Digital Economy Bill: UK targets adult sites, online piracy

Ed Vaizey

Ed Vaizey

The UK government has proposed a new law that will age-restrict adult sites, increase sentences for online piracy and make fast broadband a legal right.

The Digital Economy Bill, which was introduced this week, says that adult sites should introduce age restrictions that will stop those aged under-18 from accessing pornography – or risk being fined up to either £250,000 or 5% of their turnover.

In terms of copyright, the bill proposes increasing the sentencing options for people who infringe copyright laws online, bringing sentences into line with the current penalties available for ‘physical infringement’.

The bill will also pave the way for the introduction of a new ‘Broadband Universal Service Obligation’ – giving all UK homes and businesses the legal right to have a fast connection installed if they request it.

The government aims for the speed to be set at 10 Mbps initially, with the bill also giving power to Ofcom to review the speed over time to make sure it is “still sufficient for modern life”.

Other powers proposed in the bill include: the enforcement of penalties against spam emailers and nuisance callers; the ability for communication providers to install equipment “more efficiently, and with fewer regulatory hurdles”; and the option for customers to switch multiplay operators with ease and receive compensation when “things go wrong”.

It will also introduce the government’s plan to offer a BBC licence fee concession for those aged over 65.

“We want the UK to be a place where technology ceaselessly transforms the economy, society and government,” said digital economy minister, Ed Vaizey.

“The UK has always been at the forefront of technological change, and the measures in the Digital Economy Bill provide the necessary framework to make sure we remain world leaders.”

The bill was introduced to the House of Commons and had its first reading this week. MPs will next consider the bill at its second reading, which will take place at an as-yet unannounced date.

The government said it expects the bill to complete its passage through the Commons and move to the House of Lords in Autumn 2016, subject to parliamentary timetabling. It said that Royal Assent – of formal approval – of the bill or is expected in spring 2017.