Last week, Econsultancy was invited to the Westminster eForum, where Lord Stephen Carter – the Minister for Communications, Technology and Broadcasting – was a guest keynote speaker ahead of his Digital Britain report.

The report, which is expected on January 26th, is to be “an action plan to secure the UK’s place at the forefront of innovation, investment and quality in the digital and communications industries.” So, ahead of the report, what is the Government planning?

Lord Carter, who has an extensive career in the media industries – including being the first Chief Executive for Ofcom – was appointed in October 2008 by Gordon Brown to help maintain the UK’s position as a ‘global leader’ of the digital, media and communication sectors.

Invited to give an opening speech to the eForum, which is one of the core environments for policy makers in Parliament and Government agencies to engage with industry professionals, representatives and advisors, Lord Carter hinted about the content of his upcoming publication about the UK’s digital economy. But he stopped short of revealing too much detail.

The report itself will outline the Government’s plans and recommendations for the UK’s communication industries over the next decade, and it is likely to have major impact, particularly as to how digital content is received by citizens.

Broadband remains a major issue, especially as the rollout of the next-generation high-speed network is on the horizon. Who is going to pay for this remains to be seen, though I for one left with the impression that the Government will provide financial support to the telecoms operators. Which means the taxpayer will be, at least in part, funding it. More specifically, city dwellers will be paying for country folk to access broadband. 

“We are way beyond the view that broadband is a niche product; it is an enabling and transformational service and therefore we have to look at how we can universalise it,” Carter said. “We have to ensure that fairness and access for all is more than a soundbite in a manifesto… we need to bring forward a unified framework to help maximise the UK’s competitive advantage.”

As well as getting maximum technology into every part of the UK, he also said that the government must improve the population’s media and digital literacy. 

      Communications have been revolutionised in the last 20 years, with consumers and businesses alike embracing the opportunities and taking advantage of the reality of the new technologies. Digital Britain is about capturing the opportunities on offer for UK PLC and the public, and advancing our standing as a world leader in these industries. Our ambition is to see Digital Britain as the leading major economy for innovation, investment and quality in the digital and communications industries.”

Other issues were discussed by the forum, including:

  • Open markets providing investment, innovation and choice, at all levels of the value chain including infrastructure, service provision and creation of content.
  • Broadband Development: examining options for maximising participation and levels of service across the UK.
  • Investment in Content: exploring business models for content development in a digital age, and the impact of new media on the content market.
  • Internet: looking at a range of issues affecting internet users, such as user security and safety and a workable approach to promoting content standards.
  • Media Literacy and IT skills: identifying inhibitors to IT take-up and barriers to maximising the economic and social effects of digital technologies including empowering consumers.
  • Universal access to high quality, public service content through appropriate mechanisms for a converged digital age.
  • Independent Production: examining how to ensure the health of a vibrant independent production sector.
  • Intellectual property: the UK Intellectual Property Office will take forward work to deliver a digital copyright framework which supports creativity, investment and job creation in these important sectors.

The Government continues to move slowly but now that the internet has firmly established a place in the economy it seems that the industry – and the broadband network that underpins it – is well-positioned to receive support from the powers that be (and the taxpayer).