Digital Britain: the Verdict

Okay I’m well aware that I ought to have posted several issues that have come up lately but I have been busy with client work so have not had a chance to devote sufficient time to posting anything of any merit.  I will still get back to basic criteria for social media expertise status, but frankly, that might have to wait till I’m alone in my hotel in Sheffield on the weekend (for Unsheffield).

At the moment it seems appropriate to return to the Digital Britain Report, the final version of which was released this week, and to assess what was achieved in the report and where the report is away with the faeries.

First let’s consider what the Report was intended to do.  According to Hansard, the Digital Britain report was designed to address the following:

* Upgrading and modernising our digital networks – wired, wireless and broadcast – so that Britain has an infrastructure that enables it to remain globally competitive in the digital world;
* A dynamic investment climate for UK digital content, applications and services, that makes the UK an attractive place for both domestic and inward investment in our digital economy;
* UK content for UK users: content of quality and scale that serves the interests, experiences and needs of all UK citizens; in particular impartial news, comment and analysis;
* Fairness and access for all: universal availability coupled with the skills and digital literacy to enable near-universal participation in the digital economy and digital society; and
* Developing the infrastructure, skills and take-up to enable the widespread online delivery of public services and business interface with Government.

So the report was designed to set a plan for upgrading the infrastructure, encouraging investment in digital industries, ensuring minimum UK content production, and fostering universal access.

Here’s what the Report delivered:

* Infrastructure: 2Mbps minimum broadband connection to all parts of the UK by 2012 (this was actually already BT plan, but it’s useful to have the government backup) with levy on fixed line connections to fund.  Next gen services to 90% of the UK by 2017 (reflecting Australia’s deadlines). No final decision on use of the mobile telecommunications spectrum.
* Investment: £10million funding for UK ‘test beds’ to establish commercial viability of innovation, tax incentives for UK video game industry, a feasibility study on establishment of a Usability Centre for gaming.  No articulation of any direct encouragement of international investment in UK creative development industries, nor any formal recognition of excellence in creative development.  No articulated effort to engage with established businesses, or indeed any business that sits outside mainstream media and testbed investment.
* UK content production: Giving some of the BBC licence fee to other providers of public interest content, particularly news.  Possible recognition of fair use and retransmission in copyright legislation.  Otherwise,  wide ranging discussion of how to protect copyright (see below).
* Universal access: Higher Education Framework (to be published) to focus on digital literacies and skills needed in the workplace, media centre training for disconnected citizens, and promises for ‘further action’ relating to affordability, capabilty and accessibility.  No set plans though.

It also set out its plan to reduce unlawful file-sharing by 70-80%, by making Internet Service Providers responsible for their clients’ activities and to issue warnings and begin court proceedings where necessary.  The fact that no-one can truly measure what is classed as ‘unlawful’ file sharing and the fact that any monitoring by ISPs can only breach the spirit of data protection laws goes unquestioned.  Let me make this clear: there is no way you can prove achievement of this ‘strategy’.  As the CSIRO in Australia noted over ten years ago, trying to make ISPs responsible for content published or shared online is an expensive and largely pointless waste of time.

It may speak volumes about the Report that it does more talking about creative production and access and equity than providing much in the way of strategy and it provides even less in the way of tactical processes to achieve the glorious ambitions that headline each chapter of the Report.  Indeed there are so few actions arising from the report that there is no summary of these positive actions anywhere in the document.  Instead, readers have to trawl through 245 pages of fairly repetitive and often blindingly obvious statements to find the occasional plans (marked bravely in bold type) which generally talk about other reports and ‘further action’ than anything concrete.

The final Digital Britain Report is therefore a broad, positioning analysis.  It is essentially what the Interim report should have been.  I await a final Final Report that delivers a clear policy, with tactical tasks, deadlines for delivery and stated responsibility for execution, as well as performance and failure criteria.

I may have to wait a very long time.

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