Govt plans for digital Britain: New ministers, superfast broadband and a review of the Digital Economy Act

21/05/2010

The new coalition government has put two Conservative ministers in charge of its digital policies. Jeremy Hunt is in charge of the UK's broadband and Ed Vaizey is overseeing the implementation of the Digital Economy Act. Hunt, the Conservative secretary of state for culture, Olympics, media and sport, will oversee the rollout of high-speed broadband across the UK, the government said on Wednesday night.

Parliamentary under-secretary of state Ed Vaizey will work across two departments — the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). Vaizey will be responsible for implementing the copyright crackdown that is enabled by the Digital Economy Act, which is the policy descendent of the Digital Britain report. It remains to be seen if Liberal Democrats' opposition to elements of the act, such as its website-blocking provisions, will influence official government policy.

21/05/2010

Don Foster, the Liberal Democrats' former spokesman for culture, media and sport, has revealed that the BBC licence fee will partly fund plans for superfast internet broadband in every British home.

Foster said: "I can tell you that the independence of the BBC will be maintained, but the sixth objective of the BBC Trust is going to be reviewed, which means the BBC is going to have to cough up for broadband roll-out."

However, Government officials have refused to confirm the comments made by Foster, who has not been given a ministerial role in the new coalition.

The Lib Dems have confirmed they will talk to their coalition partners in Government about repealing certain measures in the Digital Economy Act, which was passed in the "wash-up" period before the election.

Lib Dem ministers have been urged by party activists to "take all possible steps” to reconsider controversial sections of the act, such as the ability to temporarily disconnect internet users suspected of piracy or illegal file-sharing.

Commenting on the new Government proposals, Mike Wilson, broadband manager at moneysupermarket.com said, “It’s great to see a continued commitment to bringing the UK’s broadband network into the 21st century. The Conservative proposal on superfast broadband was billed by some as the most 'ambitious technology agenda' ever proposed by a British political party, and if followed through as the manifesto suggests, it would be a huge step forward.

“The way people use the internet has changed significantly over the past 10 years. A huge amount of content is now downloaded, uploaded or streamed live and this has put pressure on the networks. Virgin Media and BT have already invested significantly in next generation broadband and it is great to see the government has kept in mind the digital have-nots that suffer from poor infrastructure in rural areas. Fast internet access is as important as electric and gas for many people, and a fair deal for all is crucial.

“It will be interesting to see what other details emerge in the Queen’s speech, particularly on funding. The coalition agreement suggests the bulk of investment will come from the private sector and possibly making a proportion of the licence fee available; asking consumers to make up any shortfall through a broadband tax - similar to Labour's 50p broadband tax - would no doubt be unwelcome.”

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