Government

BSG provides submission to Welsh Affairs Select Committee inquiry in to digital inclusion in Wales

The BSG today submitted a report to the Welsh Affairs Select Committee as part of their inquiry in to digital inclusion in Wales.

Focusing on broadband availability and take-up, including the prospects for next generation broadband, the report highlights the challenges facing Wales, owing to the low population density and high proportion of rural communities.

BSG submission to Welsh Affairs Select Committee

BSG response to the Budget

Timely investment in next generation broadband will provide platform for innovation and productivity growth

The BSG welcomes the recognition given to the importance to the UK’s communications infrastructure in today’s budget and the confirmation of the government’s intention to make basic broadband services universally available across the UK.

However, the BSG is concerned that the budget announcements on next generation broadband do not yet provide grounds for confidence that such services will be made available beyond urban areas. The full benefits of next generation broadband will only be achieved through a combination of widespread availability and adoption.

Delivering the Universal Service Commitment

  • The BSG welcomes the confirmation of the government’s intention to implement the Universal Service Commitment for broadband and the suggestion that this could be part funded through the underspend from the Digital Switchover Help Scheme.
  • The BSG also welcomes the commitment to support the improvement of basic digital skills and the promotion of broadband take-up. Achieving the universal availability and take up of broadband is not only a matter of social equity but is also a necessary pre-condition for the eventual switch off of analogue public services which is the only way to ensure better and more affordable public service delivery in the future.

Next generation broadband

  • The BSG welcomes the doubling of capital allowances which should help to bring forward investment. However, the BSG is concerned that this will not, in itself be sufficient to ensure the timely and widespread availability of next generation broadband.
  • The BSG will be looking to the final Digital Britain report for further measures to ensure that next generation broadband deployment meets the needs of the wider economy. This could include more support for projects like South Yorkshire Digital Region that was endorsed in the budget report today.

“The key is to find the intervention sweet spot, just enough but not too much???, said Antony Walker, Chief Executive of the Broadband Stakeholder Group.

“The aim should be to provide a sufficient nudge to the market that enables it to deploy more quickly and more extensively that it would do otherwise. The announcement on capital allowances may help to bring forward investment but does not address the challenge of extending availability beyond urban areas.???

Although difficult to quantify, there is a growing body of evidence [see notes below] to suggest that the long-term benefit to the UK economy of a measured and carefully targeted intervention could potentially significantly exceed the cost to government.

Today’s budget announcement comes almost exactly two years after the BSG first highlighted the need for action in its Pipe Dreams report on next generation broadband. The rapid deterioration of the UK economy means that the potential for market investment in low density areas has become further constrained.

Without additional action next generation broadband will be rolled out more slowly and less extensively, meaning that many rural areas will be left behind and the net economic benefit to the economy will be smaller and slower to emerge.

Explaining the significance of next generation broadband, Antony Walker said “This is really about the future potential for innovation and productivity growth right across the UK economy. Broadband is what economists call a general purpose technology that is relevant to almost every aspect of economic activity. It provides the potential for households, businesses and governments to do things differently, more effectively and more efficiently. And for some key parts of the economy, such as the creative industries, it will be the platform for transformative change that will open up a global market for entirely new products, services and applications.???

However, these benefits do not accrue automatically. The government will need to put as much effort into ensuring the rapid adoption and exploitation of these networks as it puts into ensuring their availability in the first place.

BSG response to Budget – full press release

BSG submits response to interim Digital Britain Report

The BSG today finalised its submission to the government’s interim Digital Britain Report.

The response recognises the ambition and rationale of the report, while noting the challenging timescales. It goes on to highlight a number of challenges and issues facing developments in each of the areas of the report, and makes a number of suggestions as to how to address the actions raised.

BSG response to interim Digital Britain Report

Andy calls time on product placement….?

Somewhat behind original timelines, the government has today given further indication of how it will proceed with implementing the Audiovisual Media Services Directive into UK law.

Today has seen the publication of a press release, Ministerial Statement from Andy Burnham, and a document giving an overview of responses to the original consultation.

An initial glance (so forgive me if a more detailed read thows up further information) shows that whilst the main thrust of the government approach is made clear, there is still a long way to go on the detail.

Today’s documents state that the government wishes to apply the Directive only to those “mass media services whose principal purpose is to provide television programming to the public on demand.”

The scope of services that will be captured by the Directive has been one of ongoing concern and where clarity is urgently required – as stated strongly in the BSG’s response to the AVMS consultation.

As ever the devil will be in the detail. Watch this space for details of the Statutory Instruments that will carry this into UK law….

What is clear however is that the Culture Secretary has not shifted from his initial view on product placement (something that the Directive allows Member States to permit, should they wish).

The title of the press release perhaps gives it away: “preserving standards will be cornerstone of UK media services”.

This release then goes on to say that “mindful of the need to maintain public trust in television broadcasters and British television’s reputation for high standards” that the government has decided to go with the status quo and continue to prohibit product placement.

What is interesting however, is that the release also clarifies that product placement will continue to be allowed in films and overseas programmes (which we knew) but also in programmes made by and for UK Video on Demand (VoD) services.

And VoD services are described as “TV-like” in the Directive……..

Now, these are just questions rather than a statement of view at this point:, but:

– Is the government response to a policy development that is trying to regulate for a converged media world, actually then drawing distinctions between how broadcast and on-demand TV should operate and be funded?
– Will that become an irrelevance to the consumer as people become used to accessing TV-like content on the mix between their mobile phone, TV and computer and also a mix between real-time and on-demand?

Such questions aside, the line drawn in the sand here will come as a blow for ITV and others that have been pushing the case for product placement with the government.

It also prompts one to consider how this decision will impact on the development of the Digital Britain report, which gives considerable emphasis to possible measures to address the challenges for digital content.

Today’s announcement does say that the government will review its position in 2011/2 on the back of further research by Ofcom on product placement.

As other Members States take advantage of the opportunity to implement product placement however, the question is, will this timescale be too late?

Pamela Learmonth, Policy Manager, BSG

Digital Britain Interim Report launched

The government’s Digital Britain Interim Report has been launched. The press release is available here, and the report itself is available here. The BSG press release responding to the launch is available here.

We have produced an initial analysis of the report in a special edition of our newsletter. We are keen to hear the views and opinions of members of the BSG community, and anyone else with an interest in the broadband value chain, on the issues raised in the report.

If you have any views you wish to share please either comment on this blog or send us an email. We will pass on all views to the government’s Digital Britain team.

Next Generation Broadband will be key to delivering Digital Britain

The BSG welcomed the publication today of the Digital Britain interim report.

Kip Meek, Chairman of the BSG said, “the Prime Minister made it very clear today that digital networks will be the driving force of the economy going forward. Next generation broadband is the biggest economic prize at stake in this report.

The government has set out the key issues and is stepping up to the task of setting a clear strategic framework that encourages the sector to invest – and the country as a whole to benefit.???

The report recognises the central importance of broadband to the UK economy and sets out three key challenges: firstly, to agree a minimum level of service that should be universally available; secondly to further drive the levels of take up; and thirdly to ensure the timely and widespread deployment of next generation broadband networks.

  • Universal broadband: Kip Meek proposed the idea of a universal broadband commitment in a speech November. Broadband access is fast becoming an essential utility for families and business across the UK.The BSG welcomes the goal of setting a minimum level of broadband that should be available universally and will work with government to determine the scope of the universal service commitment and the potential mechanisms for funding it.
  • Driving take-up: The BSG’s own research has highlighted the importance of achieving high levels of adoption to maximise the social and economic benefits of broadband.Driving take-up significantly beyond current levels will require government engagement and effective collaboration across the sector. The BSG will support this process.
  • Next generation broadband: Economic conditions have changed significantly since publication of the Caio report making next generation broadband both more important to the economy and harder to deliver for the industry.The next few weeks provide an opportunity for government to set out a vision for how, where and when next generation broadband can be delivered.The BSG welcomes the announcement of a strategic review and will directly engage in this process to ensure a clear vision is established and that specific measures are identified to achieve it.

The BSG also welcomes the emphasis placed in the report on ensuring that consumers are empowered to navigate the digital future effectively. The BSG believes that a coordinated approach is required to ensure that consumers have trust and confidence in digital services and are comfortable with the rapid innovation taking place across the sector.

Proposed measures to improve levels of media literacy, and empower consumers to make informed choices through the provision of transparent information about the nature of content and the use of personal data are positive steps to achieve this important outcome.

The BSG has produced a special edition newsletter providing further comment and analysis on the contents of the report – available to download below. We are keen to hear the views of members of the BSG community on the ideas discussed in the report.

Full press release

Digital Britain Interim Report

DCMS/BERR Digital Britain Interim Report press release

Special edition BSG Digital Britain Newsletter

Carter’s Universal Broadband Commitment

At an event yesterday Communications Minister Stephen Carter discussed the idea of a universal broadband commitment of a 2Mbps service to be available to every household that wants it, by 2012. The commitment could be included in the interim Digital Britain Report, expected to be published at the end of January.

The proposal would see a reform of the existing universal service obligation on BT, and would make use of wireless networks as well as fixed to deliver the service. The idea follows similar recent developments in other markets such as France, Ireland and Finland.

Whilst this is clearly a significant development, many will ask what it means for next generation broadband deployment in the UK? In November last year BSG Chairman Kip Meek outlined the idea of a universal service commitment for broadband in his speech to the BSG Reception. Meek’s idea sought to bring together policy in current and next generation broadband – a universal service for current broadband while encouraging investment in next generation broadband.

If the aims of the digital Britain initiative are to deliver economic as well as social benefits then a coherent approach will be required that addresses both objectives. While Carter referenced the importance of enabling investment in next generation services, it remains unclear, what, if anything, the DBR interim report will say on the matter.

Peter Shearman, Policy Manger, BSG

Government to undertake Digital Britain Report

On Friday last week the government announced it would be undertaking a Digital Britain Report, led by the new minister for technology, communications and broadcasting Stephen Carter. This represents an opportunity for Government to tackle a range of issues in a coordinated, strategic way. Hopwever, doing so requires that the report is not a stock-taking exercise of ongoing issues, but a proactive plan of action that provides strong government direction.

The value of this report would be in bringing together the various activities going on in the area of convergence, across different departments, in a coordinated, strategic way. In doing so, government can provide a strong direction, with the ultimate aim of ensuring that the UK’s digital infrastructure (and the surrounding policy and regulatory frameworks) is fit for a world-leading knowledge economy.

Commenting on the report, Peter Mandelson stated that ‘the digital economy will be central’ to Britain getting through the worst of the current crisis and preparing for the upturn; with this focus the report could be a valuable contribution to the health of the sector and the economic activity that it supports.

Looking at the issues identified for the report, there are already numerous initiatives either completed or underway that are tackling these. Indeed, one key issue for government is how this report interacts with these ongoing activities such as the Convergence Think Tank or the implementation of the Audio Visual Media Services Directive. A report that simply reviews these various policy debates will be of limited value.

The opportunity here is to bring together a range of ongoing issues that all relate to convergence but often sit across a number of government departments and lack an overall coordination. Addressing these at a strategic level, with government providing strong direction and leadership would be of benefit to the development of the converging industries.

It is rare that a new minister already has a command of their brief upon entering a new role, but in Stephen Carter this is exactly what has happened. With his knowledge and experience he should be able to hit the ground running, and use the Digital Britain report to drive government action, rather than simply set the scene for further reviews.

Peter Shearman, Policy Manager, BSG

Digital Britain Report must ask hard questions

Digital Britain Report must ask hard questions says Broadband Stakeholder Group

The communications sector is absolutely vital to the UK’s future as a competitive knowledge economy. At a time of unprecedented change and disruption we have to face up to some fundamental questions and challenges about broadcasting, broadband, our creative industries and the impact of the internet.

We cannot be complacent about past successes. The communications sector is being re-shaped by convergence and we must re-shape the policy and regulatory framework to go with it. The next couple of years will determine whether the UK remains a world leader or becomes a quiet backwater. If our ambition is to lead, then hard questions must be asked in the course of preparing this report.

BSG response to Digital Britain report – full press release

BERR-DCMS Digital Britain report – full press release

A busy month for next generation broadband

September has been a busy month in the world of next generation broadband. Government reviews, UK and EU regulatory consultations, not to mention our report on the cost of fibre-based next generation broadband, have certainly moved the debate on in the UK.

The month started with the BSG publishing its report ‘The costs of deploying fibre-based next generation broadband‘. This report used geographic and cost data specific to the UK, allowing us to model the cost of deployment across a variety of geotypes. The long and the short of this is that the report suggests that fibre to the cabinet will cost up to £5.1bn, and fibre to the home up to £28.8bn.

The total costs are interesting, but the purpose of the report was to breakdown the various cost components, to examine where the real costs lie. Unsurprisingly, this was in the civil infrastructure elements of the network – 42% of total costs for FTTC, and up to 80% of total costs for FTTH. Any steps that could be taken to reduce these costs would obviously help reduce this barrier to investment, and the report modelled how various actions, such as if higher duct re-use was possible, would impact the overall costs.

The report also clearly set out that there is a definite difference in the cost of deployment between urban, rural and remote areas of the UK. For fibre to the cabinet, for example, the cheapest 58% of households would cost £1.9bn to deploy to; the next 26% would cost £1.4bn, and the most expensive 16% would cost a further £1.8bn. Clearly, deploying beyond the first 60% of UK households will be a more challenging case for investors to make, which has a number of implications for government and the regulator.

This was closely followed by the launch of the final report of the Caio Review – ‘The Next Phase of Broadband UK: Action now for long term competitiveness‘. The Review suggested that, while we shouldn’t be panicking about a lack of NGA in the UK, the government could take actions to reduce the barriers to investment, and set out the need for leadership from the government and the regulator. A range of initiatives were recommended, including providing certainty for investors and reducing the costs of deployment, while increasing the competitive pressure on copper-based services, and benchmarking our performance against other countries while considering the ‘batstop’ remedies should the market fail to deliver NGA.

We welcomed these recommendations at the time, and look forward to hearing the government’s response to the Review. Certainly, our reports over the last 18 months have supported the conclusions and recommendations of the Review.

What followed was then followed by a flurry of regulatory activity. First, the European Commission set out its long-awaited draft Recommendation on the regulation of NGA. The Recommendation sets out how the Commission would like regulation to support investment and competition in next generation broadband, and makes for interesting reading for Ofcom and the operators, who will no doubt be submitting their views to the Commission before the 14 November deadline.

This was swiftly followed by Ofcom themselves publishing their latest consultation on the regulatory environment for NGA, ‘Delivering superfast broadband in the UK‘. The consultation discusses a range of issues and, although differing in depth of detail across the issues, certainly moves the debate on from its previous consultation last September. Positioning itself as a ‘framework for action’, the regulator will further progress these issues through a range of activities with stakeholders.

And, just to add to the fun, the Commission has also now begun its second periodic review of the Universal Service Directive, as well as launching an EU-wide broadband performance index.

Quite a lot to absorb for those of us who spend their days working on next generation broadband. So where has it left us? Well, the Caio Review has set out a number of options for government if it is serious about trying to reduce the costs of deployment. The government response will be interesting, and whether they are actually able to implement some of the suggested changes (such as to the way fibre is treated in the rating system) is up for debate. Caio’s recommendation that government and the regulator take a strong lead on NGA is one that we support, and are keen to see.

Our report has added further to the evidence base for policy making that we are committed to creating, to ensure appropriate policy is developed. It adds numbers to views that were likely already held, but also raises interesting questions, and the granularity of our figures should be of real use to those interested in local or regional broadband projects.

The Commission’s Recommendation, and Ofcom’s consultation, take us closer towards regulatory certainty than we were before, although a number of questions remain unanswered and this is unlikely to be the end of Ofcom’s process for creating the right regulatory framework. Certainly there could be a sense that every time you delve deeper into an issue, the list of questions a regulator needs to answer gets longer.

One issue worth noting is the change of view towards public sector projects. Sympathies certainly appear to have shifted within Ofcom, and possibly within BERR given the Review’s recommendations, since the DTI/Ofcom Best Practice Guide for Public Broadband Schemes was put out in 2007, and this is a welcome development.

This is one of many issues raised this month, however, and stakeholders will be watching with interest to see how these are played out in the coming months.

BSG comments on Caio Review

The Caio Report on Next Generation Broadband is a key step towards UK consumers getting superfast broadband, according to the Broadband Stakeholder Group, the government’s advisory body on broadband.

Kip Meek, Chairman of the Broadband Stakeholder Group, says, “Importantly, this report states that although there is no government money on the table, there is a key leadership role for both government and Ofcom, and that everyone involved in the provision of broadband must work more closely together if we are to address the challenges of deployment of next generation, super-fast, broadband in the UK.???

BSG believes that the report is important for three reasons:

  • Firstly it is saying that government needs to come off the fence and recognise that next generation broadband will be of fundamental importance to the UK economy

BSG agrees and believes that government and Ofcom together must show leadership in creating the right environment for investment to take place.

  • Secondly, it is saying that we shouldn’t expect a single entity to deploy a single fibre network universally across the UK. Instead we are likely to see different networks, being deployed in different areas, by different organisations using a mix of fibre and wireless technologies.

This is borne out by the BSG’s recent cost modelling work which concluded that universal Fibre to the Home (FTTH) would cost £28.8bn

  • Thirdly while it rejects the need for blanket subsidies, it is saying that local innovative projects, involving the public and private sector and local communities should be encouraged and supported both as a stimulus to competition and as a way of extending coverage into more rural areas.

BSG research earlier this year demonstrated that if built on international best practice, such projects can be both efficient and effective. But coordination is required at national level.

The BSG is committed to assisting government and the regulator in implementing the recommendations from the Caio Review.

Caio Review final report

BSG response to Caio Review – full press release

Caio Reveiw – Full BERR press release

BERR launches consultation on illegal file-sharing

BERR today launched a consultation on approaches for tackling illegal file-sharing.

The consultation is seeking views on the proposed co-regulatory approach put forward by BERR for working with industry and the regulator to address the issue of illegal peer-to-peer file sharing.

Alongside the consultation, a memorandum of understanding has been signed by the major ISPs and representatives of the content industry that sets out an objective to achieve ‘a significant reduction in the incidence of copyright infringement as a result of peer to peer file-sharing’ within the next two to three years.

This will begin with a three month trial where ISPs will notify 1,000 subscribers per week, who have been identified as being engaged in illegal file sharing, that their account is being used for illegal activity. The results from this trial will be assessed by the signatories before deciding on further action.

These developments come five months on from the government’s announcement, when it launched the ‘Creative Britain’ strategy paper, that it would consult in 2008 on legislation requiring rights holders and ISPs to work together to address illegal file-sharing.

At that time, government set a deadline of Spring 2009 for this issue to be addressed before legislation would be introduced, and today’s announcement is a significant step to finding a solution agreeable to ISPs, the content industries and government within that timescale.

BERR consultation on illicit P2P file-sharing