Page last updated at 18:12 GMT, Thursday, 29 January 2009

Mixed reaction to digital plans

The Culture Secretary, Andy Burnham, outlines the report's interim findings

Reaction to the publication of Lord Carter's interim report on Digital Britain has been swift.

The 86-page report sets out ambitious targets for the government to make broadband ubiquitous across the UK, reform radio spectrum, and sort out public broadcasting.

Some have been positive about its conclusions but opposition politicians criticised the wide-ranging report, saying it was light on specifics.

"We're very disappointed," said Jeremy Hunt, shadow culture minister.

"We thought the report was going to contain a strategy," he said. "In France and Germany they are laying fibre, in Japan they already have it. In Britain the average broadband speed is 3.6Mb so what [Andy Burnham] is talking about is getting half the current speed."

Don Foster, the Lib Dem's culture, media and sport spokesman, said the report was "bitterly disappointing".

"We've spent lots of money on reviews, but all we now have is a strategy group, an umbrella body, a delivery group, a rights agency, an exploratory review, a digital champion and an expert task force.

"This report has been a complete damp squib," he said.

Industry analysts warned that the report should not end up as a substitute for concrete action - especially where moves to universal broadband were concerned.

READ THE FULL INTERIM REPORT

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Matthew Howett, senior analyst at industry analysis firm Ovum, said the report was well-intended but "severely lacking in the detail".

Mr Howett said the interim Digital Britain document would give rise to a further eight reports spread across three separate organisations.

"The government must ensure that Digital Britain doesn't become merely a series of reviews, reports and consultations," he said.

Mr Howett welcomed the suggestions in the report aimed at reforming the way radio spectrum is managed and re-used. Sensible management of the airwaves could help the government move forward on its aims of universal broadband, he said.

Choosing to deliver ubiquitous broadband via both wired and wireless connections was not without its risks, said Phil Smith, Cisco's UK vice president.

"It will be a stretch to achieve that, and solve the issue of making broadband relevant to everyone as well as making people actually want it," he said.

"It will take a lot of co-operation to actually make it happen," he added.

Gordon Brown and Stephen Carter, PA
The report was outlined to media bosses at a breakfast meeting

Others were more sanguine, suggesting that the UK was embarking on a workable strategy.

Jason Glynn, commercial manager for price comparison site uSwitch, said: "It's fantastic news that they are finally speeding up the process.

"Compared to Europe we're lagging in broadband infrastructure, especially when put up against Scandinavia or France," he said.

"If they hadn't got universal connectivity sorted by 2012, our system would be out of date," said Mr Glynn. "Although it's going to be a more expensive option, this is future-proof stuff. That said, with technology moving so fast, there's no guarantee but this is pretty good."

Mobile solutions

Mobile phone companies were also supportive and, not surprisingly, stressed the importance of cellular technology to help the government deliver on its call for broadband in every home.

What the government are trying to do is back the BBC's director general into a corner
Roy Greenslade

Kevin Russell, 3 mobile's chief executive, said that 2Mbps speed was good enough to deliver content such as iPlayer movies.

"Mobile is increasingly the recognised choice which can quickly open up or expand broadband with sensible economics and there's clearly the intent to address spectrum allocation for next-generation technology.

"We have to be clear on the economics - and fibre across the UK, in the levels that people would love to have - doesn't stack up," he said.

Other parts of the plans worried some activists. In particular, plans to more closely police what people do when there is broadband running at higher speeds has raised concerns with the UK's Open Rights Group (ORG).

The Digital Britain report proposes setting up a Rights Agency which would co-ordinate work on making people choose legitimate content over pirated works.

"We are concerned that there is no suggestion that consumers and citizens should be represented on the proposed copyright Rights Agency," said Jim Killock, director of the ORG.

"Without our voices, such an agency could easily be dominated by industry's concerns - at the expense of consumer and civil rights," he said. "Consumers would be very likely to get a bad deal."

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

He added: "We also intend to look closely at proposals for recording and reporting alleged rights infringers.

"While we welcome the proposal to ask the courts before taking action, we are concerned at the potential for further erosion of privacy online."

Whip hand

The report also examined how public service broadcasting (PSB) could work with other broadcasters alongside the BBC.

Media commentator Roy Greenslade said the government had failed to convince the BBC to engage with Channel 4.

"The government are using public persuasion to make it seem like a fait accompli. What is really going on here is a choice to find the least-worse way of funding PSB on Channel 4. This report doesn't take us any further down the line.

"What I think the government are trying to do is back the BBC's director general, Mark Thompson, into a corner. And in that regard, the government holds a whip hand on the money."

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