This year’s Queen’s Speech saw Covid rules deny Her Majesty The Queen the luxury of her usual horse-drawn carriage and guard of honour. The Queen instead had to settle for a Bentley state limousine on her way to a masked Parliament. Set out below are some considerations from the Queen’s Speech for clients and lawyers who work in the telecommunications and digital sectors. See the full Lexis Nexis article for further details. 

What were the key telecommunications announcements?

1. Telecommunications (Security) Bill: the Bill amends the Communications Act 2003 and is intended to:

  • establish a telecommunications security framework to provide more secure and resilient public networks and services;
  • introduce new security duties on public telecommunications providers;
  • increase Ofcom’s regulatory powers to enforce the new security framework with fines of up to 10% of turnover or £100,000 a day for failing to meet the required standards; and
  • provide new national security powers for the government in relation to public communications providers’ use of designated vendors’ (such as Huawei’s) goods and services.

5G and full fibre networks may avoid Kevin Bacon’s 2014 ‘buffer face’ but the technical characteristics of these developments create security challenges on an international scale which the government is keen to prevent. It will be interesting to see if the proposed security framework can thwart the feared espionage, sabotage and destructive or disruptive cyber‐attacks on the UK’s network.

2. Project Gigabit: This £5billion project follows the government’s promise to bring “full fibre and gigabit-capable broadband to every home and business across the UK.” Phase One will see a target of 85 gigabit-capable coverage by 2025 and an assessment of how to reach remote and isolated locations. This is an improvement from the 9% coverage of last year but still a shortfall of 15% compared with the Conservative’s 2019 manifesto.

It is hoped that the shift to “lightening-fast, reliable broadband” (which is already accessible to 11 million homes and businesses in the UK) and the extended 5G coverage will bring cutting edge connectivity and opportunities for business, technology, healthcare, education and more. Many businesses are responding to these developments by refreshing their communications infrastructure and contracts with telecommunications providers to access the advantages of speed, reliability and increased network security in this ever-increasingly agile and dynamic world.

3. AOB:

  • Providers and retailers of smart consumer products will also need to ensure compliance with the enhanced product security requirements and point of sale information to be introduced by the Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill.
  • The government intends to complete a strategic review of public service broadcasting and has appointed a public service broadcasting advisory panel to carry out this review; and
  • Criminal liability for TV licence evasion is under review.

What were the key digital announcements?

1. Online Safety Bill: Ofcom and the government are working to implement this unpublished and much-delayed Bill as quickly as possible. The Bill is anticipated to require applicable companies to prevent the proliferation of illegal content and activity on their platforms, amongst aims to protect children from online abuse and harms and to protect the most vulnerable from accessing harmful content.

It remains to be seen what the sanction for non-compliance will be but it is anticipated that Ofcom’s enforcement powers will include very large fines of up to £18 million or 10% of annual global turnover, whichever is greater, as well as business disruption measures. Applicable companies will need to act quickly to ensure compliance once the preventative measure are in force.

2. Artificial Intelligence: The government will publish an artificial intelligence (AI) strategy this year. The strategy will, amongst other things, focus on the growth of the economy through widespread use of AI technologies, with the aim of making the UK one of the best places in the world to live with, work with and develop AI. The government’s AI Roadmap published earlier this year set out three pillars of focus:

  • Research, Development & Innovation;
  • Skills & Diversity, and Data, Infrastructure & Public Trust; and
  • Specific measures to support adoption and the key areas of health, climate and defence.

The government anticipates AI can contribute a 10% increase in the UK’s GDP by 2030. Thanks to AI enabled products such as Cia®, digital disrupters in the legal sector have already enabled savvy in-house lawyers in 2021 to perform contract reviews quicker than you can make a cuppa. The big questions will be: what is next; and how can the government’s strategy promote change whilst balancing ethics, security, accountability, transparency and social impact?