UK sets out Digital Britain plan

On Tuesday, the UK government published its Digital Britain white paper, setting out the importance of the digital economy to Britain’s economic future.

The report outlines the steps that need to be taken by the UK to strengthen and modernise the country’s digital infrastructure to allow it to better compete in the global market.

The key points include the creation of equal access to at least 2Mbps broadband nationwide by 2012 through the creation of an investment fund; a £0.50 per month levy on all copper lines, which will go into the independent Next Generation Fund and will be available as a subsidy to operators willing to extend broadband coverage to the final third of homes where it is not available; the upgrade of all radio services to digital by 2015; changes to 3G licence terms, making them indefinite, rather than fixed term licences, which should encourage investment and deliver in building speeds of 1Mbps by 2013; and new powers for industry regulator Ofcom as well as a new requirement that the watchdog carry out a full assessment of the UK’s communications infrastructure every two years.

But Tarek A. Robbiati, CEO of Hong Kong’s CSL, who spoke to earlier this week, dismissed the strategy as insufficient. He said CSL had theoretical high speeds of 21Mbps on its new network, with 14Mbps being recorded in usage scenarios. “When you have the kind of speeds that we have, everything changes,” he said, adding: “2Mbps is just too little, too late.”

For Lord Carter, who put the report together, piracy was high on the agenda, with Ofcom given new powers to tackle digital theft by releasing the identity of repeat offenders so they can be taken to court by the content owners. ISPs will also be given the go ahead to restrict the internet access and services of known copyright infringers, with a view to reducing digital piracy by 70 per cent.

Commenting on the report, Matthew Howett, senior analyst at Ovum, said that while it was still a pleasant surprise, Carter’s plans appear ill thought out. Howett likens the proposal to the one originally taken in Australia, which the government eventually abandoned in favour of building a fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) network itself after concerns that a fibre-to-the-curb (FTTC) solution, which is likely what the fund will allow in Britain, would not represent value to the taxpayer.

Howett also believes that the piracy proposals are short sighted and ways around the restrictions will soon be found. “It would have been more forward looking to reassess the whole system of digital rights and access to online content. Trying to apply 18th century rules in a 21st century world isn’t sustainable and will not foster the creativity that is expected to make use of the digital infrastructure,” he said.

There were also two new appointments from the world of tech celebrity – world wide web inventor Tim Berners-Lee as head of a panel of experts to deliver better use of public data and protect personal data; and co-founder Martha Lane Fox as champion for Digital Inclusion.

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