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Digital Britain Report In Depth
Thursday 29 January 2009 18:06:41 by Andrew Ferguson

While only the Interim Digital Britain document has been published it has resulted in an online explosion as all the online broadband and news sites race to get their headlines out. The full eighty six page document contains a lot of information, and once the full report is published we can expect it to be much larger and provide a much firmer idea of what will happen in the various areas that is Digital Britain.

The report has five key objectives at its heart:

  1. Upgrading and modernising our digital networks – wired, wireless and broadcast – so that Britain has an infrastructure that enables it to remain globally competitive in the digital world;
  2. A dynamic investment climate for UK digital content, applications and services, that makes the UK an attractive place for both domestic and inward investment in our digital economy;
  3. UK content for UK users: content of quality and scale that serves the interests, experiences and needs of all UK citizens; in particular impartial news, comment and analysis;
  4. Fairness and access for all: universal availability coupled with the skills and digital literacy to enable near-universal participation in the digital economy and digital society; and
  5. Developing the infrastructure, skills and take-up to enable the widespread online delivery of public services and business interface with Government.

Areas of the report that affect the broadband community directly are those concerning Next Generation Access, Universal Connectivity and Digital Rights.

The report will lead to the creation of a Government led strategy group that will assess what contingency plans if any are needed to ensure Next Generation broadband is rolled out in a reasonable time frame. Lord Carter states that the regulatory bodies should seek to remove barriers that are holding back the creation of a wider wholesale market, e.g. rules defined to allow wholesale access to ducts in the street. The final report will also investigate the value for money aspect of any publicly funded incentive schemes. A key aspect towards improving broadband speeds and increasing consumer choice will be to require mobile operators with a 3G licence to expand 3G coverage to match 2G coverage. The report expects that around 60% of households will benefit from Next Generation Access based on current plans from firms like BT, Virgin Media, H2O Networks (now the i3 Group) and the 40 or so community solutions.

In the area of digital rights we can look forward to a new Rights Agency which will work with the full chain of digital content, from production to consumption. The aim of the agency will be to prevent unlawful use of content and enable technical copyright support mechanisms. In addition to the existing responsibilities providers have in terms of responding to court orders for user information of copyright infringers, they will be expected to track repeat infringements and provide this data on production of a court order. The position taken is clear; the government does not want to support obsolete business models, but also does not want to be responsible for creating the new model.

The part of the report receiving the largest amount of attention appears to be Universal Connectivity. No precise plans are set out, but the recommendation is made that 2Mbps be adopted as a basic broadband connection standard. The delivery method is not defined, but a mixture of mobile broadband, Wi-Fi, WiMax, satellite, cable, xDSL technologies are in the running. This Universal Connection should be available to all households by 2012, and the burden is not placed on any single provider but will be borne by the industry as a whole. Mobile broadband is explicitly mentioned as having an important role in reaching the extremities of the UK. With current broadband deployments around 1% are estimated to have no broadband available, and 7% connect at a speed slower than the proposed USO.

The report is very clear in its aim of creating a framework whereby everyone has access to a wide range of digital services, with an emphasis on ensuring the public can engage effectively with government at the local, regional and national levels. To this end a group with a Digital Inclusion Champion is to be created, to provide education in how to use new digital resources.

The report does cover a lot and at this stage there is still lots of room for shuffling things about and altering priorities. The report seeks feedback and comments which must be submitted by 12th March 2009.

Whilst we welcome the creation of a broadband USO, we are cautious about its specification at only 2Mbps. It fails to define other parameters such as upstream speed and latency. If the cost is found to be too high to implement we may see the final USO set at 1Mbps or even 0.5Mbps. Whether the consumer or business wanting the universal service will need to pay a chunk of the setup costs is another grey area, and we may see satellite broadband being the only option in more rural areas. It seems likely that for mainland UK, particularly areas that are unfortunate to be a mile or two away from decent broadband now, that the answer will be a 3G tower and as any who use mobile phones in these areas know, reception for even basic GSM services does not always match the coverage maps and can vary based on the weather and amount of foliage on trees.

Interestingly while BT has been making noises recently about how the recession may be affecting its ability to complete its expected £1.5 billion fibre roll-out the report does not seem to address this. The report gives the impression that it is up to the commercial operators do what they can, and only then will the pieces be picked up. Next Generation Community based solutions are to get the assistance of an umbrella body to provide technical and advisory support. This additional support will be critical as new rules and monitoring requirement relating to digital content come into play. One odd statement we spotted was that the report lists Carphone Warehouse, Tiscali, BSkyB, BT and Virgin Media as investing in end to end infrastructure, but the reality is that only BT and Virgin Media have any of their own last mile connectivity. The LLU operators simply rent the copper loop from BT Openreach, and there is no real sign of them embarking on a fibre last mile of their own with some very few exceptions (e.g. H2O Networks)

One big issue we foresee is that while 2Mbps is a big jump for those with only a 0.5Mbps or slower connection, how will these people feel when others in the larger towns and cities are getting 20Meg, 50Meg or faster services for around the same price. Digital Content is not going to get smaller, and consumers are already finding that sharing digital photos or sending them to online printing services can be a slow and tedious affair. Factor in the increasing number of devices that will require an internet connection, and people with a 2Mbps connection may well struggle to watch the Olympics in 2012. Indeed, it may even be that playing the online game of the day will be difficult with a connection of this speed in three years' time.


Posted by Aqualung over 8 years ago
As has been stated its hardly a Government strategy, they are hoping the operators will be doing it all.What a waste of time and paper,with yet more reports to come.By the time our communications have been through all the monitoring equipment we will all be lucky if we get higher speeds......
Posted by Spectre_01 over 8 years ago
Thats because the government dosn't have two ****s to rub together, so don't expect them to pay for digital Britian.
Posted by Dixinormous over 8 years ago
I can't say that a 2Mbps USO is not reasonable. It may not be ideal but it's an improvement. If companies are forced to do this unprofitably it will impact on the country as a whole.

If the choice is between various levels of mediocrity as we have now and some exceptional and some not so exceptional what's the option?

Why is broadband speed seemingly more important than mains water / electicity / gas suddenly?
Posted by Dawn_Falcon over 8 years ago
You missed the bit where they allowed ISP's to basically limit access to people who pay to get access to you.

It's also a gift-wrapped present to the RIAA/MPAA, and when it comes in I'll be dropping my broadband speeds - email and gaming are all I want at home, and I can do that on ISDN let alone ADSL.
Posted by simond over 8 years ago
I love the way the government are implementing this as their idea, their crusade, when the crux is they wont be forking out 1 penny. This government gets better every day.
Posted by donkey_hellfire over 8 years ago
Imagine if the UK's broadband infrastructure was owned by a bank, then we might see some progress ;-)
Posted by mishminx over 8 years ago
Net neutrality is a mythical beast of American origin that has been slain on these shores lol
Posted by rian over 8 years ago
It is really a question if our speed can improve further before 2012. Especailly under such a bad economy atomsphere.
Posted by Dixinormous over 8 years ago
Having read some more of this it's a total waste of time and tax payer's money. It suggests nothing, achieves nothing, and offers no routes on how to get there.

It's not even accurate in some assertions. Total, complete waste of time. Perhaps we can have someone who actually knows what they are talking about and has NO POLITICAL MOTIVATION do this next time.
Posted by Mince1978 over 8 years ago
It sounds to me as though our illustrious Government is yet again going to provide big business and the inherent 'fat cats' with another Golden 'shaft the poor people' ticket!!!
I'm fairly right in saying that big comms firms have already had there 'wrists slapped' for gaining sales from mis-informing people about broadband speeds with 'upto 8meg' packages.
Its now only right and proper that they be made to 'make good' and see that everyone recieves not 1 or 2 but 'AT LEAST 8meg broadband'!!
Posted by Somerset over 8 years ago
AT LEAST 8meg broadband'! - How do you propose they do that?!
Posted by Dawn_Falcon over 8 years ago
mishminx - Yea, shame about the additional changes we'll be paying for access to any services in a few years.
Posted by cyberdoyle over 8 years ago
by the time that someone has got 2 meg to everyone (as opposed to the 70% of the country that can now get it) then it will be too little too late. Although figures say over 99% can get broadband, in reality the figure is a lot lower, as lots only get under half a meg and many more get nothing, even thought the bt checker says they are in enabled area. The end game is fibre. Don't waste money on copper, light the fibre. cmon baby, light it
Posted by rian over 8 years ago
I agree with what "cyberdoyle" said. Fibre is the way, Asian countries like Japan had deployed it in early 90s. They are enjoying the benefit while we are still struggling with copper.....
Posted by c_j_ over 8 years ago
A letter from Andrew is the lead letter in the Grauniad today. If I knew where to find it on t'Internerd I'd provide a link, but I was reading Ye Olde Paper Edition.
Posted by Dixinormous over 8 years ago
Posted by comnut over 8 years ago
This report seems the same blather as usual, about "get Britain BB services going better'... let's hope it pushes the 'management brains' to get it moving - it seems they need these 'mission statements' so they know it's serious, as they don't pay attention to any papers (except maybe FT or grauniad :)...)

To normal people this is the usual gov. cobblers...
Posted by comnut over 8 years ago
"You missed the bit where they allowed ISP's to basically limit access to people who pay to get access to you" Translation to normal English please???

let me try..
"people who pay to get access to you" = the advertisers?? we are already ignoring them by the boatload...

"It's also a gift-wrapped present to the RIAA/MPAA, and when it comes in I'll be dropping my broadband speeds"

I don't see why that would help... they don't have a clue how it works, evident from their many mistakes...
Posted by comnut over 8 years ago
just read that link - the first para is just the way me and many think...
Posted by Dawn_Falcon over 8 years ago
It's perfectly good english, Comnut. For a web service to be useable, you will have to pay a premium. AND, the web service provider will have to pay or be put into the "slow lane" and be basically unusuable.

Not to mention the fact that the Government's proposed implimentation of the collection authprity's schemes will mean it's trivial to get anyone with a net connection cut off/sued.
Posted by AndrueC over 8 years ago
Posted by mishminx over 8 years ago
Posted by Dawn_Falcon about 23 hours ago
It's perfectly good english, Comnut. For a web service to be useable, you will have to pay a premium. AND, the web service provider will have to pay or be put into the "slow lane" and be basically unusuable.

Indeed we will all be paying for access to a multi-tiered internet. A whole new digital divide.
Posted by DrewR over 8 years ago
My concern is that long line supply (and maintenance) will cease. If all people getting poor (sub 1Mb, maybe sub 2Mb) adsl are thrown on the mercy of satellite or mobile providers I can see things becoming even less fair than they are now. Smoke and mirrors.
Posted by chrysalis over 8 years ago
yeah the key points are, (a) BT lose obligation to provide voice to everyone, (b) this obligation likely to be carried by mobile operators in places that are expensive for BT (c) same applies for 2mbit broadband, (d) no real plans on next generation tech and a 2mbit uso, infact government effectivally stalling FTTx rollouts by wanting to setup new department to consult on it, bit of a joke.
Posted by Pigmaster over 8 years ago
We have had the DSL revolution a few years back and DSL is not going to get faster for the majority of UK users as they don't live in the flat above the BT exchange, so the ADSL2+ roll out is really worthless.
We need the Fibre Optic revolution to happen (FTTH) quickly.
As for remote and mobile users, you have to ask "Why is WiMax not being rolled out?" They all bided at the Spectrum auctions but we have not seen any products released.
Posted by dragon1945 over 8 years ago
Mobile BB? Are they going to put up another mast then? I can't use my mobile at home, nor get Freeview, and only ITV and BBC1 via aerial. Sky was the only answer for TV [no cable here] and their free BB is unavailable.
Posted by Dawn_Falcon over 8 years ago
FTTH? Sure, that's why BT is sitting on its ass. It could do FTTC, right now, on its own. I's economically great, for BT.

But, if the government will fund FTTH, BT won't do FTTC. The government need to rule out FTTH before BT goes ahead with FTTC.

So actually the Government refusing to do FTTH would be a good thing...

As to Wimax? Be surprised if there was ever a mass-market product.
Posted by Somerset over 8 years ago
dragon1945 - how come you don't get BBC2? All should be OK after DSO.
Posted by nige1h over 8 years ago
Dawn_Falcon said:

"As to Wimax? Be surprised if there was ever a mass-market product."

Just thought I'd mention that, having left the UK and moved to Belgium, I was impressed to find that here they already have an up-and-running WiMax ISP offering mobile broadband internet connection. OK initially the speeds aren't great - up to 3 Mbps max - but higher speeds are coming as they roll-out national coverage and increase the number of "cells".
Posted by nige1h over 8 years ago
Cost is comparable with wired services too, or maybe a little higher, but hey, it's mobile broadband - you can take your laptop into town and sit in a café and surf at speed with your own account. That's a first, IME!

I don't know if it's what you would call a 'mass-market product', but it seems like one to me!
Posted by jimbat over 8 years ago
It is all very well stating that the circuit will give higher sppeds.
The plan was that all the country would be linked via high speed cables. However that was killed by members of the public complaining about trees being damaged when this service was being installed. and so by public demand the service was cancelled.
Is the public going to allow the latest plan to improve the circuit come to fruition.
Posted by Dixinormous over 8 years ago
While the UK is giving this total lack of information, South Korea just announced a 17.6 billion GBP investment in getting 1Gbit/s, yes 1,000Mbps, to the population alongside 10Mbit/s wireless.

96% of this cash is coming from the carriers, only 4% from Governemnt.

And we're discussing deployment of 2Mbps and getting orgasmic over 50...
Posted by c_j_ over 8 years ago
Speaking of USOs and wireless and WiMax, maybe Lord "ex NTL ex Ofcon" Carter might want to phone up the people who ended up holding all the UK "fixed wireless broadband" licences (Netvigator, Now, PCCW, whatever) and ask how their full national commercial rollout is going. Or does their "full commercial rollout" have the same meaning as SSE Telecom's powerline rollout - go quiet and let it die?
Posted by comnut over 8 years ago
er cj, that report was more than 4 years ago...

I think you may be using AndrueC's script!
Posted by c_j_ over 8 years ago
I *know* that report is ages old, because it's ages since PCCW bought the licences. It's ages since PCCW started its initial wireless rollout (in that well known notspot, the M4/Thames Valley corridor). It's been ages since 1Mb (still their best offer?) was a credible best offer. And since then, I *think* they've closed to new customers.

Where's the Pipex/Intel JV (Freedom4?) in MK?

Is this the future of commercial wireless broadband? It's repeatedly been the history. How does that help the USO?
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 8 years ago
Freedom4 is in Manchester and a few others pop-up now and again.
Posted by herdwick over 8 years ago
Mobile broadband ? WiMax ? PCCW etc ?

all a waste of space if you want high speeds that are usable. The entire spectrum owned by Three for 3G use adds up to about 14 Mbits/s then how many satisfied users can you have per base station, and how many base stations will the tinfoil hat brigade tolerate ?

WiMax is little better, total capacity of maybe 40 Mbits/s including up and down shared by all the users in range of a base station.

Wireless is fine for filling in gaps with a basic internet access service, ie email and web browsing. After that it's history.
Posted by AndrueC over 8 years ago
@dragon1945:I hope you're aware that it isn't neccessary to subscribe to get satellite TV. There's Freesat from Sky, Freesat and even the DiY route if you buy a box or a tuner card.

I'm just asking because I know of people who felt 'forced' into a Sky subscription as the only way to get digital TV. It ain't so :)
Posted by c_j_ over 8 years ago
@herdwick: Stop trying to confuse the issue with facts rather than hype. Don't you know there are venture capitalists in this field with money they want back, and their best way of doing that is to recruit everhopeful suckers?

Wrt base stations: if you believe some of the trade rags there'll be a separate femto(?)cell in every house. What they don't say is where the cell backhaul typically lives (unless they say DSL, of course... hmm, so how does that help speeds/USO?).
Posted by Essex over 8 years ago
As the goverment are hand in glove with the BBC. I wonder if total UK coverage is more to do with the Gestapo arm of the BBC (the TV licencing Authority If 'Everyone has internet access whether connected or not It will give power (again to the BBC say that ALL COMPUTERs and their OWNERS must have a TV licence. As they are deemed 'To be able to recieve a TV brodacast'
Is it any wonder that the BBC is heavily promoting digital TV along with IPlayer. You have been warned! write to your MP and do not allow the BBC to get away with this.
Posted by Dawn_Falcon over 8 years ago
Essex - Or take the sensible course and put the TV liscencing authority out of business, drop TV liscence fees by the former running costs of the TVLA and make it a universal tax.
Posted by Enrico21 over 8 years ago
I see this report seeks feedback and comments which are to be submitted by 12th March 2009.
I assume tbb will be lodging a detailed response and wonder whether you will share it with us when you have done so.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 8 years ago
Beyond the coverage given and comments made on sites and in press, I did outline this in an email to them.

Whether we follow up with a longer contact is open to debate. I would like to get more involved, as its a chance to affect things for a lot of people, but the lack of contact so far in this area suggests as we are outside of the group, that we will remain so.

Posted by AndrueC over 8 years ago
"the lack of contact so far in this area suggests as we are outside of the group, that we will remain so."

Well that adds to futility of the exercise then. I think it's pretty clear that end user QoS is not the main thrust here.

It's rights protection and government snooping. Same ol', same ol'.
Posted by cyberdoyle over 8 years ago
End user QoS is the main thrust on all these sites and forums, if BT was delivering what it tells the government it is then none of these groups would be necessary! The fact we exist should prove something, and we should have a voice. TB could give us that voice...
Posted by dragon1945 over 8 years ago
Somerset - BBC 2 and Channel 4 have lousy picture and sound interference. Can't get 5 via aerial at all. No Freeview here, mobiles don't work. They knew we needed another transmitter mast, or whatever they call it, 30 years ago. That will never happen, nor cable TV, nor Fibre being rolled out, because it would cost too much and they would never recoup the cost.
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