So, the Government has just released its Digital Britain green paper. It discusses a number of
different things that the Government wants to do for the future of Britain’s digital industry, ranging from telecoms, through radio, television, broadband and, as we discussed this morning, intellectual property.
It’s an interesting read. There’s some positive aspects, and some negative ones. Some bits of the report are very ambitious, but others show no ambition at all. I’ll go through each sector in order over the break.
This refers to cabling and wiring under the streets. The Government wants to make it easier for operators to get to these facilities, improving access to ducts and other primary infrastructure. They also want to investigate whether public incentives have a place in enabling the next round of broadband deployment, rather than just private companies running things for the market.
My view: Boring. Plenty of ‘we’ll consult on’ and not many decisions. Still, it’s good to hear that they’re listening to the market.
Modernisation is the name of the game, here. The Govenment wants to get operators off the old 2G network and onto 3G, so that they can reuse the old 2G space. 3, who doesn’t have much in the way of 2G spectrum, will be pleased that there’s a mention of “maintaining a competitive market” built into that.
There’s also talk of using a band of spectrum at 2.6GHz to expand the available 3G spectrum. The switch from analogue to digital television will free up some space that’ll be useful for next-generation mobile services.
Lastly, the Government wants to encourage sharing of networks, so that more of the country can be covered. This will rely on the operators being friendly with each other. They want mobile operators to be part of the Government’s push for broadband for everyone, meaning that operators with signal in more remote areas will likely be asked to share it.
My view: Nothing bad here, just progress. I’d worry that people with non-3G phones will be hit hard by a switch away from 2G, but realistically that’s a rapidly-shrinking segment of the market and there’ll be at least some 2G spectrum available for years to come.
Network sharing is a no-brainer, but remarkably it still seems like a rather idealistic goal. Although we have situations like 3 leasing network off Orange, it’s not widespread among the larger operators. It remains to be seen whether the Government has the clout to enforce this.
Short one, this, meaning that the government’s pretty happy with how things are going. They’ve only got two action points here – firstly providing a return path for the Digital Television Switchover Help Scheme, and secondly looking into whether they could plug the promote the benefits of one form of digital transition using funds set aside for other digital transitions.
My view: Well, the first action point likely will only apply to a handful of people living in the most remote parts of the country that get analogue signal, but not digital. The second one is more interesting – could funds set aside for educating people about the digital TV switchover be used to plug DAB?
A much trickier task than digital TV because DAB growth is slowing. The Governement isn’t committing to anything here. Although they’re making a “clear statement of Government and policy commitment” to DAB, they’re also not going to do anything about a switchover from analogue until 50% of the population is using DAB, it’s available to 90% of the population, and national DAB coverage is comparable to FM coverage.
Then there’s a few baby steps towards those goals. they’re going to talk to the BBC about extending its DAB coverage to match its FM coverage. They’re going to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of the move to digital from analogue. And they’re going to do some research into the impacts on local radio services.
My view: Wow. This is essentially saying “sod DAB”. The three goals they’ve set are way off on the horizon. They certainly won’t be coming true soon, unless something totally unexpected happens. In the meantime, the availability of internet radio continues to grow and grow, and in conjunction with governments recommendation of 2MBps broadband for all, it’s easy to see which of DAB and Internet Radio has the rosier future.
This is where things start to get a bit contentious. The UK’s creative industries have an annual production activity of nearly £6 billion, and is equivalent in scale to the financial services industry. The UK, apparently, is the world’s biggest exporter of ‘cultural goods’.
My criticism this morning of the rumoured plans was that the government seemed to be propping up outdated business models, and it’s almost as if someone read it and added the following sentence to the report:
“The role for regulation or intervention is not to prevent the emergence of new business models or to preserve old and unsustainable ones. It is to contribute constructively to the transition.”
Later, the report reads:
“Counter-piracy measures and effective rights enforcement are an important element, but only one element and insufficient on their own: new methods of legitimate access, based on new business models and incentive structures will be crucial.”
Both of those are positive statements, that latter very much so. To that end, the report promises to look at the sector in much greater detail, especially concentrating on helping the industry develop revenue streams. That’s great. Further greatness resides in the following paragraph:
In the new digital world, the ability to share content legally, becomes ever more important and necessary. Traditional mechanisms to identify rights-holders and acquire legal consent to share often need radical updating to meet the near-instant demands of this new world.
There is a clear and unambiguous distinction between the legal and illegal sharing of content which we must urgently address. But, we need to do so in a way that recognises that when there is very widespread behaviour and social acceptability of such behaviour that is at odds with the rules, then the rules, the business models that the rules have underpinned and the behaviour itself may all need to change.
The quango that I discussed this morning will have a slightly, but importantly, different role to that which was rumoured. It’s not simply there to enforce copyright, it’ll be more like a place where the above dream can become a reality.
Lastly, the government intends to legislate that ISPs have to notify alleged infringers that they’re breaking the law, and collect personal information that can be obtained with a court order by rights holders. There’s no mention of any ‘three strikes’ policy, or any requirement for the ISPs to take any action. The onus to prosecute is entirely on the rights holder.
My View: As Dan, sitting opposite me, just put it “They’re telling them to just get over it.” There’s a certain amount of sympathy for the content owners, but the government knows that the rules of the game have completely changed. The government seems to be putting its weight behind legitimate file-sharing in the future, recognising that sharing files isn’t inherently illegal – a mistake made by many.
As for the quango, I’m cautiously welcoming of it, but it needs its members to actually follow-up on their promises, unlike the major labels did following the ‘memorandum of understanding’. Unfortunately, the government does say that DRM has a role to play in a solution. That’s simply not true.
Lastly, regarding the obligation for ISPs to give over personal info, I’m pleased that there’s no cutoffs being sought, but it concerns me how much proof will be needed before personal details are handed over. Current methods of detection are ineffective. The creative industries will need to invest heavily in improving their detection methods before I’ll be happy that the right people are being caught, and pensioners aren’t accused of downloading games.
Original UK Content
In the original content field, the government wants to explore whether any mergers may be desirable, both on a local and a regional level. They’ll also look at the future of commissioning agreements with respect to the diversification of available channels.
Lastly, and most notably, the report talks about finding out whether Channel 4 could be redesigned and rebuilt into a sustainable second public service organization that would rival the BBC for quality.
My view: I’m enormously proud of the BBC. For all its faults, I genuinely believe that it’s the best media organization in the world. One of the reasons that it’s so good is that it doesn’t have to produce lowest-common-denominator content to appeal to the masses like the commercial channels do. If another, similar, organization was created, then I’d worry that both would end up with content as bad as commercial radio and Channel 5. If that hurdle can be successfully negotiated, then I’m all for a second BBC. Bring it.
Network Universal Connectivity
This is one of the headlines of the report. The government wants to implement, by 2012, a digital Universal Service Commitment, from both fixed and mobile services, that’ll deliver upto 2Mb/s broadband to everyone in the UK. Who’ll pay? That’s the other thing they’re looking into.
My thoughts: This would put Britain firmly at the front of the world in terms of government legislation, but there are plenty of other countries that have got much further without any government legislation. Overall it’s a good thing, especially as internet access is as important as water and electricity to a large proportion of the population.
Takeup of Universally Available Broadband
The government wants to appoint a Digital Inclusion Champion, along with a taskforce, to make sure that no-one’s left behind in the switch to digital Britain. The BBC will also play a large role in broadband takeup, and the governmental services available online will be of the highest possible quality.
My thoughts: Of course they’re going to say that. They’re not going to promise that the services will be mediocre. More specifics would be nice, particularly with regards to campaigns like Free Our Data. It’ll also be good to make sure that disadvantaged citizens, for whatever reason, have the same access to the services that everyone else does.
Digital Media Literacy
Lastly, it’s important that everyone in the country knows how to get at the new services that’ll be created. The government wants to rework and update its National Media Literacy Plan, which was originally written in 2003.
My thoughts: Sounds good. Also, put in something about updating it every few years – things are changing quicker than they’ve ever changed before.
I’m cautiously in favour of the report. Although it takes a hard line on filesharing in the short term, it stops short of requiring ISPs to cut off their customers, as it should. The recommendation of DRM is curious, particularly as the music industry has almost totally binned it. It’s only the Games industry that’s still trying to foist it on its customers.
Over the medium and longer terms, the government’s stating fairly firmly that it’s not going to do the job of the creative industries for them. The only people who can fix the music, film, games, broadcast and media industries in the long term are those industries themselves, and the sooner they realize that, the better.
Digital Britain Report