What Would Foucault Do?

[This one was on the BBC News website on October 16]

Broadband speeds may remain painfully slow, but the desire to provide access for all will be driven by the pressing need to save money by reforming public services, cutting costs and improving efficiency, whoever is in power.
So we’ll see universal access simply because the financial benefits of online public services will only be realised if nearly everyone has access to them, although there will always be a need to provide offline provision for those who cannot be served effectively through a screen and keyboard and I, like many others, will fight for this.

Over the next five years we can expect to see increasing use of web-based tools as the primary way of accessing state-provided services. I already renew my Road Tax, register to vote, pay my VAT and Income Tax, hand over the money for my TV Licence and pay the occasional parking penalty charge online, and I expect that soon I will have no need to write or phone a single agency to transact my business with government at local or national level.

The drive to digital will also be fuelled by increasing demands for transparency, as the crisis of faith in our MPs created by the revelations about expenses claims works its way through the political system, while a desire to emulate Obama will give extra impetus to the  Googleisation of Government IT and initiatives like data.gov.uk. Any resemblance  to its transatlantic cousin, data.gov, which speaks proudly of its exciting mission to ‘increase public access to high value, machine readable datasets generated by the executive branch of the federal government’, is of course entirely deliberate.

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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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My del.icio.us bookmarks for July 11th through July 12th

Here’s what I tagged on del.icio.us between July 11th and July 12th:

My del.icio.us bookmarks for July 10th through July 11th

Here’s what I tagged on del.icio.us between July 10th and July 11th:

We Can Show Them A Better Way

When Cabinet Office Minister Tom Watson launched his ‘Power of Information Task Force’ in March he was applauded by campaigners for open source software and  free access to public sector information and easier availability, but there was a general concern that it wasn’t clear what the Task Force could actually do.

Since then there have been a few speeches, some ideas have been floated for general consideration, like the recently announced Treasury review of how Ordnance Survey and other trading funds operate, and there’s been an interesting investigaion into how crime mapping might operate.

But now they are putting their money where their mouth is – or, to be more precise, our money where their mouth is since they are a public body – with an online competition to find the best ideas for ways to reuse governnment data.

Show Us a Better Way’ has £20,000 to offer to people who come up with innovative ways to use a wide variety of data sources, including a massive amount of medical data from NHS Choices and neighbourhood information from the Office of National Statistics.

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My del.icio.us bookmarks for June 16th through June 23rd

Here’s what I tagged on del.icio.us between June 16th and June 23rd: