Apps Business internet Regs

Communications Bill – is it going to look at the right subject matter?

Having mentioned the comms bill in my last post I now find that the expected Green Paper is not now going to be published. Instead over the coming months five seminars will inform the communications review.

The seminars will look at:

  • The Consumer Perspective
  • Competition in the Content Market
  • Maximising the value of spectrum to support growth and innovation
  • Driving investment and growth in the UK’s TV content industries  
  • Supporting growth in the radio (audio) sector

“The UK’s communications sector is one of the strongest in the world” said Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt. “We must ensure the sector can grow by being at the forefront of new developments in the industry. It is essential that we set the right conditions for the industry to enable businesses to grasp the opportunities created by new technology.”

Communications Minister Ed Vaizey added “The communications industry is a key part of our economy. Through these seminars, we will look in detail at how best to drive investment and competition. We want to shape the Communications Bill so that we have the right framework to secure our place as Europe’s tech hub.”

Much of the blurb up until now is lifted straight from the DCMS website. I can’t argue with any of it though some of it seems to me to be very much born out of subject matter that government can get its brain around.

For example content providers, ie TV companies in the main, have been asking for a level playing field – the clues lie in the bullet points provided to us as a guide on what is likely to be discussed in the Seminar – how important is exclusivity in supporting investment and innovation, how much choice do consumers have and how open is the market to new entrants?

The bit about spectrum is also an easy one to grasp. Although there are legal minefields to tread at the end of the day it seems about making best use of the spectrum available.

This is all fair enough but I do find myself asking how much innovation and growth this is really promoting? It’s all about extensions to old business models.

I humbly suggest that what we really want is to create an environment that supports innovation in the new world we want to be encouraging the next Google or Microsoft to start up in the UK. We do see some signs of progress. The reintroduction of EIS Tax relief for entrepreneurial investors and the effort to create an emphasis on computer programming in schools spring to mind.

I think though that we need to think a lot bigger than we are doing. How about a 10 year moratorium on capital gains tax for new technology startup investment? I bet that would result in many Californian based VC companies moving to the UK.  How about government loans or matched funding for high risk high tech projects. How about creating an immigration environment that would encourage talent to want to come to the UK instead of Silicon Valley?

Perhaps I’m being naïve in thinking that “communications” extends beyond programming content and next gen mobile. Everything I do these days involves communications in some form or other.

The government wants the private sector to haul in the slack created by cuts in the public sector. It needs to come up with creative and innovative solutions to stimulate this. It also needs a level of understanding in government of issues relating to technology and the internet. Many of the noises that we have been hearing are counter-innovative and have been about constraining how we can use technology and not the opposite.  C’mon guys. Move it on.

Business Cloud online safety Regs

The Google View of the Forthcoming UK Comms Regulatory Landscape #deappg

Google’s Sarah Hunter impresses at the Communications Bill Forum.

Google’s Head of UK Public Policy, Sarah Hunter was a breath of fresh air at last week’s Communications Bill Forum.  Firstly she was one of the few speaking without just reading out a prepared speech. It can get boring listening to someone reading out their notes.

Secondly she offered a perspective based on a platform as opposed to most of the other speakers who were largely either content providers or  pipes.

  1. The government should not make policies that favour specific industries without considering the wider impact elsewhere.
  2. Open platforms should be protected – both content and pipes need them and they are expensive to build and maintain
  3. Keep a sensible approach to data protection. In other words allow targeted advertising.  The direction the EU is going is not good in this respect.
  4. Encourage and promote investment in computer science and engineering – engineers are taking over the world.
  5. Concentrate on consumer education – digital literacy and consumer empowerment. In other words keep kids safe online by education (and not mandatory web filtering – my words).
As always we have to strike a balance and how well the government does this will greatly influence how UK industry thrives online Her first point was a reference to the proportionality of the Digital Economy Act.
The data protection issue is a difficult one.  Whether they like it or not I get the feeling that the long term future of revenue generating for businesses operating online, certainly for content providers, is going to be substantially driven by advertising.
If this is the case then the advertising model needs to be one that works for all parties, including consumers and this either means we accept the degree of “intrusion” being sought by the likes of Google, Phorm et al or we very carefully define what is and isn’t permissible. Not the subject of a short blog post but perhaps one that might usefully be covered in a 2 year debate running up to the next Communications Bill.
Business piracy Regs surveillance & privacy

Priorities for the new Communications Bill #deappg BSkyB Guardian Google

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.