The Digital Britain Report.

So the Digital Britain report is out – a review of ‘digital’ services across the UK and how we can improve Britain’s take-up of these to make us a more competitive country in the world economy, led not by private businesses, but by the government.  Whilst its good to see, countries around the world have been addressing this for years, so its a shame that only now in 2009 that the politicians are waking up to technology.

The recommendations from the report will lead to a real shakeup of some services, potentially affecting the entire population, whether they like it or not.   The full report is HERE but I’ve summed up some of the points:-

    1. universal access to broadband by 2012, fund to invest in next generation broadband and liberalisation of 3G spectrum – government is keen to get the entire populous ‘online’ with at least a 2mb connection within 3 years.  To do this, they’re looking at having a 50p per month tax on each fixed phone line connection.  Our leaders are hoping that Rural area’s will be able to take advantage of 3G networks to supply the 2mb pipe they’re so keen push.  Which is great, but people don’t want Mobile pylons sprouting up across the country, so they’re going to need to address this.  In addition to this, the roll out of fibre to the cabinet by BT to bring upto 40mb/s to 50% of the population.  Virgin media are already working on 50mbps for their network, but many countries are already at 100mbps, and some looking at 1Gbps.  Too little, too late I think
    2. digital radio upgrade by 2015 – They’re talking of scrapping the FM and AM bands for national broadcasters, something which is going to upset a LOT of people, especially when the solution is the somewhat average DAB standard.  The FM frequencies will be made available to local broadcasters only as a temporary measure, presumably so that they can eventually be sold off for other services.   So, anyone like me who tends to buy 5-6 year old cars, don’t be expecting to be able to listen to the likes of the BBC Radio network when they switch it off, at least not without laying down a wedge to upgrade your radio to a DAB standard.  Most people are perfectly happy with FM and don’t see the benefit of DAB which is why, despite must protestation to the opposite,  Digital radio’s arn’t flying off the shelves.
    3. consultation on how to fund local, national and regional news, support for public service content partnerships – Discussions are already underway in allowing the BBC and ITV to share newsrooms in the regions – why bother sending two sets of journalists and AV people to report on a story, when often they capture the same information.  This could be an interesting approach and I’m all for it, provided that producers and directors within each broadcast agency are able to maintain their independence and take their own approach to reporting. 
    4. changed role for Channel 4 – Discussions have been ongoing to merge Channel 4 with BBC World, the commercial arm of Auntie Beeb.  The report hints at ruling this out, but allowing regulatory change such as to allow for a different focus and allowing C4 to compete with other corporate broadcasters.
    5. three year plan to boost digital participation – The BBC will be forced to take a slice of licence fee revenue (£200 million) to encourage the whole population to move to and embrace digital technology.  One interesting note from the report is that 3% of the populous surveyed by Ipsos Mori had never heard of the Internet.  Also 42% of people without internet access was due to self exclusion, with 37% of those saying that the Internet was of no interest.
    6. legal and regulatory attack on digital piracy – The Government are proposing to review copyright legislation and giving more power to Ofcom and ISP’s to first try and dissuade illegal downloading of copyright material by reducing access, before implementing criminal law for those hardcore downloader’s who cease and desist. Whilst this may go some way to addressing the issue, I personally believe that offering content at a lower cost and in a fair way (for example allowing the backup of physical medium for personal use) are the keys to reducing piracy on the Internet sea’s.

All in all, there’s nothing unexpected in the report, but there are some excellent idea’s & suggestions which act as good guidance.  The stone has been dropped into the mill pond, and I expect the ripples to radiate for some time.  However, there are some extremely contentious issues (especially in relation to the Radio) which I believe will cause a great amount of upset.  And the ‘rose tinted view’ of an all embracing digital UK will simply not live up to the expectations set out in this report. I hope they do, but I occasionally visit the real world to check on the state of things.