CXO

Cheat sheet: Digital Britain

Carter the unstoppable tech machine

Digital Britain. Sounds like a rubbish tech-themed comedy show.
According to some of the more acerbic industry watchers, you may well be right.

However, to put it a little more literally, Digital Britain is the government's grand plan for the UK's technological future.

So who's in charge of this grand plan then?
That would be Lord Stephen Carter, minister for communications, technology and broadcasting and the former head of communications watchdog Ofcom.

Lord Carter is in charge of overseeing the Digital Britain report, which is due out this summer and should help determine the government's policy on a range of technology issues.

So we have to wait months before we can find out what Carter's got up his sleeve?
Not quite. The interim version of the report was published in late January and gave us a bit of a flavour of what we can expect from Lord Carter.

So what can we expect?
There are a number of areas that have fallen under Carter's watchful eye: the future of broadband - including whether the UK should put money into fibre and whether broadband should be a universal right; boosting IT skills; investing in digital content; the direction of digital radio; the potential for a second public service broadcaster; how to best distribute and trade spectrum; intellectual property issues and public services over the internet, to name just a few.

All fine words, but what does it actually mean for me?
A good question. One of the concrete proposals to come out of the interim report was the need for the UK to have a minimum 2Mbps broadband connection for every home by 2012. According to Carter, universal access will give the UK a realistic chance at delivering all public services online.

Needless to say, with some telcos already planning connections of 50Mbps or more, commentators including silicon.com's own Peter Cochrane have pointed out how far behind the times the report seems already.

A 2Mbps connection is all well and good, but what about something a bit higher speed? Will Digital Britain get the government putting some cash into making sure we can all get fibre broadband?
An interesting question and one the government has been keen to skip delicately around for the moment.

The interim report doesn't answer the funding question itself but does promise the full report will look at how far the fibre rollouts currently planned by UK telcos such as BT and Virgin Media will take next-generation broadband, and whether any help from the public sector will be necessary.

For areas outside BT and Virgin's planned coverage areas, Lord Carter has previously suggested that the BBC could be used to help finance high-speed broadband.

However, in order to get the market doing the grunt work itself, the Digital Britain interim report pledged to polish up the regulation on the subject, and take down all those nasty barriers discouraging fibre rollouts.

What else could Digital Britain mean for me?
What's your stance on TV and films? Do you like getting it from the BBC and its ilk, or from peer-to-peer sites?

It's Auntie all the way for me.
Ah, a fan of public service broadcasting. Well, Digital Britain is already mulling over the question of whether to create a second public broadcaster - possibly by merging Channel 4 with BBC Worldwide or Five - to provide competition for the BBC.

Channel 4 is already considering the changes that such a move would bring, according to its outgoing CIO.

And if I like P2P?
Then the outcome would be less favourable. Carter is planning on tackling file-sharers with the blunt object of legislation which will see ISPs have to warn their illegal P2P-using customer about their behaviour and share information on the worst offenders with rights holders.

Consultation is underway and a full policy on file-sharing will be part of the final report.

About Jo Best

Jo Best has been covering IT for the best part of a decade for publications including silicon.com, Guardian Government Computing and ZDNet in both London and Sydney.

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