New grant scheme to improve access to faster broadband in Wales

Access Broadband Cymru, a new grant scheme designed to help individuals, businesses and communities in Wales access faster broadband is to open on 1st October.  The scheme will provide grants of up to £1,000 per premise in areas either not covered by the Superfast Cymru programme or where no date has been published for the roll-out of superfast broadband. Under the terms of the grant, a slow broadband connection is defined as any premise in Wales that can only receive a broadband connection with a consistent download speed of less than 2 Mbit/s.
To apply for funding or to find out whether premises are eligible for funding under the Access Broadband Cymru scheme, please visit www.wales.co.uk/broadband.

Government encourages take-up of Connection Voucher Scheme

The Government published a press release encouraging businesses in Manchester and Salford to make use of the Super Connected Cities Voucher scheme. The press release can be found here and the test phase of the scheme, which only applied to five cities, will end on 30th September. Other cities taking part in this initial stage are Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast. All the information businesses need to apply for the vouchers can be found here.

Government to look at broadband providers as part of cost of living reviews

The Government announced that it will launch two reviews aimed at helping people with spiralling living costs. One review will focus on how to improve the transparency and content of information presented to consumers about their bills. The other review will focus on how payments by installments can be made more widely available to stop people having no option but to pay heavy up-front bills for essential services.
The Government further announced a Telecoms Consumer Action Plan with the aim to ensure that consumers have the right information to get the best deals on phones, internet and other telecoms products. Consumer Affairs Minister Jo Swinson MP and Communications Minister Ed Vaizey MP will be working with industry and Ofcom to develop the Action Plan over the next nine months.

  • The Telecoms Consumer Action Plan will look at:
  • Making it easier to switch telecoms and broadband providers
  • Increasing the transparency in contracts
  • Ending "bill shock" - unexpectedly high mobile bills
  • Working to end roaming charges when using mobiles abroad
  • Ensuring the poorest in society can get the best deal so they can access communications services
  • Improving customer service to minimise frustration for consumers when things go wrong

We will update members as soon as more information about the initiative becomes available.

Parliamentary Questions

In answer to a number of questions on WiFi provision on buses and trains, the Northern Irish Government confirmed that they currently had no plans to roll out free WiFi in waiting areas at major bus and train stations, but that a paid service was currently provided by BT Openzone.

Ofcom CEO challenges communications industry to deliver on switching

Ed Richards, CEO of Ofcom, delivered a speech at the consumer conference, outlining the three key priorities of Ofcom’s consumer agenda:

  • Ensuring that consumers are empowered and have the skills, confidence, and information to make effective choices, and that barriers to switching are removed.
  • Protecting consumers from scams and unfair practices, and ensuring they are able to get effective redress when things go wrong.
  • Assisting citizens and consumers who are unable to participate or face barriers to participation, such as low income or disability.

With reference to broadband providers, he highlighted the importance of good, clear consumer information, including transparent price information that can be easily compared with that of other providers. He also emphasised the role Ofcom had played in developing rules on broadband migrations to make it easier to switch, and reducing Early Termination charges in fixed and broadband contracts.
He reinforced the importance of switching for driving economic growth and enabling the success of the industries Ofcom regulates. He praised the competitiveness of Britain’s communications market, but said that consumers can't take full advantage of the choices available to them, due to the difficulties of changing provider.
Richards outlined Ofcom’s new measures to harmonise all fixed voice and broadband switches to a single process where the gaining provider manages the transfer, but said that more still needed to be done. He closed his speech by challenging the industry to: “remove the remaining barriers to switching and, in doing so, deliver a system that enables consumers to fully take advantage of the competitive market that they are part of.”

Internet Safety

CEOP: Children forced into performing sex acts on webcam

The Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) centre has uncovered that a growing number of children are being forced into performing sex acts live on webcam by sexual abusers.
In the past two years, CEOP has been involved in 12 cases where offenders have been blackmailing children into performing sexual acts. In that same period, according to figures from police forces in the UK and abroad, 424 children have been a victim of online sexual blackmail, with 184 in the UK. CEOP says that of those victims, seven children seriously harmed themselves as a result – including six from the UK, one of whom killed themself.
The children are usually forced into performing these acts after the offender, who often initially pretends to be a child, threatens to share their naked pictures with friends and family unless they do as they are told.

Liberal Democrat Party Conference: Lib Dems vote to reject ‘opt in’ system for online pornography

On 15th September, the Liberal Democrat party conference overwhelmingly rejected a plan for internet providers to block online pornography unless web users "opt in".
Despite support from Liberal Democrat peer, Baroness Benjamin, the policy was defeated after some members called it "illiberal" and suggested the controls would not work. As a result, the plan will now be returned to the party’s Federal Policy Committee for redrafting, and must now pass a future vote to be included in the 2015 election manifesto.
The vote leaves the Liberal Democrats in disagreement with their coalition partners, the Conservatives, who want UK ISPs to impose "default" filters to block pornography.

Parliamentary Questions

In the Northern Irish Assembly, the government responded to a question on intended legislation around making cyber bullies and trolls liable for abetting grievous bodily harm, suicide, manslaughter and unlawful killing. The Northern Irish Government answered that current legislation, such as the Protection Against Harassment (NI) Order 1997, the Communications Act 2003 and the Computer Misuse Act 1990, already allows for prosecutions in relation to protecting people from online harassment or bullying and unauthorised access to computer material.  The Minister of Justice added that while England and Wales and Scotland had all recently created offences in relation to computer-based stalking, Northern Ireland had no plans to change its laws, but would be keeping developments in Great Britain under review.

Music industry welcomes launch of new intellectual property crime unit

BPI and IFPI, which represent the recorded music industry in the UK and internationally, have welcomed the launch by the City of London Police of a new unit dedicated to tackling intellectual property crime, with a special focus on offences committed online.
The Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU), which has received £2.56 million in funding over two years from the Intellectual Property Office, will be working to reduce the threat of online intellectual property crime. It will investigate and prosecute serious offenders, seize criminal assets and disrupt illegal online supply chains. The Unit will also focus on influencing online behaviour by site owners, service providers and consumers through education, prevention and enforcement activity.