Digital Britain Report: A Letdown That’s Merely A Meta-Review

Stephen Carter is no Al Gore, that’s for sure. The focus of Carter’s hotly anticipated interim Digital Britain report guarantees broadband in every home by 2012. But the guaranteed speed, a lowly “up to 2Mbps”, is a joke.

You can already hear the laughter in South Korea, where the average speed is already more like 50Mbps. Carter’s strategy may be about securing access for rural areas and the disadvantaged – but, by not committing the telcos to an obligation on next-generation networks, Digital Britain is far from building the “information superhighway” Gore foretold in 1978.

Digital Britain, in fact, makes few real recommendations; today’s version is a meta-review that instead puts in to motion several new reviews and consultations – it will deliver concrete answers only in its final, spring incarnation. It entirely leaves until then any detail on the crucial issues of “measures needed to address the challenges for digital content” and “alternative funding mechanisms to advertising revenues”. Key points after the jump…

Broadband for all: The commitment will be delivered through giving a “universal service commitment” to telcos. Govt will support Community Broadband Network to create a new umbrella body comprising local organisations, whom it will support. The European Commission has already made its own broadband-for-all pledges (see yesterday’s announcement) that are likely to drive Ofcom’s direction.

Faster broadband: Carter recommends creating a government-led strategy group to hasten ISPs investment in next-generation networks, and to consider whether public investment may be needed. Carter acknowledges the issue is a balance between investment and competition – but most aspects of this issue are already being driven through by Ofcom.

Net neutrality: Network discrimination gets the go-ahead. Carter agrees with earlier Ofcom recommendations that, as next-generation networks get built out, so ISPs may introduce guaranteed service limits to some services using their networks, concluding “traffic management will not be prevented”.

Combating P2P: Just as already trialled last year, ISPs will be mandated to send more warning letters to freeloading customers. They’re also allowed to monitor customers’ activities and pass that data to record labels and others. This will be managed by a new P2P code, but real legal sanctions are left unclear pending the creation of a new “Rights Agency” and Carter even recommends the extended use of DRM. More in our full post

Cross-media ownership: After being harangued by news publishers who want to consolidate with broadcasters, Carter says Ofcom, the Office of Fair Trading, govt and “other interested parties” will review whether rules on cross-media ownership can be relaxed further.

TV Another review in to the “terms of trade” between producers and broadcasters, “in light of new entrants to the market”.

DAB: Uniting DAB stations, network operators, the BBC, car manufacturers and others in yet another new trade body to dream up new ways of making DAB attractive. Begin switching off analogue radio once DAB ownership is 50 percent and coverage is 90 percent (good luck with that – it’s only 29.7 percent, today’s Rajar figures show).

Mobile: Free up more spectrum for faster mobile services and extend mobile broadband coverage. Things Ofcom was already doing.

BBC’s role: Just as it was called upon to help promote DAB and Freeview, this report again asks Auntie to, “through marketing, cross-promotion and provision of content to drive interest in taking up broadband”. Indeed, there’s tacit backing for the BBC’s Canvas IPTV project: “With other public service organisations, the BBC can drive the development of platforms with open standards available to all content providers and device manufacturers alike.”

Channel 4’s role: Another one kicked in to the long grass, the idea of an alliance with BBC Worldwide or Five comes not in the interim report but the final version.