LONDON - The Government's digital guru Stephen Carter has drawn up a blueprint for the future of Britain's digital economy, but it falls short. Revolution interviews six people Lord Broadband should listen to.
Lord Carter spoke to 300 people when compiling the interim Digital Britain report, the Government's blueprint for a digital economy. The question is: did he speak to the right people?
If you see 2MBps (megabytes per second) broadband as providing the infrastructure for Britain's future digital economy and tough law enforcement as the best way to safeguard intellectual property, then the answer is probably yes.
But if you think that it will take more for Britain to rival the leading digital landscape of California or compete with emerging markets like Singapore and Taiwan, then the answer is most definitely no.
The Digital Britain report is intended to secure Britain's place at the forefront of the global digital economy. In it, Carter, the government's minister for communications, technology and broadcasting, outlines a 22-point action plan covering content, education, mobile spectrum and broadband infrastructure.
As the dust settles on the document, Digital Britain is still in the hands of anyone who feels passionately about the industry. The report is open for consultation until 12 March, but time is running out to help shape Britain's digital future.
Global scale is what Carter wants to achieve for Britain's digital economy and, if nothing else, he has received praise that Digital Britain is a good starting point. "I'm not a great believer that many things happen by accident," he says.
"I think we're facing some choices as a country. What do we want to be good at in the future? Where is growth and success coming from in the British economy in 10 or 20 years?"
For Carter, the answer is digital. If that's your answer too, you can still help shape the future. The Digital Britain report doesn't have a Wiki, a forum or even a website. But it does have an email address: email@example.com.
Here are six people he should listen to:
Sam Conniff, Co-founder, Livity
Sam Conniff co-founded Livity, the youth marketing agency that works with young people to help the public and private sectors understand the youth audience and deliver socially responsible campaigns. "The interim report sounds a bit like your dad emerging victorious after setting up the wireless and announcing 'the future' has arrived," he says. "Digital natives are under 21, they don't say 'convergence', but do understand what it means, and their voice is missing from the report. To realise our future digital economy we need to inspire, engage and excite the generation that will drive it, not threaten to suffocate it with terms and conditions. A 'digital expert' is an oxymoron. Remaining relevant within an ever-changing world is what's required."
Martin Stiksel, Co-founder, Last.fm
Martin Stiksel is co-founder of Last.fm, the site that has revolutionised the way people listen to music. Last.fm is one of the most successful UK start-ups of the past decade, a point noted by US media giant CBS when it bought it for £140 million in May 2007. He says: "Licensing digital entertainment content is a complicated process. Digital Britain has weighed in with heavy-handed plans for suing persistent peer-to-peer users, something even the RIAA in the US has given up on. We need a total overhaul of how digital content is licensed and distributed on the web. I'd like to see one single compulsory licence for digital content holders: for music, royalties could be distributed according to how often it is played - something we can track, thanks to Audioscrobbler."
Simon Darling, Founder and chief executive, Quiet Riots
Simon Darling, founder of Quiet Riots, a new-breed start-up that seeks to gain insight from crowds, says: "US president Barack Obama is promising America's first chief technology officer, but a visionary digital Britain would go even further. By 2012, we'd have a Cabinet-level post, with real power. Governance would be progressively opened at every level, from crowd-sourcing policy ideas and spending priorities to an online legislative process with wiki-like mass participation. We'd get market incentives to quickly push fibre into every home, unleashing bottom-up energies instead of multibillion, top-down IT projects. Political leadership would start reflecting the digital word, creating real change by boldly innovating. We need our Government to get up to speed, fast."
Vint Cerf, Vice-president and chief internet evangelist, Google
Vint Cerf is vice-president and chief internet evangelist at Google. He is credited as a 'founding father' of the internet. "For Britain to develop a thriving digital economy, it requires open access to broadband resources to foster innovation in digital products and services, as well as paying strong attention to protecting user privacy, encouraging vigorous exploration of digital tools to enhance education and to pursue training for youthful internet users to protect themselves from abuse," he says. "It's also crucial to encourage government use of digital technology to inform and be informed by the public, to adopt regulations that foster competition, to seek international consensus on abusive network practices and develop agreements to combat them."
Lord Puttnam, Politician and chairman of Profero
Lord Puttnam is one of only a few senior politicians who can claim a deep understanding of what it takes to build a digital economy. Having been instrumental in the Communications Act of 2003, Puttnam has since become chairman of Profero. "If we fail to invest in talent, we will very quickly fall behind other nations in seizing the potential offered by the digital universe," he says. "I'm very fortunate in being able to visit Singapore twice a year, where I listen to advanced plans to ensure that 2GB (gigabytes) of connectivity are available by 2015. Meanwhile, we are giving serious thought to making 2MB generally available. That is in effect, 1,000th of the ambition of the Singapore Government. Clearly one of these two options is barmy. I've a nasty feeling it could be us."
Julius Genachowski, Barack Obama's digital champion
Barack Obama is set to make Julius Genachowski head of the Federal Communications Commission, having lent heavily on his expertise to get elected. The appointment of someone associated with net neutrality, open source and entrepreneurialism would be the first time a major nation has appointed a digital visionary to an influential government position. It would also mean other countries seeking to compete in the global digital economy may soon be playing catch-up. "Technology will be a key part of the solution to better government, and to so many of the specific issues that concern Americans: healthcare, energy, education, as well as job creation and economic growth," said Genachowski before Obama was elected president.
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