Minimum broadband speed set at 10Mbps as Digital Economy Bill rushed through parliament

Written by Rebecca Hill on 27 April 2017 in News

Government rejects peers’ amendment to boost minimum level to 30 Mbps, citing “serious concerns” about ability to deliver on that speed

The Digital Economy Bill is making its way through parliament - Photo credit: PA

The government has rejected the House of Lords’ calls for the minimum broadband speed in the UK to be “more ambitious” than the 10 Mbps originally proposed in the Digital Economy Bill.

The bill - which was discussed in the House of Commons yesterday for the first time since it was passed by the Lords earlier this month - includes provisions for a Universal Service Obligation that will give people the legal right to request broadband speed of a certain level.

The government’s bill proposed that this be set at 10 Mbps, but peers sent it back with an amendment that would raise this to 30 Mbps.

However, in the rush to pass legislation before parliament is dissolved next week, there is little time for a lengthy “ping pong” between the houses, and the government has rejected the Lords’ proposal.

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Speaking in the Commons yesterday, digital minister Matt Hancock said the government had “serious concerns” about whether the peers’ amendment is deliverable.

“As drafted, it is counterproductive to the implementation of a USO, because of the risk of legal challenge and the delay that that would cause,” he said, and that the government could not accept the amendment.

In lieu of that, Hancock proposed an amendment that would require any broadband USO to set a download speed of at least 10 Mbps, and that the government would ask Ofcom to review the minimum download speed once the take-up of superfast has reached 75%.

“That gives the assurance that any USO speed will be reconsidered once a substantial majority of subscribers are on superfast,” he said.

Shadow digital minister Louise Haigh, said that while she appreciated the government’s argument, it was “disappointing that more of an effort was not made” to discuss it in earlier debates, and that the government had missed an opportunity to set the UK up for the future.

“Of course, we would have liked the government to back 30 Mbps for all, and I do not accept that millions of consumers and businesses should simply be left behind,” she said.

“This was an opportunity to prepare the UK for the ubiquitous future demanded by the digital revolution, and although the government’s amendment is a first step, it is a baby step and nothing more.”

The debate also threw up some discussion of data sharing - Part 5 of the bill sets out plans for the government to make it easier to share data across departments, as well as making it more accessible to researchers and statisticians.

Labour MP and shadow minister for industrial strategy Chi Onwurah questioned Hancock on citizens’ rights, saying that the rights of citizens over their data was in a state of “chaos” across departments.

“Do citizens own and control their own data—yes or no?” she asked the minister.

Hancock replied: “Well, of course citizens elect the government, and in many cases the government are responsible for data. Having democratic legitimacy behind the control of data is critical to a functioning democracy.”

He added: “No doubt we can return to this issue in the future. There are no Lords amendments on that subject, and I consider that the Bill represents significant progress.”

The government has previously committed to specifying the people who can use the data on the face of the bill, rather than in the codes of practice as was initially proposed, after the Lords Delegated Powers Committee said it gave ministers “almost untrammeled powers”.

The amendments made by the government will now be sent to the House of Lords - if they disagree with any the bill will be sent back to the Commons, but a lengthy game of ping pong is unlikely due to the short amount of time before parliament dissolves.

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