Challenges for Digital Britain: broadband access, copyright and business models

Last week, the UK Minister for Digital Britain, Stephen Timms, gave a speech outlining the main challenges ahead for the government in moving forward with its Digital Britain initiative. He focused on three challenges, broadband; copyright; and new business models.

With respect to broadband, he outlined that the government had two major broadband projects: a commitment that every home in the country should be able to obtain a 2 Mbit/s broadband service – and so be able to use the applications which most people are using broadband for today; and a next-generation fund to support national scale investment in much higher speed services.

With respect to new business models, he talked about the need for the content industries to come up with new business models – and what government can do to help. He mentioned the importance of rights holders developing new ways to make content available to people in formats that they want and at fair prices to reduce the incentive to break the law. He also mentioned the need to educate people about why creativity deserves to be fairly rewarded.

The Minister for Digital Britain also referred to the government’s £10 million investment in digital test beds to provide low-cost, low-risk opportunities for companies to experiment with ideas and find ways to monetise new online content. The goal of this project is to make progress on understanding how innovations like micropayment can help reduce piracy.

The Minister pointed out that new consumer services are emerging in the UK – like Sky Songs and Youtube’s partnership with Channel 4. The UK government wants services like these to thrive, just as Spotify did when Sweden introduced regulations similar to those the UK is putting in place.

As for copyright, the Minister highlighted the urgent need to enact and implement the Digital Economy Bill to address online infringement which is costing the creative industries hundreds of pounds each year. The Minister had this to say with respect to copyright:

“Nobody here needs any reminder from me about the importance of finding answers to the problem of online copyright infringement. Technological developments that have generated so many new markets, new platforms for content and exciting channels for creative expression have also overturned traditional business models. They’ve made content freely available to people who love what they’re getting but aren’t keen to pay for it.

Copyright infringement has been around for a long time. But in this digital age, it’s on an altogether different scale. And it is costing the creative industries hundreds of millions of pounds every year.

Government has to help in finding a solution. And it requires legislation.

We’ve introduced provisions in the Digital Economy Bill, being debated in the House of Lords at the moment, that will require internet service providers to write to those of their customers who are found by rights holders to be infringing copyright through peer to peer file sharing. Internet providers will also be required to make data available to rights holders, so they can pursue legal action against serious offenders. This approach will be backed by powers to impose technical penalties – like bandwidth capping or temporary account suspension – as a last resort.

It needs to be proportionate. And it needs to be underpinned by a clear and effective appeals mechanism. But the measures will achieve a big reduction in online infringement and – just as important – give rights holders space to develop new business models.

Cooperation from internet service providers is vital…

There’s real urgency here. We need the provisions in the Digital Economy Bill to make an impact quickly. That means putting a code of practice in place quickly. I hope interested parties will work with Ofcom while the Bill is still in Parliament so that the outline code can take shape. And the Bill also contains provisions to address infringement beyond the peer to peer file sharing which accounts for the bulk of the problem at the moment.”

The Minister concluded his speech by highlighting the need for cooperation between all stakeholders to make the Digital Britain initiative a success.

“There’s a long way to go with the Digital Britain programme. I have set out what we are doing in three key areas – broadband, copyright, new business models. And new challenges, as yet unforeseen, will emerge too, and we will have to resolve them.

But we are good at all this in Britain. People who have been denouncing each other should be talking together. What I would ask is that all of us work together in the period ahead, to make the most of the digital economy, and to make a reality of the ambitions that all of us share.”

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