The long awaited (and somewhat delayed) Digital Britain interim report has been released, and, like the Gowers Report on intellectual property before it, this one seems way too "balanced" for its own good… For example, it says that the country should have universal broadband (of at least 2 Mbps), but doesn't explain how. It just offers up some vague statements about hoping that private sector ISPs reach that goal, and urging the BBC to promote the wonders of broadband to those who haven't signed up yet… The same sort of vague uselessness is found in the part on copyright and file sharing.[From Digital Britain Report: Blank Promises, Vague Statements And Everything Is Hedged… | Techdirt]
It's hard for the people putting these sorts of reports together to take any real stance on issues, I'm sure, because they have to obtain some consensus. But perhaps some more real vision is needed at times like these, and that necessarily will mean that some sectors of industry will have to accept change. Because our customers are more interested in the transactional side of things, I'm always looking to see how the plans of the great and good will stimulate new business and what the impact on industry might be. Unfortunately, the early comments that I've been reading are not promising: apparently, one of Carter's suggestions is to impose a tax on broadband access and give the money to industries that have failed to adopt new business models in response to technological change. At first, I assumed he must be talking about sheep farmers, because the law dating back to 1572 requiring everyone to wear wool hats on Sunday isn't being properly enforced any more, but it turns out that he was talking about pop stars and record companies.
Carter appears to ask traditional industries to look to new business models, but offer them a subsidy at everyone else's expense if they can't find any. What's more, the voice of those industries is given disproportionate weight. Now, while it is generally true that at the dawn of new businesses this must always be true — since the new businesses that might grow up around broadband don't yet have a voice to be heard — that's no reason no to extend the range of voices to be heard. As the Open Rights Group say,
We are looking at the report in detail, but we are extremely concerned that the voice of consumers and citizens is being marginalised.[From The Open Rights Group : Blog Archive » Digital Britain: leaving consumers out of the picture]
Indeed. Not only will citizens be marginalised, they will also be penalised.
Under the proposed scheme, the government would legislate a "Code on unlawful file-sharing" that ISPs would have to follow.[From "Digital Britain" to legislate graduated response for ISPs – Ars Technica]
Why telephone companies aren't required to follow a "Code on unlawful bank robbery" that requires them to monitor telephone conversations and report the planning of bank robberies to the police, I don't know, but what I do know is that fining kids and kicking their parents off the Internet is not the way to build a healthy and prosperous 21st century business.
There was a super interview about the Carter report on the Today programme on 30th January. Peter Bazalgette, the man sadly responsible for Big Brother, talked a lot of good sense about how to use broadband infrastructure to stimulate new business and new creativty. He also said, and I agree with him completely, that it's a total waste of time to try and stop people from downloading "illegally" and that content businesses should instead look to new models. But what particularly caught my ear was his sage observation about these new models having identity and privacy at their heart. He didn't phrase it as I would, but what I took from his highly informed comments was that unless there's some form of digital identity infrastructure, businesses will find it difficult to extract full value from the broadband infrastructure.
I don't mean value only in the monetary sense. A better future is not only about transactions. We can't build better social networks or virtual worlds without tackling the identity problem. We can't have more e-government or online shopping without tackling the identity problem. We can't police the interweb properly without tackling the identity problem. We can't move forward unless we tackle the identity problem, and we need to tackle it at the infrastructure level.
We need an identity infrastructure capable of allowing sophisticated mixtures of identity, pseudonymity and anonymity to work in a way that people can understand and exploit. The UK is, I can't help but feel, falling behind. The only infrastructure that the government is putting together, the ID card scheme, has nothing to offer the online world. In Germany, the new ID card system is being built to work with online pseudonyms. In Finland, you can use your ID card to get an OpenID for use online. We don't seem to have any kind of vision around identity here, so perhaps by building on Peter's observations those of us in the ID world can find a new way of presenting some of our core concepts to a media-oriented audience and start to assemble a vision that way.
These opinions are my own (I think) and are presented solely in my capacity as an interested member of the general public [posted with ecto]