Thursday, 26 September 2013

Parliament reports on the creative industries and on broadband

Today (Thursday) has seen two reports from the powerful (if somewhat mysterious) UK parliamentary committees: part of the checks and balances of our democracy.

The one that has made the news is on rural broadband rollout. The Commons Public Accounts Committee says that consumers have been "ripped off" due to government mismanagement and that BT, who are the only contender for the money available, haven't been transparent on their costs. The government and BT disagree with this of course.

Are you 'rural'? I find myself in a rural place these days. Whereas my previous Surrey homestead was within range of BT's fibre to the cabinet (FFTC) broadband with its tens of megabits, my current Northamptonshire ranch is totally dependent on copper, albeit with a respectable 6 megabits from ADSL 2+. That's not really my problem however, since BT's broadband isn't an option for me as they don't have a suitable home-office package (I need a fixed IP address) and my otherwise good provider (Demon) does not, as yet, 'do' fibre ... which is apparently leading to many customers jumping ship (if you believe the conversations on the user forums).

Personally I'm not surprised that BT were the only provider willing (or able?) to provide rural fibre. They are a very able company after all and this is 'what they do'. We also seem to forget that fibre is also the future of voice, since before long all telephony will happen over broadband IP circuits, and it's not just thieves who could make good money from selling old copper cable. Ironically, those odd communities who have jumped the gun and sorted out their own rural broadband (such as the innovative Rutland Telecom just up the road from me), will be excluded from any subsidised BT rollout since this is only available where there isn't already a broadband supplier. I'm not clear how this squares with encouraging competition.

We're in the business of electronic communications and the IT Crowd are encouraging us to put 'stuff' in 'the cloud' but you can't really do that unless you're well connected. When you're choosing where to move your office to, what are your priorities ... how far up them is access to fast broadband. Even in cities this is an issue since you may well have other Buck Rogers options such as wide-area ethernet. So there's always a choice ... of some sort.

Report number two comes from the DCMS Select Committee, chaired by the estimable John Whittingdale MP. They've just published a report on Supporting the Creative Economy and since we're in that economy I recommend you have a read (of the summary at least). It doesn't just deal with intellectual property (the bit I went to first) but also includes Olympic legacy (or is it 2012 sustainability?), piracy, taxation and education. Did you know that the IOC's contracts for suppliers forbad them from publicising their involvement? Neither did I. The report also fires two barrels at Google, asking why they don't respond as robustly to copyright infringement as they do to child pornography, and saying that the agenda underlying current government thinking on copyright is partly driven by technology companies including Google and "if pursued uncritically, could cause irreversible damage to the creative sector on which the United Kingdom’s future prosperity will significantly depend."

What is interesting to me is that the committee's stance on copyright often conflicts with that of the Hargreaves Report and they ask whether there is sufficient evidence to justify the new exceptions to copyright being put forward as well as the tendency for them to be bundled together so they can't be discussed independently. They ask the question as to whether the UK needs a champion for copyright but stop short of suggesting that the UK Intellectual Property Office be moved from the business ministry to the culture one. As the Music Ally blog says, "The report represents one long win for rightsholders in terms of convincing the Committee of their arguments. Whether it brings the changes they desire is considerably more open to debate." Spot on!

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