Interim Digital Britain report: First impressions

So, we finally have our hands on Lord Carter's interim report, which has been billed as the biggest shakeup for the UK's knowledge economy since the formation of Ofcom (which Carter, funnily enough, used to head up).

So, we finally have our hands on Lord Carter's interim report, which has been billed as the biggest shakeup for the UK's knowledge economy since the formation of Ofcom (which Carter, funnily enough, used to head up). We'll have a detailed article on the interim report soon, but here's what leaps out at first:

- A new "Government-led strategy group to assess the necessary demand-side, supply-side and regulatory measures to underpin existing market-led investment plans, and to remove barriers to the timely rollout, beyond those declared plans, to maximise market-led coverage of Next Generation broadband". So, a new quango? No firm sign of government funding for that next-gen broadband, but "contingency measures" are mentioned...

- "Between now and the final Digital Britain Report, the Government will, while recognising existing investments in infrastructure, work with the main operators and others to remove barriers to the development of a wider wholesale market in access to ducts and other primary infrastructure." What does that mean? Giving BT what it wants, in terms of assurance that it'll get returns if it invests in fibre?

- "We will, by the time of the final Digital Britain Report, have considered the value for money case for whether public incentives have a part to play in enabling further next generation broadband deployment, beyond current market-led initiatives." Aha! There we go...

- "The Government will help implement the Community Broadband Network's proposals for an umbrella body to bring together all the local and community networks and provide them with technical and advisory support." Now, that is truly splendid news! European fibre deployments have frequently been community-led, and setting up a unified way to do that here is definitely a piece of the puzzle.

- A "Wireless Radio Spectrum Modernisation Programme". Here we go. "The Government believes that an industry-agreed set of [2G] radio spectrum trades could represent a better and quicker solution than an imposed realignment. There is an opportunity for industry to agree a way forward by the end of April 2009. In the absence of an industry-agreed trading solution by then, Government will support an imposed solution." In other words, let's get this refarming issue sorted out pronto. What role for Ofcom in this? Is Carter really telling the industry to sort it out itself? I sure hope so...

- Aha - looks like Carter's urging the 2.6GHz auction to be pressed ahead, too. Also looks like he wants existing 3G licences to be made permanent.

- More mobile network sharing. This stuff is already underway, thanks to economic pressure...

- "Commitments by the mobile operators to push out the coverage of mobile broadband eventually to replicate 2G coverage and mark their significant contribution to the broadband universal service commitment."

- "A digital Universal Service Commitment to be effective by 2012, delivered by a mixture of fixed and mobile, wired and wireless means". Probably 2Mbps minimum.

That's the broadband stuff. Other nuggets include:

- More support for DAB. Nowt about DAB+, sadly...

- "By the time the final Digital Britain Report is published the Government will have explored with interested parties the potential for a Rights Agency to bring industry together to agree how to provide incentives for legal use of copyright material; work together to prevent unlawful use by consumers which infringes civil copyright law; and enable technical copyright-support solutions that work for both consumers and content creators. The Government also welcomes other suggestions on how these objectives should be achieved." I bloody bet it does...

- "Our response to the consultation on peer-to-peer file sharing sets out our intention to legislate, requiring ISPs to notify alleged infringers of rights (subject to reasonable levels of proof from rights-holders) that their conduct is unlawful. We also intend to require ISPs to collect anonymised information on serious repeat infringers (derived from their notification activities), to be made available to rights-holders together with personal details on receipt of a court order." Oh dear, here we go. Privacy infringement alert!

- Carter also likes the idea of merging Channel 4 and BBC Worldwide. Nary a mention of Five...

So, how does the broadband stuff look at first glance? For one thing, it looks a bit like Carter's holding back. I know it's an interim report, but some of it seems very woolly. What is certain is that the next few months will see some furious industry debate over who pays for what.

The biggest surprise in the report appears to be the proposed extension of the 3G licences into perpetuity, and the nicest surprise is the community broadband stuff. But the report will take a while to digest... again, more later...

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