A slimmed down Digital Economy Bill was last night approved by the House of Commons. In addition to controversial plans to clamp down on illegal file sharing, there was also an extension in power for the communications regulator Ofcom, though proposals to expand its remit to all media services were withdrawn by the government.
The bill, drawn from the Digital Britain report, is one of ten being rush through parliament before the election as part of the wash-up process. It was approved by a majority of 142 votes and will now pass to the House of Lords for final approval.
Ofcom will now have its reporting obligations extended to cover TV, radio, on demand services, and certain websites to show how they contribute to public service objectives. It has already agreed to jointly regulate VOD content with the industry body ATVOD.
To the delight of the music industry, Ofcom must now report on copyright infringements on a three-monthly basis. ISP subscribers who will initially receive a warning letter face having their accounts suspended if it can be shown that they downloaded content in breach of copyright. ISPs who fail to comply will themselves face fines of up to £250,000.
Restrictions on the franchise areas for Channel 3 (ITV) licences are being eased, allowing for a single licence holder for the whole of England or the whole of Scotland.
The initial expiry date for public teletext on ITV and Five has been moved to December 31, 2014. The line is something of a red herring given that there is no public teletext available following the handing back of its analogue licence by Teletext Limited.
One casualty of the wash-up process has been the review of listed sports events. No announcements are expected on changes to the so-called ‘crown jewels’ that must be broadcast on free-to-air channels. These include the controversial placing of The Ashes cricket series between England and Australia.