Digital Economy Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:17 pm on 13th September 2016.

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Photo of Matthew Hancock Matthew Hancock Minister of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) (Digital Policy) 6:17 pm, 13th September 2016

My hon. Friend raises an important point. I see 10 megabits as the absolute minimum, but the definition of what has been advertised in the past for high-speed broadband is a really important issue. This is not an area of statutory regulation, because we do not have statutory regulation for advertising. The Advertising Standards Authority makes the rules. It is consulting on changing the so-called “up to” definitions in advertising to make sure that there is a tighter definition so that people get what is advertised. I think it is fair to say that, should that change go through—it is a non-statutory area—it would be widely supported across the House.

Fibre to new homes was raised by many Members, so let me give this answer. In January, it will become law that superfast broadband needs to be supplied to new homes. There is a commitment to provide fibre to sites with more than 100 new premises. This is a big step forward. Lots of people asked questions about it; secondary regulations went through; the reason it is not in the Bill is that we think we have made the progress needed to ensure that we deliver in this space.

Likewise, many people asked about agreements on landowners’ rights under the electronic communications code, which I agree is an incredibly important step forward. I pay particular tribute to my right hon. Friends the Members for Maldon and for Wantage for driving this through. The new code will be a baseline that removes a lot of the room for dispute. It will apply only to new contracts, but many if not most contracts and agreements for siting masts will remain on commercial terms. It will not be required to use the new code; the new code will be the baseline from which the negotiations can take place.

Let me touch on the Opposition Front-Bench contributions. I felt that the two Labour contributions were well informed and the agreement on the vision was very positive. I would like to react to a few points. Sadly, I thought there was a rather shrill position on data sharing, and I was slightly disappointed with it. Given that we have had two years of open policy making and a full public consultation, it was a bit of surprise to hear that the Labour Front-Bench team was not involved.

Chi Onwurah was wrong about the Communications Act 2003 when she said that measures build on Labour’s Act and that it was a pity that no progress has been made since 2003. Actually, this Bill builds on the Telecommunications Act 1984. The hon. Lady was also a bit muddled over the BBC. When she argued for more BBC spending power, I was not sure whether she wanted the licence fee to be put up. I think that making costs for phone masts lower is an important part of rolling out the infrastructure to make sure that we get as much coverage for 5G and 4G as possible. We can take up all these points in Committee.