The Digital Economy Bill has finished its passage through Parliament and is finally law, but what does it mean for your rights in the digital age?
The Digital Economy Act 2017 had a long and winding journey to becoming legislation, and we’ve been there every step of the way to ensure consumers get the most out of this new law.
The Act is wide-ranging, tackling issues of switching telecoms provider, nuisance calls, access to superfast broadband, and compensation for consumers. So what changes will you see?
Gaining Provider Led switching
Firstly, the Act makes explicit Ofcom’s power to introduce Gaining Provider Led switching (GPL) across the telecoms market.
GPL means that when you switch telecoms provider, such as your mobile phone or broadband, you’ll only need to contact the provider you want to switch to. They’ll then take care of shifting everything over from your old provider, just like when you swap bank accounts or energy providers.
This means less hassle for consumers when switching, and no being put through to ‘customer retention’ when you call up to try to cancel.
It also means the onus is on your provider to give you a service that won’t make you want to leave in the first place.
The Digital Economy Act also puts in place specific powers for Ofcom to introduce automatic compensation in telecoms.
This means that when providers don’t deliver the service you pay for, rather than you having to get in touch and make a claim, they are obliged to send the money straight to your account.
Of course, there are limitations as to where this is possible, but this power now means that Ofcom can push ahead with putting it in place wherever it sees fit – as it’s already done with broadband.
Universal Service Obligation for broadband
One of the headline provisions of the Digital Economy Act has been the Universal Service Obligation (USO) for broadband. This will give people the right to request a broadband connection of at least 10mbps if it isn’t possible to get a connection through a private provider.
The USO will also increase to a higher level in future years. This will ensure that no one is left behind as technology and speeds improve in the future. It may not get everyone lightning-fast speeds, but we will have a connectivity ‘safety net’ that will get everyone in the country online.
Ofcom appeals reform
The most controversial part of the Act was the reform to Ofcom’s appeal processes.
For years, we’ve seen what we called ‘a glacial pace’ of change in telecoms, with Ofcom’s decisions being frequently challenged in court by the big telecoms providers, even when these challenges weren’t really justified.
We argued strongly throughout the passage of the Act that reform was necessary, and now the Act ensures that Ofcom’s appeals process falls in line with that of the other regulators.
The new system is more balanced and fair, and should result in quicker and more effective regulation from Ofcom in the future.
So, with the new Digital Economy Act, the telecoms market is set to improve in a myriad of ways for consumers, with easier switching and compensation, tougher action to keep our data safe, better access to broadband for those in the hardest-to-reach areas, and a bolder regulator more able to stand up for consumers – result!
Better broadband connections for UK homes
Update, 20 December 2017: Soon you will have a legal right to a decent broadband connection in UK homes and businesses.
The government has acted on its plans to deliver universal broadband across the UK, by implementing a universal service obligation (USO). The USO will ensure that everyone can reach speeds of at least 10Mbps by 2020.
In 2015, the telecoms regulator Ofcom reported that 10Mbps was the minimum speed needed to meet the requirements of an average family in the UK. According to the regulator, around 4% of UK homes aren’t able to reach speeds of at least 10Mps.
The government will work with Ofcom to implement this change over the next two years. We want to see the government move quickly to ensure people get these promised speeds by 2020, and we expect the government to closely monitor the programme to ensure it can keep pace with changing technology.
So do you welcome this news on broadband? Do you suffer with slow broadband speeds? What else do you think could improve your home broadband?