April 8, 2010 / 1:33 PM / 9 years ago

UK phone tax, regional news plans dropped from bill

* Lower house passes Digital Economy bill without some items

* Fixed-line tax to pay for superfast broadband dropped

* Item on selecting regional news providers removed

* Penalties for downloaders infringing copyright law kept

LONDON, April 8 (Reuters) - An unpopular plan to tax British fixed-line phone users to help roll-out a high-speed broadband network and other controversial proposals have been dropped in the final push to get the Digital Economy bill passed into law.

Parliament’s lower house passed the overall bill late on Wednesday night despite protests from some members, after certain elements were stripped out in the final negotiations.

The most high profile aspect of the proposed legislation — to disconnect or slow down the Web access of people who repeatedly infringe copyright law — was left in the bill, which is likely to become law within days.

Under the terms in the bill, Internet providers will have to send warning letters to any users who are illegally downloading content, such as music and films. Repeat offenders could then have their Internet connections slowed down or blocked.

The proposals were drawn up as part of the Digital Britain report, which gave a range of suggestions to help the media and telecoms industry move into the digital age.

Digital Britain minister Stephen Timms told parliament the measures were a “proportionate” and “appropriate” method of tackling online piracy.

Some items in the bill were removed due to opposition from lawmakers of all parties.

A plan by the government to charge 50 pence ($0.76) a month on all copper lines to fund superfast connections in more rural areas was one of the proposals that was cut.

In addition, a plan to take money from the publicly funded BBC broadcaster to fund the creation of regional news for commercial broadcaster ITV (ITV.L) appeared to have been halted, with the withdrawal of an item allowing the media regulator to appoint the news providers.

Lawmakers also removed an item allowing orphan works — copyrighted works whose authors cannot be found — to be reused. Photographers had strongly criticised the proposal.

“This was never just a matter of money, but whose creative work photographs are, and the respect due to photographers,” said the Copyright Action group, which fought the proposal.

The bill will now be sent to parliament’s upper house for approval and could be signed into law in the next couple of days, before parliament breaks up ahead of elections next month. (Reporting by Kate Holton; editing by Karen Foster)

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