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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Digital Britain: a revolution for UK internet users?

image After months of anticipation, communications minister Lord Carter's Digital Britain report was finally released to the masses yesterday. Although there were few surprises - the interim report released in January had many industry commentators prepared for what was to come - the revelations have created debate concerning the effectiveness of the proposals and whether or not they will really achieve the government's digital inclusions goals.
The report's main points include a minimum 2MB broadband connection for all households by 2012, a speed that Lord Carter has called "a technological minimum wage". While this objective has been public for some time, the report also revealed that the government hopes to levy a 50p per month 'broadband tax' on all households, in order to pay for the rollout of next-generation broadband.
In addition, internet service providers in Britain will be required to cut illegal file sharing on their networks by 70 per cent in the next 12 months. Analogue radio will be phased out and replaced exclusively by digital stations by the end of 2015 and, while there were some fears that Channel 4 and Five would be merged together, the report's conclusions instead will give 4 financial assistance from the government in order to create a joint venture with BBC Worldwide.
But what does the Digital Britain report mean for online advertising and the search industry? The effects will be made clearer when - and if - the proposals start rolling out over the next few years but initially, wider broadband coverage clearly indicates a broader market for advertisers. According to the report 2.75 million homes, around 11 per cent of households, in the UK do not have access to a broadband connection of 2Mbps. What's more, the prospect of superfast broadband speeds could also mean the potential for more advertising exposure - i.e., as internet connections get faster, users can carry out more searches and visit more sites in an hour then they would previously have been able to.
Digital Britain: a revolution for UK internet users? And while Google - a company that's been integral to the development of the digital landscape in the UK - isn't the focus of the document's proposals, it certainly makes its presence felt throughout the report. Lord Carter's introduction starts off by highlighting the huge amount of activity that takes place on Google and YouTube every day and uses the firm's massive growth over the last ten years as an example of how far the digital economy has come in the 21st century.
It also seems that Google has been taking many steps to keep the government on-side. For starters, it has joined the Ofcom-led Consortium of Stakeholders to drive Digital Participation, along with AOL and Yahoo!. This super-group will have £12 million of funding available to them over three years to facilitate this goal. What's more, Mountain View has also signed up to the Broadband Stakeholders' Group's Audiovisual Content Information Good Practice Principles, which aims to provide "clear, consistent information about commercially-provided audiovisual content". Other signatories include AOL, Yahoo!, MySpace, BBC, Channel 4, Five, ITV and Microsoft.
But it's not all good feeling between Google and Westminster. In the report's discussions of digital security and assurance, it cites Google Streetview as a key point of consumer concern over online privacy. How the future of this service will play out as the government seeks to take steps to address these worries is still to be seen, but it seems unlikely that it will move towards a total shutdown as seen in Greece - particularly since the report also states that the Space Innovation and Growth team will start cataloguing satellite data collected by Google Earth.
While the Digital Britain proposals have been welcomed by some and criticised by others, what really stands out is that nothing is yet certain. The objectives lined out in the document have yet to be agreed upon so whether any of them will come into being remains unsure. However, even if its most basic goals - like broadband for all - are approved, the implications for the digital economy, and therefore online advertising and search, are sure to be significant.

by Search Copywriter
Y. Sulaiman

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