17 June 2009

Digital Britain, Analogue Thinking

Clocking in at 238 pages, the final Digital Britain report is an impressive piece of work. It provides a comprehensive survey of how many aspects of British life are being transformed by the transition from the old world in which information is largely stored and transmitted in an analogue format, to one that is inherently digital. Moreover, to its credit, the report is suffused with a sense that this is an epochal and exciting change, not just a minor change of emphasis.

That's the good news.

The bad news is that the report is riddled with old, analogue thinking that vitiates most of its proposals....

On Open Enterprise blog.


Anonymous said...

The url you link maybe shows the thinking that this report inherits. "broadcasting" is a word that implies one to many with the many being consumers rather than participants.

"Media today is participative, interactive, equal and many-to-many" (p106)

seems to show an understanding and there are various other phrases that seem to show an understanding of the nature of the net. There is even

"A recent study in Scandinavia has shown
that the biggest users of unlawful peer-to-peer material are also the biggest paid-for consumers of music" (p110)

As you point out in your piece, it's when we get into how digital content might be made available they go into the territory of net neutrality with a hatchet

"Blocking (Site, IP, URL), Protocol blocking, Port blocking, Bandwidth capping (capping the speed of a subscriber’s Internet connection and/or capping the volume of data traffic which a subscriber can access); Bandwidth shaping (limiting the speed of a subscriber’s access to selected protocols/services and/or capping the volume of data to selected protocols/services); Content identification and filtering– or a combination of these measures." (p111)

I've never really understood why net neutrality isn't a bigger issue in this country. The amount of bad press the big ISPs in the US have got from bandwidth shaping alone is indicative of the difference. The fact that the above measures would indicate a requirement for deep packet inspection and the consequent overhead might also lead one to believe that what will be put in place is going to effect a destruction of our civil liberties, especially the right to privacy.

"It is important that industry sensibly manages that development, learning from the many experiences of other industries, in particular the question of open versus proprietary standards, the effective use of Digital Rights Management technologies for industry and consumer and the appropriate pricing of digital products to reflect consumer expectations." (p133)

Is a very clever paragraph. Anyone could read this as "learn from the music industry, don't DRM books" but my bet is that someone within the industry would read it as "make the content easy to get and use and at a good price" which probably fits the kindle DRM model but ignores the need for consumers to move their content from device to device. There is even a section on reuse which details the idea of a levy for people time/device-shifting content.

Overall the sections of the report I've read seem a confused mish-mash. There is no clear vision, there is no underlying ethos. What this report seems to me to be is enough for politicians to cherry pick phrases from to construct law to our further detriment as citizens and for the benefit of lobby groups.

Glyn Moody said...

you're right, net neutrality has never attracted the attention it should; maybe because until now it's never been under threat.