The Digital Britain report is finally out
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:
- The UK is to have a Universal Service Commitment of 2Mbps (2 Mega bits per second) by 2012, this is to be funded in a number of ways, £200m surplus from the Digital Switch Over Help Scheme, commercial gain through tender contract, contributions from private partners, money from other public sector organisations, consumers themselves by resolving wiring issues in their homes. Additionally the wider coverage obligations placed on mobile broadband providers will help to meet this obligation.
- The report does not set an minimum speed for upstream or latency, though does suggest that money spent on meeting the USO should be spent in such a way that does not preclude expansion to Next Generation speeds in the future.
- A 50p per month on fixed copper lines (basically telephone lines, i.e. residential phone lines, business analogue lines, ISDN2 lines and cable telephone lines. This £6 a year will go into the Next Generation Fund, the purpose of which is to fund the roll-out of Next Generation services in the third of the country where at this time commercial operators are saying solutions like fibre are not feasible. A sum of £150m to £170m is expected to be raised per year from the fund, with the aim of connecting most of the final third by 2017.
- The 50p levy is not part of providing the basic 2Mbps USO.
- In the area of illegal file sharing the report outlines a proposal to legislate and give Ofcom the a duty in reducing the amount of file sharing over the Internet in the UK. This will comprise of notifying account holders when it appears their account has been used to infringe copyright, and an obligation to keep records so that serious repeat infringers can be identified and thus allow targeted court action against the most damaging breaches of copyright.
- A code of practice to underline these obligations will be produced, which should set out the processes for rights holders to inform Ofcom.
- Ofcom will also be provided with additional powers, so that if this warning system does not have a significant impact on illegal file sharing then Ofcom can place additional conditions on broadband providers. For example blocking of sites, port blocking, bandwidth capping, data volume caps, traffic shaping. This measures are only expected to be used if the overall level of illegal file-sharing does not diminish after a 6 month initial period.
- The report outlines that it plans for the first stages of the warning system will be deemed successful if infringement is reduced by 70% in the first year.
- Fair use gets a mention, since at present even if you own a copy of an album on CD, ripping it onto your MP3 player is a violation of copyright law. Nothing concrete appears, other than to mention that this area is heavily constrained by the EU copyright framework.
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.