers and provide automatic compensation for consumer broadband users
- address the difference between online and offline copyright laws
- enable owners of registered designs to give notice of their rights more flexibly
- introduce new rules about the use of government data sets, and
- tighten up rules on direct marketing to tackle spam email and nuisance calls, and on access by children to adult websites.
Driverless cars, drones and spaceflight
One of the more eye-catching proposals was for a Modern Transport Bill. This intends to
“put the UK at the forefront of autonomous and driverless vehicles ownership and use”
“pav[e] the way for commercial spaceflight and drone operations in the UK and boosting our world-leading satellite industry”.
Little detail is given, but in the driverless cars field we can expect to see concrete proposals extending well beyond the autonomous vehicles testing guidance issued last year.
Communications data retention and access
The Investigatory Powers Bill will be carried over from the previous session Controversial in industry for its provisions to require the retention of and allow access by government agencies and police to communications data of all kinds, it continues through the legislative process largely in its original form.
And as expected, the government will take steps to tidy up the laws on unjustified threats in intellectual property litigation.
This has been under review by the Law Commission for some time, and the changes are intended make the law in this area clearer and more consistent across different types of IP right. Other objectives are to promote settlement of disputes and encourage rights-holders to focus on the source of infringing goods rather than other parts of the supply chain. The Law Commission's proposals have received an overall positive response, although aggressive litigators will no doubt find ways to turn the new provisions to their advantage.