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Why the Digital Britain report is a missed opportunity

18 June 2009 6 Comments

A few days ago the UK Government report on the future of Britain’s digital infrastructure, co-ordinated by Lord Carter, was released. I haven’t had time to read the whole report, I haven’t even really had time to skim it completely. But two things really leapt out at me.

On page four:

“If, as expected, the volume of digital content will increase 10x to 100x over the next 3 to 5 years then we are on the verge of a big bang in the communications industry that will provide the UK with enormous economic and industrial opportunities”

And on page 18:

“Already today around 7.5% of total UK music album purchases are digital and a smaller but rapidly increasing percentage of film and television consumption is streamed online or downloaded…User-generated and social content will be very significant but should not be the main or only content” – this brought to my attention by Brian Kelly.

The first extract, is to me symptomatic of a serious, even catastrophic lack of ambition and understanding of how the web is changing. If the UK’s digital content only increases by 10-100 fold over the next three years then we will be living in a country lagging behind those that will be experiencing huge economic benefits from getting the web right for their citizens.

But that is just a lack of understanding at core. The Government’s lack of appreciation for how fast this content is growing isn’t really an issue because the Government isn’t an effective content producer online. It would be great if it were, pushing out data, making things happen but they will probably catch up one day, when forced to by events. What is disturbing to me is that second passage. “User generated and social content should not be the main or only content”? It probably already is the main content on the open web, at least by volume, and the volume and traffic rates of user generated content are rising exponentially. But putting that aside, the report appears to be saying that basically the content generated by British citizens, is not, and will not be “good enough”; that it has no real value. Lord Carter hasn’t just said that he doesn’t believe that enough useful content could be produced by “non-professionals”, but that it shouldn’t be produced.

The Digital Britain Unconferences were a brilliant demonstration of how the web can enable democracy by bringing interested people together to debate and respond to specific issues. Rapid, high quality, and grass roots it showed the future of how government’s could actually interact effectively with their citizens. The potential for economic benefits from the web are not in broadcast, are not in professional production, but are in many to many communication and sharing. Selling a few more videos will not get us out of this recession. Letting millions of people add a small amount of value, or have more efficient interactions, could. This report fails to reflect that opportunity. It is a failure of understanding and a failure of imagination. The only saving grace is that, aside from the need for physical infrastructure, the Government is becoming increasingly irrelvant to the debate anyway. The world will move on, and the web will enable it, faster or slower than we expect, and in ways that will be suprising. It will just go that much slower in the UK.


  • Spot on. Sad but true, and we will work to make it better, never fear. Read the whole report when you get a minute and there are bits of silver lining.

    If we stick with the legacy copper nobody will want to wait for our content to be delivered. As more countries (who haven’t had the benefit of such a brill telephone network) lay fibre to the home, we will find ourselves left in the slow lane. We won’t be world leaders, and someone should point out to Gordon that he has been misinformed if he thinks we can achieve this with adsl in any variety.
    If he wants true digitalengagement and a digital britain he has to support the people who want it too. And that isn’t the telcos. They only want profit.
    The tax on fibre has to be taken off in order to roll it out to the people. 40% of the people live in 90% of the land mass. The distances involved make it un-viable for anyone to provide whilst the tax is on the lighting of it. That is why vast ducts full of the stuff remain dark.

  • Spot on. Sad but true, and we will work to make it better, never fear. Read the whole report when you get a minute and there are bits of silver lining.

    If we stick with the legacy copper nobody will want to wait for our content to be delivered. As more countries (who haven’t had the benefit of such a brill telephone network) lay fibre to the home, we will find ourselves left in the slow lane. We won’t be world leaders, and someone should point out to Gordon that he has been misinformed if he thinks we can achieve this with adsl in any variety.
    If he wants true digitalengagement and a digital britain he has to support the people who want it too. And that isn’t the telcos. They only want profit.
    The tax on fibre has to be taken off in order to roll it out to the people. 40% of the people live in 90% of the land mass. The distances involved make it un-viable for anyone to provide whilst the tax is on the lighting of it. That is why vast ducts full of the stuff remain dark.

  • rpg

    ” the web can enable democracy by bringing interested people together to debate and respond to specific issues. Rapid, high quality, and grass roots it showed the future of how government’s could actually interact effectively with their citizens.”

    Well. You’re assuming the government—any government—is interested in the democratic process. Only the most painfully naive would think that. Governments are not interested in interacting with citizens, they are interested in maintaining power at whatever cost. Why do you think they spend so much on getting re-elected?

    Democracy, since, oh, Winston Churchill perhaps, is anathema to governments.

  • rpg

    ” the web can enable democracy by bringing interested people together to debate and respond to specific issues. Rapid, high quality, and grass roots it showed the future of how government’s could actually interact effectively with their citizens.”

    Well. You’re assuming the government—any government—is interested in the democratic process. Only the most painfully naive would think that. Governments are not interested in interacting with citizens, they are interested in maintaining power at whatever cost. Why do you think they spend so much on getting re-elected?

    Democracy, since, oh, Winston Churchill perhaps, is anathema to governments.

  • Richard, yes, but I thought it had turned into enough of a rant already without going to town on the whole “government as a bunch of fascist lemons” argument. On the other hand it makes a good blog post title I guess :-) Honestly I am less worried about government’s wishes anyway – they seem intent on making themselves entirely irrelevant so I think it best to let them get on with it.

    Cyberdoyle – yes there were a couple of silver linings in there but as per your comment at the DBUC09 blog there’s an awful lot of not so good stuff in there as well and I really ought to read it before ranting too much…

  • Richard, yes, but I thought it had turned into enough of a rant already without going to town on the whole “government as a bunch of fascist lemons” argument. On the other hand it makes a good blog post title I guess :-) Honestly I am less worried about government’s wishes anyway – they seem intent on making themselves entirely irrelevant so I think it best to let them get on with it.

    Cyberdoyle – yes there were a couple of silver linings in there but as per your comment at the DBUC09 blog there’s an awful lot of not so good stuff in there as well and I really ought to read it before ranting too much…