Queen’s Speech Confirms 10Mbps Universal Broadband And Network Planning Reforms

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Government plans to introduce broadband USO, reform communications code and implement driverless car framework all confirmed in state opening of parliament

The government has confirmed plans to introduce a 10Mbps universal service obligation (USO) and reform to the Electronic Communications Code (ECC) to make it easier for communications providers to rollout broadband and mobile phone infrastructure.

As detailed in the Queen’s speech, a new Digital Economy Bill will give every household the right to demand the new USO, but might have to contribute financially to the cost of connection in the most remote areas.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DMCS) has already commissioned Ofcom to inform the design of the new USO and will report back by the end of the year, after which the government will start work on the secondary legislation which will regulate speed.

Digital Economy Bill

queenSuperfast broadband coverage is expected to reach 95 percent by 2017 thanks to commercial and government-backed rollouts. It is hoped that other measures will increase that further, but some of the UK’s hardest to reach areas are seen as economically unviable.

BT has already indicated a willingness to help deliver the new USO, but industry body techUK has warned against using the USO to connect the ‘final five percent’ and has urged the government to look at other measures such as removing barriers to investment and further public subsidy.

“There may be a role for a USO as a safety net for a small number of premises that remain. But using the USO to address the whole of the last 5 percent is likely to prove expensive, inefficient and slow if used in isolation.”

The legal mechanisms of the proposed USO allow for the speed to be increased – something other companies have urged the government to do in the future.

Communications providers have generally welcomed the proposals to reform the ECC. They long called to have the same access to sites as the level enjoyed by utilities firms, claiming the cost of upgrading and deploying new infrastructure was too expensive because of the rents demanded by landowners.

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Easier deployment

The government believes the reforms will save providers £1 billion over a 20 period, savings which can be passed onto customers.

“Government should be applauded for reforming the Electronic Communications Code,” said Virgin Media CEO Tom Mockridge. “Cutting through the planning red tape will help us invest where demand for ultrafast broadband is greatest. Local authorities and land owners now need to work with us to grant permissions.”

greenwichElsewhere, consumers, it is claimed, will benefit from more data on speeds and complaints from Ofcom, additional protections against spam communications and age verification for pornographic websites.

A separate Modern Transport Bill has outlined plans for the UK’s first framework for driverless cars, which it is claimed will help reduce congestion on Britain’s roads. A major trial of the technology is due to take place in Greenwich later this year

“Legislation will be introduced to improve Britain’s competitiveness and make the United Kingdom a world leader in the digital economy,” said the Queen. “My ministers will ensure the United Kingdom is at the forefront of technology for new forms of transport, including autonomous and electric vehicles.”

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