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30.01.2009 General News

Plans target Digital Britain push

By Daily Guide

Government plans to boost the digital and communications industries, which contribute more than £50bn a year to the UK economy, are due to be outlined. The interim Digital Britain report will examine a number of different areas, including broadband development, public service broadcasting and digital radio.

It is thought it may set minimum broadband speeds and push for universal broadband coverage by 2012.

The full report and proposals will be unveiled in late spring.

Lord Carter, the minister for communications, technology and broadcasting, will publish his interim report after a breakfast meeting at Downing Street attended by senior media and telecoms executives.

The report is also expected to examine illegal file-sharing of movies, music and TV and appraise ways of tackling it.

And it will include proposals on how to protect children, as millions, many of them under-18, visit social networking sites and play games online.

Digital divide
The report is also likely to urge a merger between Channel 4 and either Five or BBC Worldwide to create a viable public service broadcaster to compete with the BBC.

Communications watchdog Ofcom last week warned Channel 4 faced a bleak future unless a deal could be reached.

In the run-up to the report publication, Culture Secretary Andy Burnham said the government was looking at regulating the internet to "even up" the imbalance with television.

Around 60% of British households currently have broadband internet access, and the government wants the rest of the country to get connected.

The report is thought to suggest replacing the universal service obligation, under which BT is required to provide everyone in the country with a phone line, with a new industry-wide obligation to provide broadband for everyone.

The report is also expected to show that the digital divide is no longer a geographical issue with towns connected and rural areas cut off. Instead areas of digital exclusion are likely to mirror those of social deprivation.

However, broadband experts have warned that any moves to create next generation networks that run at very high speeds may only serve to deepen the digital divides in the UK.