Carter report must try harder, say forum delegates

The Digital Britain report contained too little detail about implementation, according to senior representatives from the communications industry.

The Digital Britain report contained too little detail about implementation, according to senior representatives from the communications industry.

While welcoming the initiative, executives from broadcasting, telecommunications, advertising, computer games and Google told delegates that the Carter report was a good start, but too much was left unresolved. They were attending a feedback meeting organised by the Westminster eForum.

It was still unclear whether even the government's basic promise to have a national 2Mbps broadband service by 2012 was a maximum or a minimum speed, said Andy King, director of telecommunications equipment maker Alcatel-Lucent's UK and Irish business.

"The difference has big cost implications for the network provider," he said.

Money was high on most speakers' agendas. The BBC's CEO Caroline Thompson said the report was clearly good for the BBC, despite unresolved issues over "top-slicing" the licence fee to fund content creation by local and regional publishers and broadcasters.

Carolyn McCall, CEO of the Guardian Media Group, said her company was committed to digital and online publishing. However, the BBC's expansion into online areas worried her. She said the BBC's free online content, which was paid for from the licence fee, stopped her from charging for news and other content where the Guardian competed with the BBC. This removed a potential source of revenue to the commercial online sector, she said.

London Business School's Patrick Barwise, an expert on the advertising industry, said 60% of online advertising went to paid search, 20% to classified or transaction driven events, and 20% to display or brand-building.

He said Google took half the total UK online adspend and sent nearly all of it out of the country. It re-invested nothing in long-term UK content development, he said.

Peter Barron, Google UK's communications director, did not respond directly to the point. "We don't do content," he said, adding Google distributed more than $5bn to pay per click customers.

Referring to financial losses due to copyright theft, he said people were uploading 20 hours of video a minute to YouTube. It was almost impossible to "pre-screen" the content, he said, so Google had developed tools that allowed copyright owners to take down unlicensed material.

"Ninety percent of copyright owners decide to leave their material there because they can monetise it," he said.

BT's director of industry policy and regulation, Emma Gilthorpe, said the proposed 50p/month levy on fixed-wire phones to fund broadband roll-out to uneconomic areas was a welcome stimulus to invest in areas that would otherwise not receive broadband. However, BT wanted access to the networks of anyone who won money for that purpose, she said.

BT has so far refused to grant others access to its ducts and other network infrastructure.

Several speakers spoke of the need to ensure that local and regional public network operators had ready and easy connectivity to the backbone networks run by BT, Virgin Media, Cable & Wireless and others.

This was essential for consumers and businesses to be able to get seamless and consistent end to end connections, said Alcatel-Lucent's King.

Speaking from the floor, Niall Murphy, founder of The Cloud wifi network, said consumer demand for high speed capacity was expected to rise 100-fold by 2015.

He called on policy makers to give more attention to the role wireless and unlicensed (free) spectrum (such as 2.1GHz) could play in increasing access in "fill-in" areas not served directly by traditional network operators.

Soundbites from Westminster 
 "Digital Britain was all about pipes, not people or products." Patrick Barwise, London Business School
 "If digital content is going to grow 10 to 100 times in the next 10 years, then we'll need more than 2Mbps." Andy King, director, UK and Ireland, Alcatel-Lucent
 "It's all about spectrum." Hugh Davies, director of corporate affairs, 3 Mobile
 "The UK is already the world's leading digital economy. The UK spends three times more per head on [online] shopping than the US, and twice as much on online advertising." Peter Barron, director of communications, Google
 "Digital Britain is the first time (policy makers) have grasped the convergence nettle." Emma Gilthorpe, director of industry policy and regulation, BT
 "We are a technology company. We don't do content." Peter Barron, director of communications, Google
"The UK is responsible for 25% to 50% of all international television programming." Tony Cohen, CEO FreemantleMedia
"The UK bought 82 million computer games worth £1.9bn last year. Games are bigger than either music or film." Mike Robinson, director of Elspa, the video game trade body
"Commercial radio was worth £500m last year, which had to be shared between 320 radio stations. Sixty per cent operate at break-even or loss, and 50 could close this year." Andrew Harrison, chief executive, RadioCentre
"The BBC (free online content) has a massive impact on the Guardian. It's the reason we can't charge for online content." Carolyn McCall, CEO Guardian Media Group
"Britons watch six hours of TV a day. The cost to consumers of being on the internet is £1.70/h; it is 11p/h for TV and 1.2p/h for radio." Patrick Barwise, London Business School

"The digital switchover (of television from analogue) was the biggest broadcasting project for 40 years." Alastair Davidson, director of strategy, marketing and business development, Arquiva.












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