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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?


We have good speeds from Virgin but getting the signal to all three floors (typical London house, tall and narrow) has been an issue, but we’ve solved that now with a combination of data cabling and mains adapters. We’ve also used Demon in the past, now part of Vodafone. Demon has often gone down spectacularly at times, with substantial issues with the BT cables which they use in the street outside. Virgin may be pricey (as some have pointed out here already) but reliabilty and speed is a huge improvement over Demon/Vodafone because it’s optic. Speed is a problem where we stay in Derbyshire however, where we use Which-recommended Utility Warehouse. In all three cases, we’ve had reliability problems, but less so with Virgin, so this is another issue to consider additional to the speed one. Reliability has been better with Virgin, and Utility Warehouse broadband improved no end when they sent us a new router (their technical support was excellent, as Which have mentioned).

If only I could believe it! I don’t – because no way will they put enough [if any] money into it. If they were to contribute anything, it would be at the expense of yet another public service.

Kevin Upton says:
22 December 2017

My speeds elevated from 8mbps to 19 when BT put in fibre to the exchange 2-3 years ago. Now it has dropped to 11. Yet Openreach have been installing highspeed cabling in the village for the last two years. What is going on?

The issue is dummies in Parliament who should have mandated FTTP across the whole country (I guess not enough of them know about science).

Maybe the dummies know the cost involved in achieving this. 🙂 This is what I would like to see happen rather than continuing to roll out FTTC and then scrapping it in a few years. When FTTP was installed here about a year ago, the process took little time and most people opted for it straight away, saving multiple visits. It would be interesting to know the actual costs of roll-out of proper fibre broadband and whether the increased reliability results in significant savings in the cost of maintenance of the system.

make it mandatory to connect all villages passed when they are passed when laying fibre between towns & cities like Cambridge & Ely yet Streatham just a few km away on main A:10 road is not connected to fibre as BT has told villagers to pay for fibre themselves including the exchange then it becomes BT infrastructure but funny thing is Virgin has a large operations site between Cambridge & Ely just yards from the A:10 SO VIRGIN MEDIA COME ON CONNECT THOSE PEOPLE & SNAP BT’s monopoly that holds these people back they are sick of slow ADSL! EVEN SNAIL MAIL IS FASTER!

I wonder if companies could be made to install a percentage of rural FTTP connections in relation to the financially rewarding urban centres?

There is certainly pressure on bus operators to provide rural bus services even if they do not make much economic sense. I think we have to get away from the idea that companies should be only run for the benefit of their shareholders, certainly with regard to essential/important services.

It still amazes me that there are many places where I have no mobile signal – a mile along the road from where I live, for example. That problem could be resolved by network sharing, in the same way that banks share ATM services.

Then we have the ludicrous waste of money of the roll-out of smart meters and then replacing some of them is customers switch suppliers. I wonder why the regulator allowed this to happen.

Bus companies are commercial operations that must make a profit to survive. It is not a commercial company’s job to provide loss-making services – although they may decide to do so. It is a job for the local authority to decide whether a service is essential and then to provide the appropriate subsidy.

That’s what must change, Malcolm, at least in my view. I am not suggesting that companies run services that are hopelessly economic but if companies cherry-pick the most profitable services it would be hopeless. At present I can send Christmas cards to the highlands of Scotland and it costs the same as it would cost to send one a few miles. Obviously there is some cross-subsidy and I believe that this is an intelligent solution.

If we had a universal transport obligation then that might help. However, the reason railways got into so much trouble was by continuing to run on an out of date network to sparse communities that produced next to no revenue, yet used expensive staff and equipment. Should those who used the main services have paid even more to support the rest? I don’t think that approach is generally sustainable and other ways bear consideration. We have a local community bus, funded by the council, that runs relatively infrequently but provides transport from those not well served by other means.

In a way. bus services already cross subsidise, by running to a regular timetable throughout the day. Many vehicles will have few passengers and will not repay their cost, made up for at busier times. Perhaps they should wait until they have a full load?

A good friend retired early and as well as running a charity that is well appreciated by visitors and the town council, he drives minibuses and cars that are mainly used by the elderly but available to everyone. I believe it is run more or less on a not for profit basis and is viable because the volunteers are unpaid, though their costs associated with training are covered. I hope that he will receive an MBE or OBE for services to the community in a few years time.

There are many people with time on their hands who could offer their time and help the community. I’m not sure how this would be relevant here but those with expertise could perhaps offer to help people who have little technical knowledge and might need help to find out whether there is a genuine problem with their broadband service or if it is a problem with wiring or interference with WiFi. If done on an organised basis rather than helping a neighbour there would be a small cost for insurance, maybe in the form of a donation.

There is a great deal to be gained from using people with expertise willing to give their services for nothing. I help out at a gliding club that is largely aimed at young people. The instructors give all their time for free all year round at weekends, and those on the ground spend their day launching, retrieving, winching, with the reward of maybe15 minutes flying (that they pay for) at the end of the day when the main work is done.

We could perhaps do a lot more to foster the voluntary group spirit. I’d rather see these sort of people recognised than overpaid celebrities and automatic honours for spending a few rewarding years in public employment.

I knew that one of my relatives has done voluntary work for years mainly with Amnesty International. I was unaware until recently that she has worked two days a week for Citizens Advice for years. Much of the work of CA is to ensure that people are directed to where they can get the help they need. I wonder what advice CA would give to anyone suffering problems with broadband.

RE:- page seven posting its not only speed but band width; fibre exceeds copper cable in each of these parameters.

Ken Richmond says:
22 December 2017

I agree with others that 10mps is far too slow and 2020 too far away reflecting years of underachievement by BT. Providers should only be allowed to advertise speeds achieved by 90% of their clients on a particular package. Finally, it must be speed at the hub. BT are responsible up to the master point. After months of effort culminating in a written complaint I managed to get an engineer visit. He was is my house for less than half an hour and replaced the connectors in two junction boxes in the house on the BT side of my master point. My speed lept by 10mps to 34mps on Infinity. What they don’t publicise is that Infinity contracts have a minimum speed which I was not receiving. He declined to replace some wiring that must have been installed when the house was built in 1968 on the basis that he’d have to charge me for it. They actually charged me for his visit so I had even more aggravation getting that refunded.

Bottom line, BT is not fit for purpose and the Government needs to realise it is holding back our economy.

Brian W says:
22 December 2017

We are all talking about speed and statistics but what tool can be used to measure and record the test results. However speed tests do not show date and time so are of limited value when making a complaint.

The Which? Broadband speed test from my location on first pass never completes the upload speed. It may crash because there is no server available to run the test. When complete no date and time and no method to save, only screen capture save for records.

There needs to be a certified broadband speed test tool that providers have to accept the results of when a complaint is made. It would require a save to pdf feature.

Where and how do the 4% statistics for those not getting less than 10Mbps derived from? If only 4% are not getting the minimum rate that should be simple to fix. No Hope.

I get on average 5 Mbps download, 0.3 Mbps upload and latency of 250ms from the which tester. Using the BT tester it only ever get a download speed and no other data, so is of low value when reporting a problem.

FTTP or FFTC is only a dream, but there is tons of fibre cable running passed my front door but never stops in our community. Exchange 2 miles away.

What does not often get raised in the online feedback is the number of ‘notspots’ in dense urban areas. These are streets and sometimes individual cabinets which will not be upgraded to Fibre Broadband by Openreach (BT) by their choice. I contacted BT Openreach in 2015 to clarify the position. They advised me that they would not be upgrading the cabinet in my street because ‘there were not enough houses in my street to make the upgrade make financial sense’. However, they said, I could pay for an upgrade costing approximately £20,000 which I could share with my neighbours – perhaps.

I contacted my local MP (Richard Burden – Northfield) and he advised me that he had many ‘notspots’ in his constituency. He did have a meeting with BT representatives to complain about BT’s policy of being selective where they roll out fibre broadband but no progress was made.

The only conclusion I can come to is that BT Openreach only upgrade to Fibre Broadband where they have enough BT customers serving that particular cabinet. In support of this conclusion there are streets within a few hundred yards of our street that have been upgraded. If a street is mainly served by other providers, Talk Talk etc, they do not upgrade.

In my view Ofcom is a very weak regulator and should insist that BT, who have an effective monopoly in the rollout of Broadband, should be legally required to complete the Fibre Broadband rollout without selecting only those streets who have a high proportion of BT customers.

I wish the Which? Campaign well but please don’t forget that it is not only rural areas that experience an extremely poor service from BT Openreach. Large cities are very poorly served as well.

I agree that Ofcom is a very weak/poor regulator.

I think one of the problems for the Regulator is that, if they push too hard, BT etc will just throw in the towel and hand back their operating licence – or just go down on their hindquarters and do nothing. This would mean the government would end up having to run the entire telecoms network which it is absolutely terrified of having to do. So a combination of carrot and stick is being deployed with the objective being to keep telecoms in the private sector.

D’you think that would happen, John?

Hopefully not, Ian, but, so far as I am aware, there is nothing to stop them. There is certainly a game of brinkmanship going on which could lead to another Railtrack moment.

The government is dissatisfied with BT’s progress [through Openreach] with rolling out superfast broadband; it has already forced BT to make the Openreach subsidiary a separate legal entity but other service providers are putting pressure on for a complete break-up with the separation of Openreach from BT and its divestment with a share sale of the whole or parts on the open market. This would dramatically change the landscape and require the government to impose some sort of coordinating control over the telecoms infrastructure if only for national security and other strategic considerations. BT is protesting against any such move and saying it is unnecessary since they are now making good progress. The government is waving this big stick at BT but hopes it will not have to use it.

The government was also driven to impose the 10 mbps Universal Service Obligation on service providers, which BT objected to because it said it was unnecessary. Providers other than BT were threatening legal action if there were not some underlying threshold to justify their investment in additional services to be delivered by fibre. Ofcom decided that without a contractual requirement through the USO there was too much uncertainty, hence the recent announcement.

With three years now to go it is conceivable that we will have superfast [10 mbps minimum] broadband available for 95% of premises by December 2020, or a shortfall by so little and so diverse that it would be hard to penalise the company. I sense there is a lot going on out of sight with infrastructure enhancement and that one day a key will be pressed that unleashes higher speeds for most if not all. That could just be wishful thinking, of course. As in any game of brinkmanship, it depends on who blinks first.

See last post – For those who don’t know Northfield it is in Birmingham.

Ours is reasonably fast- the boys watch TV and films on it but- it will keep dropping out and it never did or at least didn’t as often when we were on O2

Vincent Grant says:
22 December 2017

We are about 1.5km from a fibre enabled BT box and are then connected by overhead copper wire.The best speed achieved is 5mps, and it is often < 2mps. I often wonder what (… if anything !) I am paying for ?
It is very difficult to find out from BT if & when our property will receive proper broadband, and I suspect that rural properties in mid-Wales, like ours, will be at the back of the queue.

J.Charnock says:
22 December 2017

Despite this apparent victory it seems there are (as you would expect) get-out clauses which will mean that unprofitable extensions to remote areas will be exempt. Also, whilst BT are crying for extra cash they think that the public have forgotten that the EU and UK government both provided them with zillions of it a few years ago – no doubt it found its way into other channels !!. With a download speed of around 0.3 mbps and frequent drop outs I’m not holding my breath for an improvement any time soon – if ever, with BT !!

Keith says:
22 December 2017

It is not just about speed. An increase in speed helps. However in most case you are contending with at least 50 other people for the bandwidth in the equipment at the exchange. Poor broadband experience is a direct result of lack of investment from BT over decades.

We live in a semi rural village & around the corner they have super fast, we dont!

Our contract says 30Mb/s, but we sometimes get 18Mb/s. Apart from the fact that we rarely get more than half the speed we apparently pay for, the main problem is that it is so unreliable. Sometimes Download speed is good, but the speed checkers record a zero upload speed. At others we go from 15Mb/s to zero download speed in a millisecond and it stays there for a few seconds, by which time any website we are communicating with times out, (and we loose data that might have taken an hour to type in) and then if jumps up to speed again, meaning that BT say they saw the break, but couldn’t diagnose it. Open reach know what it is, but only do temporary repairs in the cabinet. But it takes so long going through BTs idiotic call centre that we lose hours, and the Open Reach repair doesn’t happen for a week or more. Broadband is more trouble than it is worth, but everyone else demands that we use it. This is so unfair.

So long as profit is their only driver broadband speeds will never get out of the gutter. South Korea 1000mbps! How are we expected to compete? Not much different from the railways is it? China running maglev trains at very high speeds while HS2 is aiming for 125mph. If it wasn’t so serious it would be a joke. Actual received speeds should be recorded continuously and payment made on that basis. That would ensure a more focused approach. Timelines need to be set out by Government and failure to achieve rewarded with multi million £ fines. As things are the whole board of BT need to face unemployment and to become unemployable as senior strategists in any other business. They are woefully out of their depth.

What I still find baffling whenever we have a Conversation about broadband speeds – and there have been many – is that official pronouncements about available speeds seem to contradict the evidence coming in from hundreds of commenters on this site. In very many parts of the country, including in well-populated parts of the country, the reported speeds are inadequate even for modest use, especially at times of peak traffic. So where is it all going wrong?

I have a feeling that one day – in December 2020 perhaps – Ofcom will stand up and say “We’ve done it – 95% of the homes in the UK have access to superfast [10Mbps] broadband as a minimum” and people throughout the length and breadth of the land will shout back “Oh no you haven’t – we’re still only able to get 5% on a good day”.

It is a great pity that at the outset of these discussions Which? did not ask posters to give a general location of their home so we could see if there were any particular problem areas or parts of the country where the roll-out of superfast broadband has hit a road block.

Streaming video is always going to be a problem, but some websites provide huge files that users are invited to download. When I set up my first website my mentor urged me to keep files as small as possible. Several years ago I complained twice about a map that was 20MB when it could have been a fraction of the size.

I look back fondly to playing chess against a BBC Micro. It was amazing how it was possible to shoehorn a chess program into 32kB RAM. In these days it was necessary to be efficient because of hardware limitations. A little thought could make life easier for those who have to struggle with poor broadband.

For Android, the Puffin Browser attempts to help counter slow broadband by doing more work “upstream” in the cloud. I’ve tried it with mixed results, but when it does work, it does speed things up noticeably.

Streaming video is always going to be a problem“. Quite so, but our politicians seem to be having a bigger problem with ‘steaming videos’ on their office PC’s. At least, so say the police.

The good news is that. despite appalling broadband services being reported by most people coming to this Conversation they have been able to upload their experiences for us all to consider. For some it might have taken a long time so we should be especially grateful.

Vivien says:
23 December 2017

I think it is extremely unfair that people who have minimal speeds pay the same as others with a good connection. I am now relatively happy as fibre connection has become available but for three years was struggling with a speed about 1Mbps. Friends and businesses in rural Wales are still struggling with these minimum speeds with no apparent prospect of any improvement. Those in cities especially London have no idea of the pathetic speeds we have to deal with