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Digital Britain: Interim Government Report Gets Mixed Reception

Filed under: All Articles > Industry News
By: NMK Created on: February 2nd, 2009
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Lord Carter unveiled his interim report into Digital Britain last week. New Media Knowledge caught up with some major players for their take and got mixed reviews. 

‘Digital Britain’ promises at least 2 Megabits per second (Mbps) broadband to every UK home by 2012, aims to tackle Internet security and also looks to outline the future of public sector broadcasting.

For Prime Minister Gordon Brown, the UK’s digital capacity is crucial for the country to haul itself out of recession.

“We know that every aspect of our lives in local communities – every school, every hospital, every workplace and even every home – will be dependant on the services that the digital network provides,” he said.

Band on the Run

A cornerstone of the report is the aim to deliver 2Mbps broadband to every home by 2012 and we should know by the final report’s delivery this summer whether Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will be in a position to build the capability required or whether Government aid will be required in addition.

For Shadow Culture Minister Jeremy Hunt 2Mbps broadband lacks ambition.

“In France and Germany they are laying fibre, in Japan they already have it. In Britain the average broadband speed is 3.6Mbps so what [Culture Secretary Andy Burnham] is talking about is getting half the current speed,” he told BBC News. “We’re the second largest exporter of music and television and third for film. But when it comes to the distribution of digital content, we’re lagging.”

His sentiments were echoed by Paul English of digital agency Brand Advocate.

“2Mbps broadband for everyone by 2012, except by 2012, 2Mbps won't be considered broadband anymore and will preclude most of the British population from being able to enjoy the new products, services, experiences and resources that are coming with fibre," he said.

What’s in it for the network builders, anyhow? Michael Downs of network services provider Telindus believes a balance needs to be struck so that ISPs are rewarded by content generators for making the infrastructure required to carry new services available to consumers and business.

“ISPs are stuck between a rock and hard place,” he told NMK. “They are seen as being in the position of responsibility when it comes to providing an Internet service but are also under pressure from consumers to provide an online experience worthy of payment. There is also no structure in place for them to derive monetary value from the applications and content demanded by consumers, in spite of the fact their infrastructure is used as a transport platform.”

The Dark Side

Culture Secretary Andy Burnham said the Government would be looking into the creation of a new digital rights agency and he would also push for legislation requiring ISPs to liaise directly with illegal file-sharers over their activities.

Adam Morallee, a solicitor at law firm Mishcon de Reya, believes it remains to be seen how the interim report’s proposal to make infringer details available to rights owners on production of a court order will be implemented.

“I hope that these measures are implemented in such a way that it makes it much more straightforward for victims of such intellectual property (IP) theft to obtain the information easily, without having to spend thousands of pounds on obtaining Court Orders,” he said. “In particular, a system could be put in place to allow release of the information by an ISP after, say, the agency's legal department had considered written submissions from a rights owner's legal representative. Such a procedure would save rights owners significant time and cost, whilst still ensuring that disclosures were only made in appropriate circumstances."

Tamara Littleton, CEO of content moderation firm eModeration, also wants more clarity in the final report into protecting children from accessing potentially harmful content online.

“I am very optimistic about the interim report as a starting point,” she said. “For it to be meaningful, it must include very clear actions and responsibilities, and detail how its recommendations will work practically.”

The Emergence of Convergence

The future of television and radio was also under discussion in the interim report, including the future of Channel 4, potentially within the BBC. Burnham also said that digital audio broadcast (DAB) radio would be the “primary distribution network”, meaning radio could be heading the same way as TV, with an analogue switch-off for the FM band.

Nick Stringer, head of regulatory affairs at the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) was upbeat in his blog about the prospects for the UK’s digital economy, especially given the report states that the country has the highest proportion of Internet advertising than any developed economy.

Stringer wrote: “Among the 22 recommendations within the 86-page interim report is an action to ‘examine measures needed to address the challenges for digital content, including opportunities for providing further support to foster UK creative ambition and alternative funding mechanisms to advertising revenues’. Online will soon be the largest advertising medium in the UK. It pays for free content and services from search engines to social networks. It’s no surprise that the Government believes that a ‘successful Britain is a digital Britain’, playing a vital role in dragging the economy out of recession. However, given this and our world-beating position in online advertising, it seems slightly bizarre that it remains to be convinced as to whether advertising is the right model for the digital age. Nevertheless, the point of an interim report is for discussion and debate. Clearly there’s plenty of this to do.”

The final report is expected in the summer.

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