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

3 Responses to “Unravelling the Digital Economy Bill”

  1. Nick

    The problem is, the digital economy bill doesn’t seem very progressive to me. For starters, the broadband speeds are still appalling. Australia is bringing in speeds approx 50 times faster to the outback hundreds of miles away from the nearest neighbor.

    Not to mention Feargal Sharkey could come banging down my door every time I download something on bit torrent (I don’t Feargal honestly, don’t hurt me).

    But what most concerning about this Bill is the fact that the Secretary of State will have the ability to add to it, without consultation, without taking it back to Parliament. Mandy apparently has included this because the technologies change so often that it is not feasible to create a new Bill every time it is necessary, so this Bill allows for constant additions.

  2. Richard Blogger

    Nick, I agree.

    I read the Digital Britain report when it first came out (big download on my 2Meg “broadband”) and it seemed to have been written by someone who really doesn’t get the digital landscape present or future. The whole section about DAB is laughable. (If you are reading this Lord Carter, DAB is 80s technology, it is about time the BBC admitted that no one wants it. Forcinf people to use it will not work. People will simply use the internet for radio, or move to satellite or AM instead. DAB is dead.)

    As a simple example. A CD came through the post two days ago for my teenage daughter. She listens to/watches indie bands on youtube. She liked what she heard and then bought their CD with paypal. That is the new model, it is not huge multi nationals like EMI or Apple iTunes. We need to localise and encourage small businesses, not prop-up creaking old behemoths.

    For a great comment on iTunes have a look at the downloads page on Tom Robinson’s web site.

    Digital Britain was an opportunity to get some new thinking, to think ahead about what the internet and new media could do and how we could benefit from it. But instead, it was a tired old attempt to package new media in last century economics.

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