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Initial Take on Digital Britain Report

2Mbps Universal Service Obligation by 2012.
This is the minimum that people need to get into the game. In the report the government recognizes that whilst much of the country will shortly be getting access to faster broadband (aka BT 40Mbps Fibre To The Cabinet or 50Mbps Virgin cable) a significant chunk won’t, which will exacerbate the Digital Divide.

The Government is therefore looking to promote/fund the extension of this Next Generation Access network into these “excluded” areas. I have been saying that 2Mbps is not enough and it is good that the Government clearly recognizes this.

The funding for the rural Next Gen broadband access is likely to come from a complex variety of sources. It includes a new tax levied of 50 pence on every copper phone line. I assume it includes Virgin cable connections to keep the playing field level. This will have to be passed on to customers so the immediate effect is a rise in the cost of broadband. It will also add to the overheads of the ISP which has to collect it.

The funding collected will be available on a competitive tender basis. I would expect the Government to somehow identify specific projects for funding and make the moneys available for competitive bids. Otherwise someone with BT with the massive resources available to put specific projects together would cream all the cash.

Music Piracy
Two things to say here. The Government recognizes that access to legal means of downloading music needs to improve which reinforces what the ISP industry has been saying (note the many blog posts on this subject).

Secondly the Government also wants a more graduated approach to punishing illegal downloaders. The three strikes and you are out approach has been replaced much to everyone’s relief.

We now appear to be looking at a scenario whereby the ISP would send a letter to the end user informing them that they have been identified as offenders. The next step would be to throttle the bandwidth available to users indulging in this activity or block P2P. The final resort would be legal action.

A cautionary note here. Most ISPs cannot easily block P2P. Only those big consumer players typically have the kit that can do it. Are we looking at the same scenario as the Data Retention Act where the Government only expects an ISP to follow the law only if specifically asked. In this case the ISP would have to be funded to do it.

There is also a fairly significant onus on Ofcom to make all this happen which is going to be an interesting play. I imagine it will take no small level of resource which probably doesn’t currently exist.

All in all I think this is a good report.  There were always going to be difficulties with putting together a document with such a wide remit and I’m sure that as we get time to digest it other questions will arise.  However Lord Carter should be able to move on to his fresh challenges with a reasonable sense of satisfaction.

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Digital Britain Final Report Delayed a Few Days

BERR on Friday issued a statement to say that the Digital Britain Final Report will not now be released on Tuesday as planned. Instead it is being presented to the Cabinet tomorrow and will be released later in the week.

There is also a meeting between Lord Carter and a few industry representatives tomorrow afternoon.  ISPA is being represented at that meeting so I will report back later.

There is a huge amount of expectation surrounding the publication of the Digital Britain report.  We think we know what is going to be in it but can’t be sure. However it turns out I’m sure it is going to spark a huge amount of debate.  Let’s enjoy the last few days of peace before it hits the street 🙂

Note the BERR statement isn’t actually a BERR statement. It is a Joint statement from Departments for Business, Innovation and Skills and Culture Media and Sport. I’m not politicaslly motivated but this does seem ridiculous. BISCMS ?!!! I could only just get my tongue around BERRRRRR.

Hot off the press – apparently the report will now be available on the DCMS website at 3.30 pm tomorrow.

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Broadband Fibre Farming Tails – The Happy Ending

Last episode from the broadband fibre network laying story that has gripped the nation (see earlier posts here and here if you missed them). I am pleased to say that it has a happy ending, and Wennington now has two more users connected by high speed link to it’s network. Shame about the 2Mps backhaul.

As I write, I understand that the Digital Britain Report has been completed and is awaiting publication on 15th June. I believe it has the 2Mbps USO clause in it, and also some support for Next Generation broadband access in rural areas. Whether this is new money or simply rebranded existing EU funding remains to be seen. Let’s hope this broadband fibre video story becomes a quaint historical note sooner rather than later.

Anyway here’s the video.

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Digital Britain Final Report delayed until end of June

A very interesting ISPA Legal Forum session this afternoon yielded quite a bit of bloggable stuff, some of which has already been covered in posts earlier this evening.

The Legal Forum format was based on a panel session that included Clive Gringras as Chair, Simon Persoff, head of Regulatory Affairs at Orange, Steve Rowan of the International Policy Directorate and Daniel Sandelson, Partner at lawyers Clifford Chance.

Firstly the Digital Britain Final Report which was meant to be out in mid May is now likely to be delayed due to the “purdah” that is applied to such publications during election times – there are both Local Government and European elections in the forthcoming months.

Secondly the formation of a Digital Rights Agency, touted as part of the initial DB Report now seems to be far from a done deal. Many of the stakeholders involved thought theRights Agency was a bad idea. The ISP industry thinks it could be ok provided it steers clear of enforcement (of the law against copyright infringement by illegal downloading).  The Music Industry thinks it is a good idea provided it only focuses on enforcement.

ISPs say that the Music Industry is trying to avoid being seen as the bad guys by getting the ISPs to do the dirty work by terminating the broadband connections of (allegedly) guilty parties. ISPs don’t want to be seen as the bad guys, say that switching off broadband connections is disproportionate and if forced to do would want to fully recover their costs from the Music Industry. 

Because Copyright Infringment is a civil offence any costs incurred in the enforcement of private commercial rights, which is what the Music Industry wants the ISPs to do, can be recovered.  In this case by the ISPs from the Music Industry.  The Music Industry is saying it won’t pay. 

This is all looking like a right buggers muddle and I can’t see how it can end amicably. All this when a Government survey (in Glasgow for what it is worth) suggested that illegal P2P downloading is rife, nay becoming mainstream.

It isn’t possible to fully distill two hours of intense and useful discussion into a short blog post but I will finish by saying that it seems to me that the Music Industry is onto a loser and needs to reinvent it’s business model which at the moment it seems incapable of doing.  In going after the ISPs it is picking the easiest target. Is a search engine (Google?!) equally responsible becasue it helps transgressors find out how they can break the law? 

As an experiment try searching on Google for “how to download free music albums”.  You will find 48,900,000 links on this subject. The cat is out of the bag and isn’t getting back in.

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Digital Britain Report by not so digital civil servants

The Digital Britain Report is a key part of Government strategy to make the UK a leader where internet issues are concerned. I’m not sure whether I am wrily amused or plain horrified by a comment made to me by someone who had recently met the team compiling the report.

None of the civil servants at the meeting had been on Facebook, or any other social networking websites. In fact none of them seemed to have heard of Twitter. Apparently this engendered laughter all round.

You have to say that this does not bode well for the success of the Digital Britain initiative.

The Digital Britain interim report included a proposal to establish a Rights Agency to supervise the fight against illegal P2P music downloading. More detailed proposals are apparently due out this week and I am told that industry will only have 10 days to respond with comments.

This is a very short consultation period and suggests to me that Lord Stephen Carter has an agenda to muscle through this measure. Whilst I don’t disagree with him – the list of stakeholders is too long to get any meaningful consensus – the notional speed at which he seems to be trying to make things happen here lends itself to mistakes being made.

I can see a mopping up excercise following any legislation to make corrections to laws created in a rush.

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Digital Britain Interim Report

The UK Government has today published Stephen Carter’s interim report on Digital Britain (see previous post). I am a big supporter of what the Government is trying to do here though it is such a huge task or set of tasks that it remains to be seen how successful they will be.

The report is 80 pages long with an 11 page executive summary so I need here to focus on what matters in my world:

  1. Universal Service Obligation to provide all households with a 2Mbps broadband capability by 2012. This is independant of technology so it could be via fixed/mobile/wired/wireless means (in fact any technology that can make it happen – high speed carrier pigeon flocks!?). The detail of how to fund this will be developed.
  2. Check out the regulatory/government  assistance needed to provide the right environment for investment in a Next Generation Access network. I guess this really is already probably underway following the Caio report. It looks as if it includes making it easier/cheaper to roll out fibre by allowing use of drains etc
  3. Establishment of a Rights Agency to help industry put together a framework for promoting legal music downloading. Also to assist with the education process (eg with parents) to inform of the illegalities of P2P music piracy and to try and facilitate a way for the ISP industry to participate in the policing of this problem. The Government seems to have stopped short of forcing ISPs to cut off the broadband connections or persistent offenders. This has been somewhat of a sticking point for large consumer ISPs who might have incurred considerable costs in having to do this. I should also note that the whole “Rights Agency” proposition is also of concern because it smacks of adding overhead and cost to an ISPs business.
  4. What is also interesting though not immediately directly relevant to me is the idea of setting up a digital distribution platform organisation that could enable content providers to compete directly with the BBC. This might be in the way of an open, standards based iplayer equvalent. 

Also referred to is the establishment of the UK Council for Child Internet Safety  (UKCCIS) as part of the media literacy section. The report is perhaps a little light on policy in respect of the wider online economy. For example new advertising models such as offered by Phorm are not discussed as far as I can see. There is yet time for this to be included in the final report.

The whole document is worth a read for anyone involved in internet and communications markets in the UK.

You can download the pdf here digital_britain_interimreportjan09.

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2008 Pre-Budget Report

Being a well read individual I took note of the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s pre budget report this week. Some of it, in particular the bit about raising the tax rate of those earning over £150k, doesn’t apply to me (yet).

Some of it was however relevant to our industry. He endorsed the findings of the Caio Report on Next Generation Broadband Access. These findings of course said that Government should leave this investment to the free market. I can’t help but wonder when the free market will be able to spend the money. There again I don’t want my taxes raising to pay for it either.

The other relevant bit was that the Digital Britain Report is going to play a significant role in underpinning Britain’s future economic activity. I don’t think I have commented on this report before. Lord Stephen Carter, the UK’s first ever Minister for Communications Technology and Broadcasting (they just mix up the names in the title so that each new minister gets to be the first one!), is running the show. The aim is to gear the UK for leadership in the world digital economy. It’s a massive task spread across a huge range of disciplines but we have to wish him well with the job.