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Updated: what does the Digital Economy Act mean for you?

Digital UK

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.

Automatic Compensation

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?


Anything above a max 1.8Mbs would be a bonus here especially as they laid fibre optic on the main road 200 yards away 3 years ago to connect 2 industrial parks but didn’t bother with ordinary people. The world out there expects you to use the internet both down and uploading more and more and it’s well nigh impossible to rely on it here.


Ian-dc says:
21 December 2017

10 Mbps is a pathetic speed in this day and age. What is required is fibre to the house everywhere.

Ian-dc has the real issue with our national broadband speed on the nose. To get a decent broadband we have to eliminate the twisted wire pair connection.

With 4K (UHD) televisions becoming the norm we now need a broadband capable of streaming 4K content. According to Netflix this requires a reliable 25mbps Internet connection. This is something that FTC (Fibre to The Cabinet) can provide but it is still not up to the task of supplying two UHD streams at the same time.

The real limitation on our domestic broadband speeds is the twisted wire pair between the cabinet and our homes. Almost all of the country’s domestic broadband, other than Virgin Media’s cable system, is hosted on the Openreach network that is built on a twisted wire pair system designed to deliver a basic telephone service. Consequently, I do not see us getting the broadband speeds that we require as a nation until Openreach’s monopoly position as our national broadband supplier is broken.

21 December 2017

BT seem to be able to ‘lose’ some pockets of customers on poor Broadband speeds (I agree that 10mbps is not acceptable as a baseline target) within cities and towns where, they do not upgrade provision to homes towards the end of the line from the exchange. They will only understand financial pressure. For the last couple of decades we have been paying the same as if we had broadband speeds of 10 times the rate we could receive. If we paid for what we actually received rather than the generalised ‘up to’ there would be an incentive to upgrade cables, wiring appropriately

In my opinion the situation with Broadband distribution in Britain is a shambles. The government blame Open Reach (BT) for the lack of broadband who are basically a private contractor who don’t seem have any formal contractual commitment to meet the need. The government keep on putting forward the comparison with telephone lines in the past, but seem to forget that this system was designed and partially installed by the GPO, which was a Nationalised Company. This included exchanges and cabling and usually contractors built the buildings and dug trenches.
Infrastructure of any kind is the responsibility of government who hire contractors to carry out the work at a cost to a schedule and in accordance with an agreed scope. The technology being used is not fit for purpose. Even Virgin who seem to be only interested in urban areas use coaxial cable between the distribution cabinet and the dwelling rather than fibre others rely on telephone cables. Something needs to be done NOW before it’s too late. We are very much behind many countries with this technology. I heard a member of the government on radio week saying that there are lots of new companies emerging who will be able to help, but could only remember “Virgin” when asked who these companies were.

Brian, I think that you have missed a point here. The issue with Openreach is that it was spun off from BT to be an independent communications supplier. However, it is the only supplier of domestic broadband services to the bulk of the UK and has never had to concern itself very much about the quality of the service that it provides. For example, I have a neighbour here in the outskirts of London whose broadband speed was limited to just 600kbps (yes kilobits) and there was nothing his ISP could get Openreach to do about it.

The Virgin Media coaxial cable system is capable of delivering at least 300mbps but it is a bit of a cludge. I remember that when cable TV was first introduced the government wanted FTP (Fibre to The Premises) but the bidders for the contracts argued that this was too expensive to deliver. The government backed down and we got what is essentially FTC (Fibre to The Cabinet) but with the last mile being high speed coaxial cable rather than twisted wire pairs.

The Virgin Media cable system still works well, I know because I have been connected to it for very many years now. I no longer use their TV service but I still receive a 200mbps internet service from them. (Virgin try to hide away their internet only connections but they are there on their website if you search for them). However, Virgin Media is only with us because the expense of installing the cable TV network broke the original cable providers despite their limiting their services to urban areas where there was the potential to pick up lots of customers in a small area.

I suspect that the cable TV companies were broken by Sky whose satellite technology eliminated the need for any wires. With the introduction of 4K TVs Sky is having to look to alternative delivery technology. This might be the break we are all seeking as Sky are experimenting with fibre to the premises. The technology that was too expensive for the original cable TV companies might now be affordable, even for remote locations.

That is correct, Greycynic. When cable TV was developing as the new delivery technology at the end of the 1980’s the domestic internet revolution had barely begun. Many cable companies were created and because of the need for heavy physical infrastructure, digging up both sides of every street, it was rapidly bypassed by satellite technology that could provide rapid coverage to individual properties over large areas with minimal marginal expense.

As Winston Churchill might have said – 2020 is not the end, nor even the beginning of the end, but it will be the end of the beginning.

The cable companies didn’t stand a chance of building up critical mass and many areas therefore did not benefit from having underground ducting passing each property which could subsequently have been used for fibre broadband services.

Virgin Media ultimately became the owner of most of the cable companies and was able to make use of the underground duct networks for supplying a fast broadband service. BT was left using wires strung from overhead poles, even in many urban areas. They have eventually managed to connect the majority of cabinets with fibre optic cable but the final furlong is going to be the most difficult and most expensive bit if FTTP is to become a reality for most residential properties. They are working on a fibre cable system for overhead use but this will still be primitive compared to a fully-protected underground system.

For the last twenty years or so all new housing developments have had fibre installed to [or close to] the premises but only a minority of households take up the highest speeds and capacity available. Most are content with a basic broadband service and rely on satellite services for TV and anything at all sophisticated.

Presumably, when FTTP is provided as the replacement for overhead lines, the installer [Openreach and any others authorised to do so] will bring the fibre to the curtilage of the property at no direct cost to the householder and then provide a connection to the interior master socket at a charge dependent on the length of cable required and any complications; this would be priced at a level which overall, by aggregation, will fund the service from the cabinet to every home.

David Jack says:
21 December 2017

I live on the outskirts of a well populated village. All the providers say that a good BB speed can be achieved. However, my average speed is about 1.5mbs and has been as low as 0.1mbs – usually late afternoon.
My provider keeps ignoring my correspondence and so I have now complained to the ombudsman. I doubt if anything will happen though, because if the hardware is not in place, there is not much anyone can do about it.

Beth Woody says:
21 December 2017

Openreach have now got a solution for fibre to the home, using a new flexible cable. This important development will mean Openreach really are making headway, and we are already seeing many providers in a race to provide better speeds across the uk. We’re in the final furlong – probably just in time for the next technology breakthrough and it will all begin again…

M Holmes says:
21 December 2017

The government sold BT but did not relinquish its responsibility for ensuring wifi and other telephony services meet public demand. Time the politicians earned their money.

Is the regulator basing the 4% on those who are not offered a link to a fibre cabinet? We are continually offered a fibre link to a cabinet that is 2km away by many providers (who use the Openreach network), and the attenuation down the copper wire from the cabinet drops the speed to 6Mbs – even though we would be classed as connected to 40Gbs fibre. This needs to be checked, because I suspect the 4% figure is a complete fallacy, and anyone who is more than 1km from a cabinet will not achieve 10Mbs.

Peter Begley says:
21 December 2017

I, and the rest of my street in Swindon, on an estate that is about 10 years old, are surrounded by speeds of around 12Mb. We have about 2 to 3.5 Mb and it has been that way since I moved in 3 years ago. I agree with a lot of people about the lack of thought and infrastructure, as fibre was not laid when the estate was built, which is laughably inept in this day and age. What I want to know is, where is my line rental going? Shouldn’t openreach have upgraded the problem which is stopping us getting 12Mb, remember, we are literally surrounded by 12s.

Stuart Rowlings says:
21 December 2017

Less copper & fibre to every home!

Pretty sure you can get fibre to your home now – you just have to pay for it. At the end of the day BT, Virgin, and the rest are in business to make a profit. If there’s no profit in extending fibre into people’s homes then why would they do it?

Maxine White says:
21 December 2017

We agree with many of the above comments, we live in Rushington Manor Totton Southampton. No fibre cables for us so far, our speed is around 1.07 download to 0.86 upload very slow indeed. The poor Opon Reach man is always at the bottom of our road trying to sort out peoples problems, can not see this will be sorted any time soon.

I use VOIP so why cant I get rid of the phone Line !!

Openreach refuse to replace copper cable from the green box to our home despite their own recommendations. Our copper cable is 30 years old which is twice the recommended lifespan. The constant dropouts are a major problem. We live 2 miles from Barnsley’s digital exchange and the service is appalling with no end in sight. Openreach should spend some of their profits on providing us with the service we pay for.

The problem might lie in the cable to your house, but if neighbours are having similar problems then that will strengthen your case for action. It’s absolutely vital that you are sure that there is no problem with your computer and internal wiring, as is frequently mentioned.

You could try escalating your complaint by sending an email to the CEO: https://www.ceoemail.com
Don’t expect the CEO will answer but at least you will have a proper email address rather than be expected to use a web form. It would be useful if you can log the dates and times of problems and take photos of error messages on the screen. I’m not sure what you mean by ‘their own recommendations’ but perhaps you have some evidence to support your case.

Be determined but polite, make it quite clear what you want and give a reasonable deadline for the company to respond by. When I was a teenager we had frequent problems with crackling on the phone line whenever it was wet and there was often a van in the street investigating problems. My mum managed to speak to someone senior and the entire cable in the street was replaced and there were no further problems. Best of luck.

Decades ago we dropped BT once (then) NTL dropped fibre down our street. I’d spent months complaining to BT about our modem speed – pops and squeaks on the line in the wet and/or cold. I could stand outside using our cordless phone and hear those noises whilst watching the telephone line move. That line is still there.

I live within 4 miles of Manchester City Centre , and only get 3.6 mbps because we live near an Ancient exchange with old copper wires – and no prospect of an upgrade – laughable.

I think the stats of people not getting 10mbps is optimistic – many in rural areas like me, don’t even get 5mbps!! 10mbps is a good starting point. An issue is about knowledge of availability / choice of higher speed providers. Fibre broadband has supposedly been installed in Devon and Somerset through an Government initiative – however, it has never been clearly advertised that it actually has been completed, and if any providers will offer it in the area. Is very poor rollout.

It’s over three years since I’ve been trying for fibre. My connection speed is 2.8 Mb/s download and just 0.3 Mb/s upload.
I do have a Fibre To The Property (FTTP) connection on the pole that’s just 50 metres from my home since June 2016. It was installed specifically to serve the property where I live. It is apparently already connected to the broadband system (two lots of Openreach engineers have confirmed this in the past few months). I just cannot get them to connect the final 50 mretres! The main fibre junction that serves my property is some 500m away and has provided business lines to adjacent properties with FTTP connections in the past couple of months. However my domestic line is still showing as being “within scope”!
I might add that my line was installed with Welsh Government funding under the Superfast Wales scheme, which inconveniently came to an end in JUNE 2016!!
There’s a discontinued payphone line very close by and the Openreach fibre availability website shows that as “accepting orders”.
So, I’m still waiting!

suggest that BT/OPENREACH charge line rental based on what thy provide i.e slow speeds such as 0.1 minimum £10/month mega speeds £18 /month

…or, integrating data speed over time to get the amount of data used, perhaps they could charge on that basis?

When we moved to our new house nearly 5 years ago BT advised that we could obtain speeds up to 9.5. We notified them that we couldn’t get broadband – eventually they sent out an Openreach engineer who recorded our speed at point 65. Despite being in breach BT wanted to fine us for cancelling our agreement with them. About 12 months ago Fibre was rolled out and again BT etc were adamant that we could get fibre broadband. An Openreach engineer called to investigate and laughed and said that there was no chance unless my line was completely rewired from the green box 5 miles away. My internet is now running on an mobile sim card dongle. This drops out in poor weather conditions etc. Roll on 2020.

It makes me laugh all the comments I’ve read. We are almost in 2018 and when we moved here in 1995 my husband asked the local telephone exchange about fibre broadband. They didn’t even know what he was talking about. Five years later they dug a long trench from London to Dover along the A2. He asked again were they going to lay a fibre cable. Still they didn’t know but they had heard of it but it wasn’t going to be in that trench. So what was? We have waited and waited, everyone complains and what is done. Absolutely nothing yet ISPs continue to overcharge saying they give larger speeds than they do and we put up with it. My next step is to return to pen and paper and do without so called smartphones making slaves of those fooled into buying them and the amounts charged every month. I hate my so called smartphone and rarely use it. I refuse to be a slave and be conned by dubious scams.