Taking a look at Digital Britain

POSTED BY Global Administrator

Well, Lord Carter and his colleagues have certainly been prolific: they have provided us with Digital Britain, all 238 pages of it, and in case we thought that we were getting off lightly with that, they packaged it with a further 195 pages of impact assessment.

Now then, I’m not going to go through all the key observations in detail, as my goatee might have grown into a ZZ Top style beard by the time I’d finished. You see, there are a fair few of them, albeit - as the Conservative spokesman for Culture, Jeremy Hunt, noted - accompanied by a disappointingly small number of actions.

However, on the surface, at least, one of the more contentious recommendations – the £6 annual levy on fixed lines to pay for high speed broadband – does to my mind make sound economic sense, given that (a) the UK is lagging well behind South Korea, the US et al in terms of broadband speed and availability (b) competition in the fixed line market should mean that the levy will be offset by lower prices, and thus consumers are unlikely to see any increase in overall bills and (c) there’s no other means of paying for it, as the Government has – if you hadn’t heard – run up a rather large debt.

As regards the other most contentious point – prising a chunk of the licence fee away from the BBC to pay for independent regional news in Cornwall, the Outer Hebrides and the Isle of Sheppey – the best that could be said of it is that it seems to be an arbitrary destination for taxpayers’ money, and that when Sheppey Today et al get their share (around £130 million per annum), that will open the gates for other mendicants from across the digital sector to come cap in hand to Auntie asking for a few bob.

And then there’s mobile. Unsurprisingly, there was no mention of DVB-H in the report, and mobile TV got a solitary mention in passing, so it’s safe to say that dedicated mobile TV networks are no longer on anyone’s agenda.   Instead, mobile broadband is the overriding concern: the Government is keen to ensure universal access, and to provide it through accelerating the auction of 800MHz spectrum. It was also confirmed that O2 and Vodafone will not be forcibly deprived of their 900MHz spectrum, but that if they do wish to retain it they will not be able to bid for 800MHz spectrum when that is auctioned off next year. However, the Digital Britain report didn’t come up with a solution with regard to how any 900MHz/800MHz spectrum swap should work – it rejected the Independent Spectrum Broker’s suggestion of a straight one-for-one MHz swap – and has passed that one on to a technical arbitration panel.

Finally,  for a personal bugbear. “In seeking ubiquitous mobile coverage”, says the report, “there is a need to address notable gaps in coverage, such as the transport networks.” (Well, yes.) “There has been a failure to provide reliable and consistent broadband mobile coverage over the length of UK main railway lines.” (See my blogs passim on this – indeed, the word “broadband” could be omitted and the sentence is just as pertinent.) “The Government is therefore considering how best it might support the availability of these services in a cost-effective manner.” (Hooray! – but, on behalf of commuters nationwide, don’t consider for too long. Please.)