So what is the future for the Digital Economy in Britain? The final report has been published and makes for a 245 page report, split into nine chapters, the report in PDF format can be downloaded from www.culture.gov.uk (it is available as a single 3MB PDF file, or a Word document summary, or a single PDF file per chapter).
The key points to arise from the report are the following:
So there we have the main points relating to broadband, the levy is not likely to be popular and people acceptance will largely be down to whether they feel broadband is a utility and everyone should have a bite at the cherry. In terms of Next Generation services, eight years of £150 amounts to about £1.2 billion, which considering BT has talked of £5bn to do Fibre To The Cabinet to the whole country does not look to be a large enough pot of money.
The Universal Service Obligation looks set to be a slow process, we can expect the creation of a Network Design and Procurement Group in the Autumn, which suggests 2010 at least before people start to see action on the USO. Procurement is almost a dirty word as many people will associate it with long drawn out Government projects that deliver late and are over budget. Hopefully in this case, a lean mean machine can be created also access to information on the USO needs to be straightfoward so that consumers can easily find out which service is available in their area and what speeds it can offer.
Martha Lane Fox appears to have gained a figurehead role, as Champion for Digital Inclusion, forming part of the reports aim to drive forward Digital Inclusion and convince people that going online is worthwhile. The appointment seems somewhat odd, a more well known respected UK figure might have been more appropriate.
Overall its hard to say the report has been a waste of time, since the USO is better than most other countries, but at the same time the overall ambition is clearly still led by the commercial operators, with the Governments role being one of filling in the holes around the edges. Whether the new role for Ofcom will succeed is hard to know, and there is no guarantee that reducing the amount of unlawful file sharing will lead to an increase in sales, and if some surveys are to be believed it may for some content lead to a reduction in sales.
So the message now is clear, if you want ultra fast broadband, i.e. something over 8Meg then you need to move into the cities, otherwise you may be waiting until 2017 or later. Of course by then other countries will have completed their own Next Generation roll-outs, leaving the UK where it is now in relative terms in the worldwide digital economy. There is still the risk that countries that missed the first generation broadband wave could leapfrog the UK as we take our step by step approach to faster broadband.