16 June 2009

Digital Britain Report Released

The eagerly awaited Digital Britain report, outlined to Parliament this afternoon, lays out the government's three-year plan to boost digital participation, provide universal broadband access by 2012 and counter digital piracy.

Chapter 5, titled "Public Service Content in Digital Britain," includes a consideration of challenges facing the local and regional press. It cites a companion report from the Office of Fair Trading, also released today, which recommended that "no legislative change is required" to merger regulations in the Enterprise Act 2002.

The office had been asked to alter existing media public interest provisions, for instance to include the need for independent investigative journalism.

The Digital Britain report outlined the potential for three pilot "Independently Financed News Consortia" (IFNC) projects, in Wales, Scotland and a region of England to be determined. Consortia would include but not be limited to existing television news providers, newspaper groups or other news gathering agencies. The report said criteria for selection would likely include "the ability to achieve reach and impact; high production and editorial standards to sustain accuracy and impartiality; and the financial stamina to sustain the service at quality throughout the period of the award."

Analyses of the 245-page report will be emerging in the coming days. Among the additional points summarised by the BBC in its initial overview are:

* A levy of 50p a month on all fixed telephone lines to establish a national fund for next-generation broadband. This was one of the biggest surprises in the report, and some observers have expressed doubt whether the amount generated will be sufficient.

* Legislation to curb unlawful peer-to-peer file sharing, with regulator Ofcom given new powers.

* Upgrade of all national radio stations from analogue to digital by 2015.

* Liberalisation of the 3G spectrum.

* A changed role for Channel 4.

* Consultation on how to fund local, national and regional news.

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