UK micropayment network set for mid-2010 trial

UK content owners could have a working national micropayment network by next summer. A testbed network is already being planned out, after Digital Britain allocated the government’s Technology Strategy Board (TSB) £30 million in June.

As companies like ITV, FremantleMedia and search for a payment model, a public trial is due to go live by mid-2010, Nick Appleyard, in charge of the TSB team, told me. “Once the beautiful future of micropayments is proved in this environment, you can then extend that launch to the external internet,” he said. ISPs, rightsholders and users will be invited to participate in the trial.

The micropayment testbed is one project due to be implemented as part of the Digital Britain commitment from the TSB, an arms-length innovation agency of the government’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills which was charged with helping fight piracy by stimulating models for legal downloads. This week, it also unveiled a £2 million fund for those with interesting ideas for applications and platforms.

“If someone has an idea for how you would actually implement a micropayment system and can say ‘I could programme that and this is what it would look like’, we want to hear from them,” Appleyard said of the new fund.

But, while those applications come in, Appleyard first has a networking project to accomplish: “There’s a piece of IT work to be done to join members of public, ISPs, content publishers and other service providers together. We’re currently specifying that and working towards a tender which we hope to place toward the latter end of this year. Then, in the middle of 2010, we’ll have something that’s actually operational and then we can try these things out, linking the feasibility studies lead to testbed.”

Appleyard said tests will be closed but will involve real online users: “It’s important to have real people testing them – it’s not just to prove that the technology works, it’s also to prove that people would use it in a way that shows the model is profitable. We”ll see what lights their fire about the new services – you can only do that by creating a reasonable test environment.”

The revenue models should be worked out together by content publishers, broadcasters, ISPs and banking providers, said Appleyard, who is hoping to convince each side to put aside their sometimes competing interests: “We’ve been consulting with experts from all of those groups and understanding their different perspectives. You’re not going to be able to put that backbone in place without cooperation; they all have to work together.”