Digital Economy Bill gets Royal Assent

TechUK says act lays ‘good groundwork’ for transforming government use of data

Digital Economy Act becomes law – Photo credit: PA

The Digital Economy Act has become law, after being rushed through parliament in the last few days of wash-up.

During its passage through parliament, the legislation was regularly described as a “Christmas tree bill” because of the breadth of areas it spans.

This includes electronic communications and broadband speeds, restrictions on access to online pornography and provisions to increase data-sharing in the public sector.

But, despite misgivings from critics who have labelled the bill as draconian for its rules on pornography, and raised concerns about data privacy and ownership, the legislation received Royal Assent on Friday (28 April).

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The government sped the bill’s progress through parliament during the wash-up period before parliament is dissolved tonight ahead of the general election next month.

This meant that the expected period of ping pong between the two houses did not materialise, as peers did not push back after the government rejected some of their six amendments to the bill – including on minimum broadband speed, which will now be 10 Mbps, rather than the 30 Mbps proposed by the Lords.

The bill was discussed in the House of Commons on 26 April, and then passed into the Lords the next day, with the peers agreeing not to insist that their amendments were included in the final act.

The government said that, in lieu of the peers’ amendment to up the minimum broadband speed, it would ask Ofcom to review the minimum download speed once the take-up of superfast has reached 75%.

The idea is to reassure critics that any Universal Service Obligation speed will be reconsidered once a substantial majority of subscribers are on superfast.

The small business group TechUK said it was pleased the bill had received Royal Assent.

Is head of public affairs, Tom Morrison-Bell, said that it has “some welcome reforms” that will speed up deployment of infrastructure, as well as “good groundwork laid to improve public services by using the transformative power of government data”.

Morrison-Bell added: “The UK’s tech sector is built on a robust regulatory framework that has made us Europe’s leading digital economy. The next government must capitalise on this strength by making sure the UK remains an open and dynamic economy that fosters innovative and imaginative companies.

“Brexit will mean new legislation entering the books so the next government must take care that these make the UK the best place to startup, scale and headquarter a tech business.”


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