Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Fiscal stimulus? £100m of public money for broadband where it's least needed

The following was first posted on

Yesterday the Chancellor announced £100m of extra money (or at least I assume it's new money) for broadband investment in UK cities.

Of those, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Belfast and London have already been identified. 6 More cities will follow.

Here's a map from July showing areas with best broadband coverage (light grey) and those with the worst (red). The map is from Ofcom, via ISPReview.  (Click to enlarge).

You shouldn't have to ask your old geography teacher to identify the four capitals receiving some of the £100m.

I'll give you a clue, they're all painted grey or light grey, indicating they already have better than 70% availability of "superfast" broadband (roughly faster than 20Mbps actual line speed download, essentially access to BT infinity service).

The red areas have less than 30% availability.  They will share £20m of funding.  Yes, pretty much the rest of rural Britain will share 1/5th of the money set aside for cities.

The business case: tipping the investment equation, or lining BT's pockets?

The reason I'm so angry about yesterday's announcement is that it doesn't, from a policy position, make much sense.  Yes, I understand innovation isn't a zero-sum game.  Spearheads are needed in order to advance; and we all end up benefiting - even the rural notspots.  If all we knew possible was 56kbps dial-up we'd still be left with 56kbps dial-up.

But parts of Britain still are on 56kbps dial-up, and we face a challenge because large telcos don't see a business case for investing in faster broadband outside of the more densely populated towns and cities.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Press abuses and the failure of the Social Contract

The following text will form a short paper on the subject.  Comments will be incorporated where appropriate. 

Undoubtedly a lot - most, in fact - of the press behaviour being uncovered in the ongoing Leveson Inquiry is abhorrent.  Nothing I say below is intended to justify in my attempt to explain and understand.

It's not that many of the practices and methods employed to monitor celebrities' and sports stars' every moves would be unwarranted if, for example, investigating serious corruption in politics or a police force.

Whilst phone and computer hacking are both clearly illegal (I'm yet to decide how I'd feel if a very serious high-level corruption scandal was unearthed using such techniques) I certainly wouldn't be worried if journalists or private investigators tailed contacts in public, or used covert recording, in pursuit of a story of genuine public interest.

However we're not talking about investigating high level corruption; we're talking about singers, writers, footballers and comedians.

Whilst many of the press methods and practices used to keep tabs on celebrities are not illegal, they are clearly unethical and anti-social when applied indiscriminately in search of dirt on, or to deliberately blacken the name of, someone in the public eye.

Forgetting for a moment about the clearly illegal behaviour, the conundrum of press regulation is to keep press behaviour towards the green end of the spectrum without unduly shackling the press.

And, if the press do need shackling, how to we prevent the manacles of regulation being abused by state or corporate interests to hide stories of legitimate public concern?

Essentially, who will be the arbiters of public interest?

This question of how to regulate is irrelevant if we can work out why the Social Contract failed.  Why did it take so long for any other organisation or institution pick up on the antisocial behaviour of the tabloid press and allow public contempt and market forces to act together to moderate it, thereby working to keep the behaviour of the press in the green zone of the Harm Spectrum?

Note: the press abuses scandal was, eventually, uncovered by sections of the press.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Abigail Harrison joins the Open Digital Policy Advisory Council

Abigail Harrison,
Managing Director, thebluedoor
I'm extremely pleased to welcome Abigail Harrison to the Open Digital Policy Advisory Council.   Our Advisory Council guides all our policy work at Open Digital.  Abigail brings a wealth of understanding of digital marketing and public relations, augmenting our existing policy team.

She has worked in PR and social media for 18 years, working for some of the biggest agencies, delivering award winning results for leading global brands.

As one of the key players in the digital and social media sector, Abigail founded DigitalSurrey, which regularly draws stand-out sector speakers from global technology and media firms such as Google, IBM, CSC, Ogilvy, Microsoft and the BBC, selling-out every month (although, in the spirit of open knowledge sharing, all events are free to attend).

Abigail has been involved in the organisation of major social media events such as Twestival, TweetCamp and Social Media Week, all of which attract some of the leading movers and shakers in the global social media sector and has also been nominated as the Institute of Directors' South East Director of the year, 2011.

Friday, 4 November 2011

The US regulatory view: ODPO gets lunch with FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell

It was a surprise for a fledgling policy group to get an invite to lunch with a senior US regulator.

The Federal Communications Commission is the US version of Ofcom - on steroids! There are over 1,500 television stations, compared to the UK's handful, plus a host of radio, telephony and data services.  Spectrum allocation and competition questions arising from spectral scarcity (there isn't enough resource to meet the market demand, and the resource available needs to be carefully managed) form a big part of the FCC's job.

Oh, and they regulate taste and decency on broadcast TV channels.
"Most US residents think of the 38th Super Bowl when you mention the FCC, but dealing with incidents like Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction is such a small part of my job it's hardly worth a mention."
Commissioner McDowell's approach to regulation seems firmly aligned with our view at Open Digital: regulation is blunt and costly, always has unintended consequences, and should only be enacted when evidence of consumer harm or market abuse can be established.

We joined Big Brother Watch, Policy Exchange, COADEC and representatives from the Tax Payers Alliance for a 2-hour discussion over lunch, where the Commissioner asked as many questions about EU and UK communications policy as we did about US policy.

Although not strictly in the FCC remit, privacy and the EU "cookie directive" featured prominently, with most participants hailing the law which forces all websites using cookies to request permission to store cookie data as misguided and a somewhat extreme example of regulate first, ask for market evidence later.

"Usually the market sorts itself out," said McDowell, referring to a separate problem - one of market dominance in the telecommunications sector, exemplified by Apple and the early exclusive contracts when the iPhone first launched.