The Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has decided to keep us waiting for their interim ‘Digital Britain’ report which was due out today, 26 January 2009. A spokesperson confirmed that it’s been delayed until the end of the month, which to us is the end of the week. Anyhow, the long awaited report, which won’t be finalised until late Spring this year, is expected to outline the Government’s vision for, er, a Digital Britain. To be specific, it will be looking to regulate the net so that it can be made available to everyone nationwide. It is expected that the report will also set minimum broadband speeds and impose obligations on telecoms to meet these requirements. Culture Secretary Andy Burnham said the government was looking at regulating the internet to "even up" the imbalance with television.
Of course all this makes sense. But there are a number of major obstacles, first of which is investment, or lack of, in new fibre-optic cabling and ensuring that exchanges up and down the country, which are controlled by BT, are upgraded so that broadband speeds can be increased. Britain is lagging behind not just Asia, but Europe when it comes to speeds, with the UK average just over a year ago – light years in net time being 3Mbs. This is way behind the 4.8Mbs in Germany, the 7.4Mbs in Sweden, 10Mbs in Japan or between 50 and 100Mbs in South Korea. Often seen at the gold standard, South Korea is able to achieve this thanks to Government contributions and commitment to building a fibre-optic network. Now let’s imagine how BT and other service providers such as Virgin Media feel about this?
Government commitment is key. And while the UK Government has been asking a lot of questions about what Digital Britain should be like, the time is right for it to invest in a tool that will help all kind of businesses reach their customers during these difficult times.
The Christmas of 2008 saw the start of Britain’s first recession since the early 1990’s. A recession that has made many high street retailers cut prices to ensure survival. Yet for some stores, like Woolworths, it was too late. Their time was up. But while gloom was spreading like a virus down the high-street shoppers turned to the internet and spent over £4.6bn last month, up 14% on 2007. Online sales accounted for £43.8bn in 2008, 15 per cent of total retail spending.
Consumers are becoming more demanding, especially when there aren’t many pounds in their pockets. They want quality and competitive pricing, something that the internet allows them find. Yet businesses with retail operations still appear to not embracing the net as a new channel for sales, which is why Government needs to step in and rid the nation of this digital ignorance.
The Digital Britain report is the perfect opportunities for Government to show it’s committed to helping businesses reach out to consumers. The internet is another pathway, another pavement. South Korea, is not just the country with one of the fastest networks, it is also one of the cheapest. And with the Government’s commitment to spending it’s way out of a recession, investing in the internet would send a signal of it’s commitment to investing in the future.
Charging for the net is outdated. It’s akin to charging us to walk down to Tesco to buy something.
Having said all this, bureaucracy does have a habit of getting in the way of progress.