The rise of the smart-phone as the global social networking and on-line browsing device of choice has expedited the convergence of fixed and mobile communications into "ubiquitous broadband" - even in the UK (which went from leader to laggard during the dead-end decade of local loop unbundling). Hence the driving force behind deals which upstage BDUK Broadband policy like that of O2 and Kensington and Westminster in much that same way that BSkyB upstaged IBA Satellite policy, two decades ago.
Meanwhile the fragmentation of debate over privacy,
surveillance, on-line safety and cyberwarfare continues to complicate the
spread of cost-effective information security by design - as opposed
to coating that which is inherently insecure with layers of expensive and ineffectual scareware.
Will that change as more businesses realise that using the identity chips already embedded
in PCs and mobile phones enables identification
of the physical device with which they are communicating? The routines
are not totally spoof-proof (nothing ever is), but they do enable better,
faster, less obtrusive security at lower
cost. They also restrict anonymity to those willing to pay for the privilege. I look forward to seeing a converged
debate flushing out the hidden agendas of those who wish to see this
happen, those who do not, those who wish use all to be uniquely identifiable and those who wish to have multiple on-line personas with different attributes which they can manage separately.
And what about regulatory convergence?
Has the time come to put Ofcom's telecommunications roles into a converged UK Utilities Regulator. Nations like Germany have already accepted that communications infrastructures should be regulated in tandem with the other critical utility infrastructures on which society depends. Does it make sense to separate the transport layer from the content layer? If so, where does the address layer sit. Given the unresolved power struggles over privacy and surveillance, let alone those over the responsibilities and liabilities that go with claims to content ownership, would it not be more sensible to copy the approach to the 2003 Communication Act and separate out that which is urgent , if anything, from that on which may well be politically impossible to secure meaningful agreement?
We can see the lobbying efforts of the dominant fixed and mobile operators, on-line service providers and content publishers ramping up in advance of the Communications Green paper. The 2003 Act has been described as "out of date" because it gives Ofcom such limited scope to regulate the Internet. That was, however, a very deliberate political decision. We should think long and hard before we add Ofcom to the armies of overlapping and feuding, national and international, bodies who have turned what was supposed to be a liberating force into the most regulated medium the world has ever known. Meanwhile what sane politicians wishes to be caught between the "Internet Natives" and the "Copyright Enforcers" when they join battle over "making sense of the Digital Economy Act" and the associated EU Directives?
Back to my opening question: will 2012 be the year in which convergence finally happens and helps bring about economic recovery?
Not if the politicians and bureaucrats are allowed to plan the way ahead.
If our children and grandchildren are to have a future we have to allow market forces to compensate for the political and regulatory
failure that has led us to where are today.
We have to copy the bonfire of regulation which enabled the first industrial revolution to gather speed, in Britain, in the 1780s, if we are to avoid a failure of planning and control akin to that which led to "regime change" in France in the 1790s.
We also need to begin in spring 2012 - the riots of last summer may well be repeated during the Olympics if we have not already begun to give hope for the future to our social networking savvy NEETs - including involving those who already have criminal records in stewardship roles. Now there is a challenge for converged thinking - getting LOCOG and the IOC to live up to their side of the bargain for a socially inclusive, multicultural London Olympics in the time that is left.