I attended a Forum last week entitled “The industry priorities for the new Communications Bill”. We were given a ten minute talk by representatives from each of the BBC, C4, COBA (Commercial Broadcasters Assoc), Wall to Wall (independent media prod’n), Virgin Media, Google, BSkyB, BT, ITV, UKTV, Mobile Broadband Group, Association for UK Interactive Entertainment (ie video games) and Guardian Media Group. Quite top heavy with content production.
It is interesting to note that in the last Communications Act (2004) the word internet does not appear. This may be because the government of the day wanted to avoid regulation in a nascent market – let it grow unhindered. Whilst the talk is still of light touch and self regulation I can’t help get the feeling that this time round there is a big shadow of government looming over the proceedings.
A few themes came out of the meeting.
The market needs to provide a level playing field that allows competition and encourages investment. This may include addressing issues that allows UK plc to compete in a global market – regulation overseas is often different to that in the UK and can cause difficulties for UK companies trying to operate globally.
Some content providers were calling for increased regulation to protect Intellectual property. There were interesting contrasts here:
David Wheeldon of BSkyB believed that the government should go further than it had in the DEAct to combat IP piracy and seemed to robustly reject some aspects of the Hargreaves Report (“it should be up to Rights Holders not government to decide how to exploit their IP”).
On the other hand Andrew Miller, CEO of the Guardian Media Group recognised that content provider organisations needed to adapt to the changes in modern technology and society to survive. For example in the UK The Guardian is seen as the 3rd or 4th biggest newspaper. However the Guardian websites gets 50 million unique visitors a month and is a recognised and trusted global source of comment and opinion. The Guardian Media Group is clearly trying to move with the times.
If I were the government putting this Bill together I would be focussing on what will help UK plc to grow in the global market and to avoid making it in the words of Google’s Head of UK Public Policy, Sarah Hunter “a dumping ground for regulations as appears to have been the case with the Digital Economy Act”.
There are 2 years of deliberations before this Bill makes it to law. We need to make sure that we get this one right and not leave it to a last minute indecent rush as happened with the DEAct.