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Drones, driverless cars and fast broadband: the key points of the Queen's Speech

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Westminster has come together for one of its most high profile traditions: the State Opening of Parliament, in which the Queen visits the House of Lords and reads a short speech (written by the government) explaining what major bills her government intends to try and pass in the next year.

It's very serious, as all of the proposed laws could have a huge impact on British society - but also faintly ludicrous because the speech is delivered like a live-action role-play, with the Queen on a Gold Throne wearing a massive crown and the Lords wearing their best tights.

From self-driving cars to drones to broadband, several plans were put forward that should keep the UK to the the forefront technology. Here's all you need to know.

Fast broadband and porn blocks

Amazingly, there's still a small chunk of the country that can't get a broadband internet connection. Typically living in the rural areas, the government now wants to ensure the "final 5%" can get connected.

In the speech the Queen said, "Measures will be brought forward to create the right for every household to access high speed broadband", adding that "Legislation will be introduced to improve Britain's competitiveness and make the United Kingdom a world leader in the digital economy."

This appears to be a reference to the proposed Digital Economy Bill which sets out a number of measures including previously announced plans to turn broadband into a "universal service obligation". That means ISPs will be required to make sure their service will reach even the furthest afield customers, just like with electricity, water and landline telephones.

Of course, how fast "high speed broadband" is in the government's mind remains to be seen. This number was previously pegged at 10mbps - but by the time the legislation goes into effect, it might already be too slow (experts have called for a minimum of 19mbps - which still seems rather slow to us).

There are also currently still questions over exactly how it will be paid for. It'll be interesting to see if the government offers subsidies to companies so they can lay down some fibre, as well as whether the requirements will be for wired connections with the rest of the world, or whether 4G will do.


The bill also wants to cut down the cost of installing mobile phone masts and other infrastructure, and will enable consumers to claim compensation when their connection goes down. It also plans to enforce a law requiring porn websites to require age verification to access.

Additionally, the bill will enable Ofcom to release data "in the interests of the consumer and competition", such as reports on broadband speeds - which should hopefully keep ISPs on their toes. Switching provider should also be easier too as the bill includes previously announced plans to make providers coordinate the switching more themselves, which should hopefully make transitioning more seamless (like switching electricity provider, perhaps).

It may not be all good news though, as the Open Rights Group have warned that the bill also includes measures that could see internet piracy punishable by up to ten years in jail. Jim Killock, the group's Executive Director said of the plans that "Proposals to make online copyright infringement punishable by ten years in jail risk punishing people who share files more harshly than ordinary, physical theft.

There was considerable opposition to this when the Government carried out a consultation. We need to see how the government proposes to draw the line between civil and criminal infringement. The threat of criminal sanctions can easily be abused if this is not clear."

Prisoner GPS tracking

One of the big announcements that will be dominating the mainstream headlines is the planned shake-up of the prison system. But what's most interesting to us is that today the government has also announced that 8 police forces will be trialling GPS of offenders.

They'll be given (well, forced to wear, we guess) ankle bracelets that will keep the police updated on their location. The pilot will begin in September, in Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, Staffordshire, West Midlands, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northampton.

Drones and driverless cars

"My ministers will ensure the United Kingdom is at the forefront of technology for new forms of transport, including autonomous and electric vehicles", the Queen announced, which lines up with the proposed Modern Transport Bill.

This law looks set to put the, ahem, wheels in motion, to enable wider usage of autonomous vehicles, like those that are currently being tested at numerous sites around the country (including Greenwich, Milton Keynes, Coventry, Bristol - and the most northerly stretch of the M6).

Google car

The news was clearly pre-briefed ahead of the Queen's Speech, as a number of outlets are quoting Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin as saying, "If we want to propel Britain's economy into the modern age, and generate the jobs that will come with it, it is vital that the right rules are in place to allow new transportation to flourish."

Though the Queen didn't mention it specifically, background notes show that the bill plans to regulate drones for the first time. It isn't clear what exactly that will entail, but it is highly possible that it'll introduce a registration system similar to the one recently launched in the US, which requires drone owners to register their drone using an app, and then display their registration number clearly on their drone.

However, there are questions over how effective this method could be.

The Civil Aviation Authority has previously said that it is planning a consultation on this for later this year. Presumably we could also conceivably see the rules tightened on where you can fly, or even the statutory backing of a drone air traffic control system of some sort, if the bill is sufficiently forward thinking (there have already been a number of proposals for how it could work, advocated by the likes of Amazon).

More concretely, the Modern Transport Bill also includes plans for a UK spaceport in Newquay with the first flights planned to take off in 2020. We'll believe it when we see it.

Investigatory Powers Bill

And finally, it seems that the government sadly isn't giving up on its attempt to explicitly legalise the sorts of draconian mass surveillance Edward Snowden warned us about, as in the next Parliamentary session it plans to continue the push to turn the Investigatory Powers Bill into law.

The Queen said, "My government will continue with legislation to modernise the law governing the use and oversight of investigatory powers by law enforcement, security and intelligence agencies."

If the law passes, the government will continue to record all of our internet activity - and will have legal mechanisms through which to access and use the data. As a sop to those worried that the laws are too draconian, the bill will also create an "Investigatory Powers Commissioner", whose job it will be to oversee how the powers are used.


Since the bill was first announced it has been opposed by civil liberties and rights organisations, including a coalition called Don't Spy On Us, which recently launched a poster campaign arguing that the plans in Britain could give dangerous ideas to dictators like Vladimir Putin.

It seems fairly likely that such measures will pass anyway, as during the first reading in the House of Commons it was only opposed by the Liberal Democrats' 8 meagre MPs - with both Labour and the Scottish National Party abstaining.