Digital Economy Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:22 pm on 13th September 2016.

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Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak Conservative, Richmond (Yorks) 4:22 pm, 13th September 2016

My hon. Friend makes a valid point and I share that frustration, which my constituents have also brought to me.

There are further steps that the Government can take. I endorse here the comments of my hon. Friend Calum Kerr. The Government could suggest progress towards a model of independently owned infrastructure, such as is found in the United States. Independently owned masts are, on average, 10 metres taller. They can host multiple clients, unlike network-operated masts, so they reduce costs in the system, expand coverage and broaden access, and are a welcome development.

I urge the Government to look at the example in Australia where Vodafone and Telstra have combined to form a national roaming agreement, allowing network sharing in the country’s most remote regions. When the next spectrum licence auctions come along, we must ensure that coverage is paramount in the conditions. I concur with the comments by my hon. Friend the Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk: we should look at the example in Germany, where they use outside-in provisions to cover rural areas before moving to the dense, profitable urban areas.

The second part of the Bill that I want to mention is the slightly technical area of white space. It gives me great personal pleasure to talk about these clauses, for my brother-in-law, as a young PhD student in the United States, was one of the first people in the world to develop a working white space system, which allowed the transfer of data on this innovative new use of spectrum. White space refers to radio spectrum frequencies that have already been allocated to users but which are not always used. For example, digital terrestrial television signals use different frequencies in different parts of the country, so as not to interfere with one another, and that leaves an opportunity for a new generation of mobile devices to use that white space spectrum in particular parts of the country. That process is known as dynamic spectrum access.

Much as I criticise Ofcom in other areas, I would commend it for being incredibly farsighted and enabling the UK to be a leader in capitalising on this innovative new technology. It has set up several trials in the past few years.

The Bill will specifically allow Ofcom to register and regulate geolocation databases. Databases allow the new devices to query exactly what spectrum is being used in what area, and it is a practical and necessary step required to make white space devices much more widespread. White space spectrum is very powerful. It can travel hundreds of miles and through walls. For that reason, it is a technology that we must capitalise on, and I commend Ofcom and the Government for taking steps in that area. It will be of enormous benefit to my rural constituents.

In conclusion, as technology and innovation open up new frontiers and possibilities, it is the role of this House to ensure that every member of our society, rural or urban, can reap the rewards. The foundations laid by the Bill make that outcome a more realistic probability and I am delighted to support the Bill this evening.