Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Digital Britain: The Debrief

The government's final Digital Britain White Paper was published on schedule yesterday, despite speculation that it would be delayed due to the mayhem caused by the recent expenses scandal and the surprise resignation last week of its author, Lord Carter.

The main points - and shortcomings - of the report have been well covered in the media, so there's no need to reiterate them here.

Rory Cellan-Jones at the BBC, for example, has a nice, clear analysis of why the actions outlined in the report are very unlikely to put Britain at the top of the global broadband league - despite Gordon Brown's insistence that they will, while Bryan Glick at Computing takes a more positive view.

But I did just want to put on record the debrief that I gave to the Cornwall Social Media Café last night. Last month I co-ordinated the CSMC's response to the interim Digital Britain report and our recommendations for consideration in the final report, as part of the series of Digital Britain Unconferences that took place around the country.

At the time I wasn't confident that our response would have any effect. But as it turns out, it does seem to have helped to make a concrete difference to the government's proposals, and is even explicitly acknowledged on page 10 of the final report itself.

Here's the debrief more or less as I delivered it last night:

The final Digital Britain report – all 245 pages of it – was published today and announced in Parliament by the new culture secretary Ben Bradshaw.

The report takes into account the recommendations made by the twelve Digital Britain Unconferences that took place last month, one of which we had here in Vertigo Bar at our last CSMC meet on the 12th May.

The aim of those conferences was to provide last-minute feedback and recommendations to the government ahead of the final report. Our feedback was based on the recommendations outlined in the Digital Britain interim report published in January.

Our feedback focused mainly on the government’s proposal to deliver 2MB/s broadband to everyone in the country by 2012. We felt that this would put rural areas at a disadvantage as some urban areas already benefit from ‘next-generation’ broadband speeds of 20MB/s or more provided by the likes of BT and Virgin Media.

We said that if the government left it up to the market to provide next generation broadband, rural areas would fall behind as it is unprofitable for BT and Virgin to lay fibre to remoter communities. We urged the government to take a more active role in ensuring that everyone could have access to next-generation speeds.

The good news is that the government has taken this feedback on board, and they no longer plan to leave the rollout of next-gen broadband up to the market.

The bad news (depending on how you look at it) is that it seems we’ve been instrumental in creating a new tax. Everyone with a fixed phone line will pay 50p a month to create a new public fund for the rollout of next-generation broadband across the country. (Vulnerable people will be exempt.)

Personally I think 50p a month is a small price to pay to ensure that rural communities and other ‘notspots’ can keep pace with urban centres. Others may not agree! And some people think that the funds will take a long time to raise, and rural areas may not see their super-fast broadband till 2017 by some estimates.

But the bottom line is that we provided feedback and the government listened. Because of that, the rollout of next-gen broadband across the whole country should be faster and more extensive than it would have been had we not provided our input as part of the Digital Britain Unconferences. So I think we can all be quite proud of ourselves.

Further Resources

Full text of the Cornwall Social Media Café's response to the Digital Britain Interim Report

Summary of the amalgamated reports from all 12 Digital Britain Unconferences

Full collated reports from all 12 Digital Britain Unconferences

The full, final Digital Britain White Paper


Thanks go to Kathryn Corrick, Tom de Grunwald, Bill Thompson and Alastair Duncan for instigating and co-ordinating the Unconferences and editing and submitting the collated report, and to Aren Grimshaw and Laura McKay for agreeing to hold a Digital Britain Unconference during the May CSMC meet and for allowing me the time to deliver the debrief last night.


Cyberdoyle said...

On behalf of rdbuc09 and the JFDI teams can I say thank you to all the people who held or attended or supported the dbuc09. You have done a fantastic job, its not your fault the govt have imposed the levy on the phones. I think the levy is a smokescreen to get everyone agitated and let the report go through without anyone noticing that nothing will actually be done for years, by which time another government will be in power who may or may not put it through the statue books... but at least they took notice of the people and the power of people when they work together, so many congratulations to you all. And thanks again from the rural contingent.

Wo said...

As I said at the CSMC it's the upload speeds. We either become consumers or producers. Of course big business wants us to be consumers and therefore push for a taxation to make this more likely. What they don't realise is that we will just pull in content from abroad and miss out our market completely. If we became producers then they could create platforms and business model to allow us in the UK to make money for ourselves and them. Problem is, as usual, they just don't get it.

Cyberdoyle said...

Agree with previous, the other countries now laying fibre to the home will be the producers. None of those will want content streamed from a country still on adsl. Symmetric fibre is the end game. We keep on saying it until somebody 'gets it'.