Page last updated at 11:19 GMT, Thursday, 29 January 2009

Plans target Digital Britain push

Kashvi Shah uses pay-as-you-surf 100Mbps broadband at her home in west London

Government plans to boost the digital and communications industries, which contribute more than 50bn a year to the UK economy, are due to be outlined.

The interim Digital Britain report will examine a number of different areas, including broadband development, public service broadcasting and digital radio.

In a speech Gordon Brown said the UK's digital infrastructure was "essential" to future growth and prosperity.

The full report and proposals will be unveiled in late spring.

Every aspect of our lives...will be dependent on the services that the digital network provides
Gordon Brown
The Prime Minister, speaking at the New Local Government Network in London, said that the digital economy would play a crucial part in lifting Britain out of recession:

"Today we have an interim report from Lord Carter setting out the scale of our ambition to compete in the digital economy and that's a market worth about fifty billions a year.

"It affects every community in our country who are looking for the best digital infrastructure, access to broadband, that we can offer them.

"We know that every aspect of our lives in local communities - every school, every hospital, every workplace and even every home - will be dependent on the services that the digital network provides."

He added: "It is as essential to our future prosperity in the 21st century as roads, bridges, trains and electricity were in the 20th century.

And building these bridges to the future will need a clear lead from government combined with a strategic partnership between the private and public sectors.

"So even at this difficult time for the economy, we will not turn our backs on the future."

Lord Carter, the minister for communications, technology and broadcasting, will publish his interim report after a breakfast meeting at Downing Street attended by senior media and telecoms executives.

The report is also expected to examine illegal file-sharing of movies, music and TV and appraise ways of tackling it.

And it will include proposals on how to protect children, as millions, many of them under-18, visit social networking sites and play games online.

Digital divide

The report is also likely to urge a merger between Channel 4 and either Five or BBC Worldwide to create a viable public service broadcaster to compete with the BBC.

Communications watchdog Ofcom last week warned Channel 4 faced a bleak future unless a deal could be reached.

In the run-up to the report publication, Culture Secretary Andy Burnham said the government was looking at regulating the internet to "even up" the imbalance with television.

Around 60% of British households currently have broadband internet access, and the government wants the rest of the country to get connected.

The report is thought to suggest replacing the universal service obligation, under which BT is required to provide everyone in the country with a phone line, with a new industry-wide obligation to provide broadband for everyone.

The report is also expected to show that the digital divide is no longer a geographical issue with towns connected and rural areas cut off. Instead areas of digital exclusion are likely to mirror those of social deprivation.

However, broadband experts have warned that any moves to create next generation networks that run at very high speeds may only serve to deepen the digital divides in the UK.

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