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Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Digital Economy Bill is a joke

Do this government just not get it about the digital economy or is there something else going on?

The latest announcements about the Digital Economy Bill have many of us with our jaws on the floor.

In the speech, the Queen 'reads', "My government will introduce a bill to ensure communications infrastructure that is fit for the digital age, supports future economic growth, delivers competitive communications and enhances public service broadcasting".

Right, all well and good, but how exactly do they intend to do that? And when? For further details, it seems we need to wait till Friday when the Bill is published, but I can sense a furore coming on when it is....

We have little to date from Labour indicating that they have an inkling about what is required in a "communications infrastructure .. fit for the digital age", let alone how to ensure that it is delivered.

The USO is apparently not included in the Bill, because "it doesn't require legislation." Well, we all know what that means. We are going backwards. The USO of the last 28 years has been a LEGAL requirement on the incumbent. What is going to happen now is that we are going to allow 'best effort' only attempts from fixed and mobile operators, with no legislation to enforce a minimum connectivity speed that many believe is far too low anyway.

For those of you who live in areas where there is little or no broadband now, it is time to start planning your own network, because you can bet your bottom dollar that, without any form of legislation to push the telcos into getting at least 2Mbps to you, it won't happen. There will be cries of "It's too expensive, there is no demand there, we can't do it, those people don't need 2Mbps at all, they can make do with what they have, we've tried our best, it's not profitable" etc etc etc.

The digital divide, I sense, has just been given an almost unavoidable reason to widen. It cannot be unintentional, surely?

The definition of next generation access is being dumbed down left, right and centre now, so when Timms says, ""The UK is on track to seeing half of households having a choice of next-generation service providers within the next three years..." it is difficult to know whether he is talking about BET (definitely not NGA), ADSL2+ (not NGA or it wouldn't be called obsolete technology v2.0, would it?), or FTTH and FTTC (VDSL2).

One also wonders about the choice of the term 'next-generation service providers'. Sorry for being a cynic, but surely Stephen, you mean "next generation services?"

Bit worried that we will only have a choice of service providers to be honest, because knowing how this all works, what that will mean is that the stats, reports and press releases will be manipulated again to show that 50% of the country has a choice of NextGen service providers. They just might not be offering next gen services in your area. Get the picture?

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, GB has been showing he gets the technology and can use it, with a
podcast about the Queen's Speech. (Transcript)

"Next week we will be outlining our legislation for the next parliamentary session - a programme that’s in line with our core values of fairness and responsibility.

Our focus, as ever, is the return to economic growth and forging a stronger, fairer, Britain - for the many not the few."

I wish the government *would* take some responsibility for the farce that is our comms infrastructure. After all, much of the problem comes from this government's approach of leaving it to the 'competitive marketplace'. That's why we have a choice of ISPs - all selling the same product!! Some choice that is. We have had a stalemate in new investment - property rates on fibre, for starters. Misleading hype about who is doing what and what has already been done that makes investors cautious about/uninterested in diving in.

And as for doing things for the many....haven't you got it yet? It's the supposed 'few' in rural areas who are currently not getting the chance to partake in a stronger, fairer Britain, let alone make ourselves economically viable.

What on earth could be the hidden agenda here? I can only think of one thing. Labour have employed a digital economy expert/advisor whose colours are firmly, but secretly, nailed to the other side's mast. I suspect she/he is in line for a whopping bonus early next summer.

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Pauline said...

Digital Britain only contained two measures to improve infrastructure: one was the USC (not USO, therefore no legislation), which they're behind on already. The gov was supposed to set up a quango by the end of October to deliver this 2 Mbs, and now says that this won't happen until January.

The other was the 50p phone levey, which Stephen Timms said yesterday will be included in the finance bill. He sounded pretty determined that this would be put in place before the election.

The government has to approve a short-form finance bill so that it can continue to tax us all, and the 50p levy would be in that bill.

Cybersavvy UK said...

And therein lies the rub....DBR did only contain two measures to improve infrastructure. Neither of which will deliver a truly Digital Britain. Well pointed out, Pauline!

1. By making it a USC, ie a commitment relying on telcos' 'goodwill' and best efforts rather than an obligation, the government is letting down the public and businesses of this country, far into the future.

It should be an obligation, regardless of how we all feel about the level it is being set at. What the government is doing is perpetuating the 'up to' problem.

All the talk in the interim report was of USO, there isn't a single mention of USC in there. USC became a done deal in the final report, with no indication that this option (USC) was even being considered so that there could be informed debate. The assumption being that the USO would continue as it has for nearly 3 decades...a legal responsiblity.

2. Many people have already dumped their landlines because they have choices. eg Virgin, mobile internet suitable for their needs etc. For those who have no option but to get broadband down a phone line, we have to pay the tax. I would happily dump my landline right now if I wouldn't be put immediately onto the wrong side of the digital divide by doing so. And be out of business instantly.

Whilst it may be the case that the British have exhibited an appalling lack of financial nous (current personal debt in this country is running at £1459billion), there are many who will have the luxury of saving a few quid by removing themselves from attachment to the phone network to avoid the tax.

At least 12% of homes have mobiles and no landline, and this number is expected to continue increasing as mobile charges drop and mobile internet usage rises with smart phones, dongles etc.

Unknown said...

Just to clarify that when Steven Timms was talking about , "The UK is on track to seeing half of households having a choice of next-generation service providers within the next three years..." to a limited sense, he is probably right. The assumption is that Virgin Media is a "next generation service provider" offering 50Mbs services with coverage to around 50% of the country. BT will be providing a combination of fttc and fttp to 40% of the country by the end of 2012 - ie three years time, and these will be largely the same areas where Virgin Media offers services. In addition, Digital Region is planning to have covered 600,000 households by then, and there are the other roll outs by H2O, etc etc. So, if all goes to plan, in three years time it is probably true that 50% of the population would be able to choose between Virgin Media and BT or one of the other fttc or fttp providers.
Not terribly exciting, nor the result of any Government strategic action, but there it is.

Cybersavvy UK said...

The Guardian take it further....

Unknown said...