UK Government publishes Digital Britain report

By David Neal on Jun 17, 2009 11:51 AM
Filed under Communications

Promises fast broadband for all and a clampdown on piracy.

The UK government has launched its long-awaited Digital Britain Final Report (PDF), outlining plans to clamp down on digital piracy and increase the speed of broadband connections for all UK residents.

"Digital Britain is about giving the country the tools to succeed and lead the way in the economy of the future," said prime minister Gordon Brown.

"Investing in areas such as broadband access for every home and business, and the move from analogue to digital technology, will bring benefits across the board, driving growth, enabling businesses to thrive, and providing new opportunities and choices for households right across the country. It is an essential part of building Britain's future."

The increase in broadband speeds to at least 2Mbit/s will be backed by an investment fund to ensure that the services are "available to the whole country, not just some of it", the report said.

Many of the initiatives will be overseen by Martha Lane Fox, co-founder of Lastminute.com, who has been appointed to the newly created role of Digital Inclusion Champion, and a soon-to-be-created taskforce.

Increasing the use of next-generation services also extends to the mobile world, according to Lord Carter, author of the report, and the government will work on improving current and next-generation mobile services and coverage.

Carter, who will step down as head of the government's communication strategy this summer, also proposed a new role for Ofcom, which will carry out an assessment of the UK's communications infrastructure every two years.

Funding for the plans is not yet set, but Carter said that one proposal would be to levy a 50p ($1.03) charge per month on all fixed copper lines.

Ofcom may also be called on to help tackle piracy and illegal downloading. Included in the report are proposals to give the watchdog "an explicit duty to significantly reduce unlawful file-sharing".

Carter said that individuals guilty of illegal downloading will be sent written warnings, and repeat infringers will face civil action through the courts.

However, Greg Day, a security analyst at McAfee, warned that the government needs to improve the awareness of online security before delivering on the promise of broadband for all.

"Lord Carter plans to provide broadband and connectivity for everyone, but will the government also be enforcing secure broadband for everyone in the UK?" he asked.

"Lord Carter's plans are almost like giving someone a car but not teaching them how to drive. The onus is on the government to show people how to use the internet wisely."

Manoj Solanki, editor of service comparison site Seek Broadband, raised further questions about the logistics of the plan, particularly around the cost.

"There is a problem with funding here. It's all a bit muddy as to whether sufficient funds will be made available to provide broadband to the group of people who have no access at all," he said.

Whether those people actually want the fast speeds being touted is also up for debate. "Making high-speed broadband access widely available to consumers is no guarantee that it will be taken up," said Chris Williams, a media partner at Deloitte.

"Demand and willingness to pay for services varies significantly, with some segments viewing broadband as an essential utility, and others choosing to opt-out even if services were free."

 
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