On 27 April 2017 the Digital Economy Bill received Royal Assent, becoming the Digital Economy Act 2017. The Act’s aims include (i) ensuring broadband access for everyone, (ii) improving infrastructure, and (iii) enabling better public services. The Act creates a new broadband universal service obligation (USO) to be implemented by way of a universal service order to be made by the Secretary of State. This obligation must give UK households the legal right to request a fast broadband connection of at least 10 megabits per second.
The Office of Communications (Ofcom)’s regulatory powers have also been increased. Under the Act, the regulator’s new powers include the power to:
(i) Specify requirements in relation to switching arrangements for end-users;
(ii) Require communications providers to compensate end-users for failure to meet a specified standard or obligation;
(iii) Prepare reports on electronic communications and networks matters. These powers supplement Ofcom’s existing requirement to produce infrastructure reports every three years;
(iv) Carry out and publish comparative overviews of the quality and prices of public electronic communications services; and
(v) Subject to certain conditions, require a communications provider to publish information it holds, or to provide this information to Ofcom to publish it.
The standard of review for appeals against Ofcom decisions has also been changed. Rather than being determined “on the merits”, the Competition Appeal Tribunal will be required to decide an appeal “by applying the same principles as a court would apply on an application for judicial review”. This standard will also apply to the determination of price control issues by the Competition and Markets Authority.