What will the Digital Britain report say?
The Digital Britain report may become one of the most important reports for the UK broadband industry, or it may just join the growing pile of reports and research. From tomorrow, we can debate the merits of the report and end the speculation.
The Interim Report gave us some hints about what we should be expecting from the final document. Let's look at what we expect to see:
- The Universal Service Obligation, the minimum broadband speed which should be available to everyone in the country was headlined at 2Mbps in the Interim Report. We are very concerned that the final report may cave into pressure from mobile broadband operators which we suspect are likely to be pushing for a sub-1Mbps USO. This would in our view be a disaster for the UK Internet, considering in particular that the USO is only expected to take effect from 2012.
- The issue of contention, congestion or the quality of a connection have been avoided so far; we hope the final report will define what sort of speed drops will be tolerated on the USO service.
- Latency is a big issue, and while online gaming is seen as a preserve of spotty teenagers, it is an area that has a lot of spending. Satellite services preclude the popular games and mobile broadband is far from ideal for twitch style gaming. Latency is also an issue for many other uses including Internet telephony services (VoIP).
- The lack of any upstream bandwidth commitment has been a glaring omission from the report thus far; this must be addressed when the Internet is becoming so much more about user generated content. The media industry would certainly be better off with the public being able to share less files illegally, but this would be the wrong way to deal with this problem.
- Where can you get the USO service? The Interim Report did not address how a consumer would identify the provider of a USO solution. In some areas, we may expect that the USO could be covered by mobile broadband providers, whilst in other areas it may be covered by BT services. The consumer needs one place to find this information in an easy-to-access way.
- The issue of copyright abuse is the most contentious area of the report. We've seen three strikes policies, throttling and premium priced services all suggested. We could speculate that one of the likely solution is something along the lines of a 'bad boy pipe', where users thought to be sharing material without permission are placed onto a slower link to the Internet, or have peer to peer applications slowed down. The danger with the media industry serving notices that are hard to verify is that the systems for spotting the violations will be open to abuse, e.g. false IP addresses in torrent trackers. If the media industry simply concentrates on punitive measures then no real progress will result, the persistent offenders will encrypt their traffic to avoid being spotted.
- So who pays for it all? This is probably the biggest question yet the answer is simple. We all will. The question is where does the money come from in the short term? Iit seems likely that up to £250m will be available from the Digital TV Switchover fund, but extra funding is likely to be sought from the industry, although we suspect that a lower USO will be adopted to lower this cost. To some extent the size of this digital switchover surplus is already being brought into question, due to requests for funding for regional TV news services.
The original interim report had many people hoping it would kick start super-fast broadband roll-outs across the UK; the current economic climate means this is very unlikely, and as those who read the interim report realised, this was very unlikely to ever happen.
So where do we go from here? We will of course be reporting the outcome of the report, but we would encourage everyone to read it for themselves--Too often outlets will overlay their own prejudices and agenda's to any coverage so it is important people speak up for themselves and make their voices heard.