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Wednesday, June 17, 2009 

Analogue Britain.

For once, you have to hand it to the Tories. Their description of the Digital Britain report as "government of the management consultants, for the management consultants by the management consultants" could hardly ring truer. Ofcom, that mightiest of quangos, has always been run with an innate bias towards commercial television, probably because those in charge used to be... heads of commercial communications companies. That much is evident in Lord Carter's report, the former head of Ofcom as well as late of the much maligned NTL.

On the face of it, things could have far worse, especially on the piracy front. The lobbying, not just from the usual suspects but from unions who have also bizarrely signed up to the updated claims that home taping is killing music etc has been ferocious, and their favourite fantasy, that there would be three strikes and then you're out, was mooted as being the plan. Instead there's the continuation of the letter writing scheme, and the possibility that ISPs might be forced to send details of the most prolific and unrelenting uploaders and downloaders to the rights holders, which seems unlikely to be followed through by those who wish to keep their businesses growing. Part of the problem that the record industry has is that they have been for so long and continue to be some of the most unsympathetic characters around, claiming to be "innovating and investing" when all they do is churn out the same old shit time and time again, as you could not fail to notice by looking at the current top 10, or the "emergence" of yet more manufactured faux-soul crap as Pixie Lott and Paloma Faith, only a year on from the manufactured faux-soul crap of Adele and Duffy. The same is the case with the film industry; most deserving of protection is the games industry, but they are hardly even noticed. The idea also that ISPs can cut file-sharing by 70% in a year is a hilarious, and obviously made by those without a slightest clue of how the internet works.

The top-slicing of the licence fee is far more contentious. While using that left over from the digital switchover fund to put towards universal broadband is a fair enough move, the BBC having to step in to ensure that ITV keeps putting out regional news is ridiculous on two levels. Firstly, that ITV doesn't have the money to keep such a public service going, when they have three digital channels transmitting constant repeats and on ITV2 some of the worst programmes ever to be broadcast on British television, no doubt costing millions, and secondly that if ITV really can't afford it, why duplicate something which the BBC already provides? Wouldn't it make far more sense to instead enable the struggling local newspaper groups to step into the breach, giving them the opportunity to invest and transform themselves at the same time? Apparently not. As the BBC Trust has argued, all the splashing around of the licence fee will do is further the resentment of what is, despite the great good that the BBC does, a regressive tax. At the moment everyone knows what they're getting from it; the cutting and redistributing of it will only confuse and confound matters.

Most lacking though is any vision for rolling-out the next generation of broadband. By 2012 all are supposed to be able to access a 2meg connection, which is just about good enough for the internet as it currently is; by 2017, when the so-called third generation of broadband connectivity is meant to be completed, things are going to be incredibly different. Difficult as it is to predict, by then we're bound to be seeing the streaming of ultra high definition content as standard, requiring bandwidth far beyond that currently available to the vast majority. As thinkbroadband points out, by 2017 at the moment we're only going to have the kind of network capacity which the more enlightened and forward thinking nations have currently already put in place, leaving us way behind the pack. The Guardian also identifies the other issue with the £6 tax on the cost of a landline to fund this: it's a subsidy from the public going direct to the private sector, the ones who will reap all the benefits. Once again the foolishness of privatising assets and not taking even the slightest of stakes in the emergent companies rears its ugly head.

The resulting package as a whole is a fudge, as seems to be the only thing that the current government can agree on, pleasing no one and priortising nothing. Management consultants it seems have a lot to answer for.

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