Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Digital Britain?

Digital Britain?
2000 - 2005 - 2010 - 2012 - 2020

From the copper cage,
to Maxwell's Rainbow?

Digital Rights?
Inspecting the packets.

Or, don't tax the copper,
incentivize the fibre?


Building Britain's Future - New Industry, New Jobs

A strategic plan to invest in Britain's economic and industrial future was launched by the Government today

20 April 2009


  • a coherent strategy for making sure Britain has the modern infrastructure and networks, from energy to broadband, that will be the foundation of future prosperity

Monday 20 April 2009 | Building Britain’s Future – New Industry, New Jobs

The Prime Minister has launched a “strategic plan” to invest in Britain’s economic and industrial future.

3.31 Other important work in upgrading Britain’s infrastructure in the months ahead will include:
● the Government’s Digital Britain review, which will establish the framework for a fundamental transformation of our broadband infrastructure. The aim will be for virtually all of Britain’s homes and businesses to have access to high speed broadband within the next three years;

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Broadband for all

The report gives more details about how the government aims to provide universal access to a minimum 2Mb broadband connection, the so-called Universal Service Commitment. Part of the budget will come from money left over from the BBC's fund to help people switch to digital TV by 2012, with private partners and public sector bodies among other sources of funding.

An estimated 2.75m homes, about 11% of UK households, today have no access to a connection at this speed. The report says 1.5m households might get access to next-generation broadband as a result of the commitment. For Carter 2Mb was a "technological minimum wage". He adds: "We are not specifying a ceiling, we are specifying a floor."

Reaction Jeremy Hunt, the shadow culture secretary, welcomed the commitment to universal broadband, but said the report was a "digital dithering from a dated government".

Broadband tax

Landline users will pay £6 a year towards the rollout of superfast broadband, with the surplus from the BBC's digital switchover help scheme helping to meet the £200m annual cost of providing universal access.

The government wants everyone to be able to receive broadband of at least 2Mbps by 2012 as it puts more public services online. It is anxious that remote or underserved parts of the country are not left behind when "next generation" broadband is built.

A 50p a month charge on the UK's copper lines to help upgrade the fixed-line network, a project on which BT and Virgin Media have already embarked, will raise up to £175m a year to extend next-generation broadband to the "final third" of the country the market will not reach.

Carter acknowledges that the levy will hit consumers already feeling the pinch. "How will the public react? We will find out," he said. "Our view as a government is that it's a good exercise of judgment."

Reaction For the Tories, Hunt says: "The cable revolution happened without a cable tax. The satellite revolution happened without a satellite tax. Everyone recognises that public investment may be necessary to reach more remote parts of the country - but simply slapping on an extra tax is an old economy solution to a new economy problem."


Digital Britain: More fudge than foresight


Published: 16 Jun 2009 18:32 BST

If the economic events of the past 18 months have done much harm, they have also done some good.

The government now feels able to announce a tax-and-spend approach to funding the UK's next-generation broadband, with a 50p annual tax on fixed telephone lines going towards funding fast broadband for one-third of the country. While not the exuberant nationalisation we have proposed in the past, it's a solid and useful commitment towards universal service.

The rest of the report is another matter. Had the economy been kinder, we could perhaps have compared it to Woolworths Pick 'n' Mix. Broadband access is an essential right and a unrivalled conduit for learning, self-improvement and economic growth, yet the business ideas of the analogue generation are still to be allowed to squeeze that access in support of antiquated distribution and control.

"Digital" is the hero, but the heroics quoted — the web, the internet, digital music and video — would be nothing without the essential catalyst of open standards. But on this point, there is almost nothing said. Perhaps a word count give the strongest clue to Digital Britain's subconscious: in 245 pages, 'open standard' gets six hits, the same as "Microsoft". "Security" gets 69. Yet the speed advantages of next-generation broadband are illustrated by "an entire Star Wars DVD in three minutes" — illegal under any circumstances.

The overall tone of the report is of an earnest, with-it vicar, full of pious hopes and vague plans but desperately short of real engagement with the real world. Again, textual analysis helps. The verbs following the phrase "The government will..." are long on wishes, short on action: "signal", "consult", "enable", "pursue", "review", "support", "monitor", "expedite", "resolve", "facilitate", "encourage", "take account". We must be good and accept "free from" as well as "free to", or else Ofcom will write us a nasty letter — the modern, atheist equivalent of demonic possession.

As a collection of nice-enough ideas and right-direction guidance,Digital Britain holds up. As a solid plan of action, with proper milestones, testable commitments and a coherent vision, it falls down. As a revolutionary document, recognising the fundamental seachange in rights and responsibilities conferred by the biggest upset in intellectual affairs since literacy, it doesn't even twitch the meter.

Yet that may save us. This portmanteau puddingstone of indigestible bureaucracy leaves enough room for the true major driving force of Digital Britain to continue: our ability to take this stuff and do with it what we consider right. | Engaging with the internet | The Digital Britain report offers a lot to work with, says Bill Thompson.

[ and Digital Britain: Engaging with the Internet

Posted by bill under billblog ]


The report comes on a day when the importance of the internet and the services it supports has been drawn to the attention of the whole world.

The protests over the election results in Iran have depended on Facebook, YouTube and of course Twitter to get their message to the world, put pressure on their own government and organise their activities.

Just last week the French Constitutional Council of France halted the government's plans to give a new authority the ability to cut the network access of internet users accused of copyright violations because "the internet is a component of the freedom of expression".

In the UK the Prime Minister Gordon Brown wrote in the The Times today that "a fast internet connection is now seen by most of the public as an essential service, as indispensable as electricity, gas and water."

Locking content

The view of the network as a utility and as a tool for expression is a very different one from that put forward by the dominant players in the so-called 'content industry'.

Record companies, film studios, newspapers and the TV broadcasters have all lobbied hard for the UK government to shape its internet policy around their interests.

They want copyright laws to be strengthened so they can lock up any and all content. They want anyone who dares to challenge their business to be kicked offline, fined and locked up. They want a world in which they control what can happen.

Fortunately that pressure seems largely to have been resisted, and the real thrust of the proposals is about getting everyone online and ensuring that the network is there to be used in ways that support creative expression, new forms of industry and new models of engagement.


Networked world

A digital Britain is not one in which we are all sitting glued to our screens watching the same sort of television programming that we could have had on a cathode-ray set in the 1970's, downloading blockbuster movies or listening to more dull music made by rich popstars whose only real interest is their property portfolio.

It is one in which universal access allows us all to be fully-fledged citizens of a networked world that offers opportunities for creative expression and communication instead of the passive consumption of packaged content. There's a glimpse of that world through the Digital Britain report, and it is one that those of us who already live a networked life need to clarify, share and work to build. | Digital Britain Scorecard: So How Did Lord Carter Do? | Robert Andrews


—Super-fast broadband - 7/10: Despite focusing precious little in January on the next-generation networks that will truly accelerate UK connectivity speeds, Digital Britain has hit on a creative way to encourage telco investment in speedier infrastructure for the same people currently missing out on 2Mbps. Charging a £0.50 per month levy on the old, copper phone wires may be interpreted by some as a “tax”, but the telcos need incentives to make the investment and the proceeds could be bid for by any operator to part-subsidise their next-gen roll-out. With 17.3 million residential broadband lines in use at the end of 2008, this could generate over £103.8 million per year - but it will be much more by the time the fund is created in 2010.

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