Will 2012 be the Year that convergence finally happens?

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.  

That brings me to the need for a converged debate on who owns what intellectual propertyand for how long. Do we have copyright in our personal information, identities (note that I use plural) and DNA? Should attemptsto make us sign away those rights without informed consent be void? And if so,what does informed consent mean?  Meanwhile the BRIC nations are likely to copythe past policies of Western nations whose economic growth in the 18thand 19th centuries was based on ignoring the intellectual property rightsof others.  The California lawyersof today are likely to have as much success on the opposite side of the Pacific as Edison’s lawyers had when they triedto enforce his rights on film studios established on the opposite side of the USA. Meawhile rights-holders nearer home are facing the on-line equivalent of the Arab Spring, as the “InternetNative generation” combines to take out their enforcement operations.

And what about regulatory convergence? 

Has the time come to put Ofcom’s telecommunicationsroles into a converged UK Utilities Regulator. Nations like Germany have already accepted that communications infrastructuresshould be regulated in tandem with the other critical utility infrastructureson 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 overprivacy and  surveillance, let alone those over the responsibilities and liabilities that gowith claims to content ownership, would it not be more sensible  to copy the approach to the 2003 CommunicationAct 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 andmobile operators, on-line service providers and content publishers ramping upin advance of the Communications Green paper. The 2003 Act has been describedas “out of date” because it gives Ofcom such limited scope to regulate theInternet. That was, however, a very deliberate political decision. We should thinklong and hard before we add Ofcom to the armies of overlapping and feuding, nationaland international, bodies who have turned what was supposed to be a liberating forceinto 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 bringabout 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 regulatoryfailure 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.