Digital Britain: Engaging with the Internet

I got home at 1500, checked out the Digital Britain website, then fired up the Parliament channel at 1530 to see new Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw present the Digital Britain White Paper (according to BERR) or Final Report (according to DCMS). And then I tweeted while I read, before sitting down to write this, which I filed with the BBC at around 1730 (it should be up soon). So it’s a bit rough and there may be things I’ve missed… the joys of journalism, I suppose.

We live in a largely digitised country, so in one sense the Digital Britain report is an exercise in ensuring that the legal and regulatory system catches up with the lived reality for most of the UK population rather than a visionary document describing a far-distant future.

As such it is a serious attempt to ensure that government makes the best possible use of the network in serving us all, and that businesses offering access to the internet or providing services and content over the network are regulated, rewarded and cajoled as necessary to ensure that the UK does not fall even further behind the rest of the industrialised world.

Although I criticised the interim report when it was published in January because it had been written behind closed doors and offered few opportunities for consultation and engagement for those outside the charmed circle of invited experts, it is clear that Stephen Carter and his team have listened to and taken notice of the extensive debate around their initial proposals. The result, though far from perfect, offers a good basis for work on the detail of implementation and legislation, and there are clear signs that those who want to engage will be able to do so.

There are suggestions for how to liberalise and improve access to wireless infrastructure, with potentially transformative proposals to shake up spectrum allocation to build a next generation mobile network offering 50mbps in cities and 5mbps in rural areas.

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Getting Under the Bonnet

[As ever, this is also on the BBC News website, though note that I *don’t* think we should be a nation of programmers – the question mark is there for a reason!]

I’ve had my own website for fifteen years now, running on a wide variety of different computers. I started off with some space on the PIPEX WorldServer, a large – for the time – system that offered web hosting back in the days when getting online was a dark art and I was lucky enough to work for one of the early commercial internet service providers.

On leaving PIPEX I moved over to Cityscape, another Cambridge-based provider from the early days. When they [update: as Simon notes in the comments, they didn’t go bust but were sold, but they did stop hosting stuff for people like me…] went out of business I set up a server at home for a while before relocating the hardware to a shelf in the corner of a friend’s office, where he was happy to offer bandwidth and a power supply for a very modest monthly payment.

Three years ago I moved the whole thing again, this time onto a virtual server at Bytemark, one of the many small hosting companies that offer friendly and reliable server space for all sorts of organisations.

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Get Carter…

[As always, this can be read on the BBC News website. And thanks to Tony Hirst there’s a commentable version of the Digital Britain report, which we will draw to Carter’s attention..

Added 8/2/09: there’s a useful commentary on the Power of Information beta from the ‘other Tom Watson’ on TechPresident.


It may well be that Stephen Carter is pleased with the generally negative response to the Digital Britain report he has assembled over the last few months with help from people like psychologist Tanya Byron, Spectator editor Matthew d’Ancona and Channel 4 deputy chairman Barry Cox.

After all this interim report is intended to outline the policy challenges to be addressed in a final set of recommendations and proposals published later in the year, and so its primary purpose might simply be to stir things up and let all of the interested parties know that the issues that matter to them are in the frame.

In which case hearing that universal two megabit per second broadband is pathetically slow compared to other countries, that the idea of a rights agency to negotiate online copyrights shows no understanding of the reality of current download practice, and that the chief executive of Trinity Mirror, Sly Bailey, feels that the report shows a ‘crushing lack of understanding of the urgency required for changes to merger regulations in the local and regional media sector’ might simply reassure Lord Carter that at least everyone is taking notice.

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