Unravelling the Digital Economy Bill

Expert view on the implications of the new Digital Economy Bill.

The Digital Economy Bill wasn’t designed to appease the people Sion Simon, at the DCMS’ recent Cabinet forum, called “web libertarians”. Instead, it serves two main purposes…

Protecting from digital evaporation the economic contribution the “creative industries” make to the UK – estimated by the government to comprise four percent (£16 billion) of our exports and employ two million people.

Giving citizens the option of subscribing to the minimum possible speed of universal broadband, so that the government can start moving service delivery and engagement online en masse.

The COI is amongst the biggest-spending advertisers in the UK, so moving all that public information online would be a big money-saver, not to mention scaling back the human cost of providing engagement that could then be carried out through online forms.

But whether the government can wrestle the necessary funds from the BBC’s unspent digital TV switchover help fund, and how it can encourage telcos in to the farthest reaches of Britain, are unclear. The lens through which Lord Mandelson is viewing the idea of warning and, potentially, suspending the ISP accounts of those who download illegal content is, perhaps rightly, economic protectionism.

How accurately this can be enforced (an IP number doesn’t necessarily translate to an individual’s actual identity) and what criminal sanctions there are if people re-offend persistently after successive account suspensions, remain open questions.

And any stick against freeloaders in the bill must also go together with the carrots proposed in the white paper – innovating around business models to ensure services (many of them will be free, like Spotify) can give consumers attractive enough reasons to eschew P2P.

As unappealing as disconnections are too many, a parallel Intellectual Property Office paper, © The Way Ahead, is also proposing liberalising copyright to allow more re-use of content by academia, museums, individuals and even commercially.

Recognising the turbulence and job cuts local newspapers, radio stations and ITV regions have been enduring, there’s also encouragement for an eclectic mix of such companies to form multi-media news consortia, again using unspent BBC money, at least at first.

Together with an Ofcom proposal that local media cross-ownership rules be relaxed, publishers and broadcasters will now have many of the conditions they asked for as assistance.

The future of local media could now get exciting, with a smorgasbord of upstart or grassroots new entrants considering bidding to replace their local ITV news franchise; online could be a big component. But the winners here may be the same old newspaper publishers and broadcasters that already dominate certain markets.

Robert Andrews is the editor of paidContent:UK

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.