Regulation of dynamic spectrum access services

Digital Economy Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:15 pm on 20th October 2016.

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Photo of Matthew Hancock Matthew Hancock Minister of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) (Digital Policy) 12:15 pm, 20th October 2016

I beg to move amendment 2, in clause 8, page 8, line 16, leave out “imposed” and insert “specified”.

This amendment reflects the fact that a notification under new section 53E of the Wireless Telegraphy Act 2006 will specify a penalty rather than imposing it.

With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendments 3 to 6.

Photo of Matthew Hancock Matthew Hancock Minister of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) (Digital Policy)

Amendments 2 to 6 are all technical amendments, to enable Ofcom to register dynamic spectrum access service providers and to set out what Ofcom can do where there is a contravention of the restrictions or conditions of registration.

Amendment 2 agreed to.

Amendments made: 3, in clause 8, page 8, line 19, at end insert—

‘( ) The amount of any other penalty specified under this section is to be such amount, not exceeding 10% of the relevant amount of gross revenue, as OFCOM think—

(a) appropriate, and

(b) proportionate to the contravention in respect of which it is imposed.”

This amendment ensures that the penalty based on the relevant amount of gross revenue applies only where the daily default penalty specified under new section 53F(4) of the Wireless Telegraphy Act 2006 does not apply.

Amendment 4, in clause 8, page 9, line 21, leave out subsection (1).

This amendment is consequential on amendment 3.

Amendment 5, in clause 8, page 9, line 25, leave out “this section” and insert “section 53F”.

This amendment is consequential on amendments 3 and 4.

Amendment 6, in clause 8, page 12, line 21, after “penalty” insert “specified”.—(Matt Hancock.)

This amendment brings new section 53L(5) of the Wireless Telegraphy Act 2006 into line with new section 53F(5) of that Act.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Louise Haigh Louise Haigh Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport) (Digital Economy)

As the Committee is aware, spectrum which covers the electromagnetic frequency range from 3 kHz to 3,000 GHz is a central ingredient of all forms of wireless technology. The Opposition agree that making better use of spectrum is obviously essential to facilitate the development of the UK’s digital communications infrastructure. This is a national asset and it is important that the Government are constantly reviewing the way in which we can make better use of spectrum, particularly white space, which are used parts of the allocated spectrum.

It is also clearly important for Ofcom to have the power to police—for want of a better word—spectrum and it is important that, for instance, mobile network operators are achieving the coverage set out in their licence. We therefore support the specification of financial penalties if coverage requirements are not satisfied.

However, we would like reassurance on two issues: first, that amendment 2 does not water down the penalties that Ofcom can impose. The explanatory notes are not entirely clear and at present it seems as if, rather than allowing Ofcom to impose a penalty if coverage requirements are not satisfied, it simply must have regard to a potential penalty. We would welcome clarity from the Minister on that point.

My second, wider point is that, in the aftermath of Britain’s exit from the European Union, it is important that we continue to maintain influence in the allocations and regulation of spectrum. As the Minister will know, at present the EU member states harmonise spectrum access conditions EU-wide to ensure an efficient use of radio spectrum. In cases where there are conflicts between different usages of spectrum, they establish policy priorities. This is especially important with new and emerging technology, where the EU will ensure that fair allocation and reallocation of frequencies is harmonised across the European Union. In the aftermath of our exit from the EU, we must continue to communicate effectively with our European partners, as a pan-European strategy will still be in our interest. Will the Minister ensure that he continues to work closely with those partners, particularly as our loss of influence is unlikely to be compensated by our involvement in international forums?

Photo of Matthew Hancock Matthew Hancock Minister of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) (Digital Policy)

I am very grateful for the Opposition’s support of the reforms to the way that spectrum is allocated. Spectrum is a finite asset and it is incredibly important that our digital communications, and especially wireless communications, increase so that we make best use of it. It is very good to see cross-party recognition of the importance of that management and that Ofcom play an excellent role in adjudicating on this.

I shall take the hon. Lady’s second specific question on the EU first. Of course we will continue discussions with neighbours about allocations. Ultimately, there are many spectrum frequencies that are dealt with on a global basis—for instance, those that are used in aviation. It is therefore important that we have international discussions, both in the EU and around the rest of the world. I can assure the hon. Lady that those discussions and that collaboration will continue. Indeed, some of it is going on as we speak.

On the hon. Lady’s first point about watering down the penalties, the way in which this is structured does not require a penalty, in case there are reasons not to have one, but allows for penalties. I think that gives Ofcom the necessary wiggle room, should it need it.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 8, as amended, accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 9