UK: Capital Of The Digital World?

Last year the UK government commissioned Lord Carter, the Communications Minister to come up with a blueprint for Britain’s digital future, in it are some guidelines that the government will transform into policies which they hope will benefit everyone in the country and also deliver the UK a 21st century economy to be proud of. Gordon Brown has said it will pave the way for a world class digital infrastructure and that the UK will be the digital capital of the world, although based on the content of the report I think he’s conveniently forgetting about Japan, South Korea, France, Australia, Canada, United States, the Scandinavian countries and many more emerging economies. Especially as the governments definition of high speed broadband is 2mbps, but more on that later.

Here are some of the lowhighlights of the report, I haven’t had the time or the inclination to read all 250 pages of it, so some stuff may be missing, especially all the waffle about the BBC and the licence fee.

Video Game Ratings.

As posted on TSA yesterday the Digital Britain report has tackled the issue of games ratings: An overhaul of the video game classification system will see the selling of a video game rated 12 or over to someone who is underage made illegal, currently the law is in place for games rated 15 or over and all respectable games retailers enforce this by asking to see ID if there is any doubt over a customer’s age. There doesn’t seem to be any further provision for irresponsible parents who let underage children play adult rated games, which is probably the single biggest reason why minors are exposed to inappropriate content.

UK Video Game Industry.

Hardly a week seems to go by without a development studio declaring they’re facing financial troubles, or being bought out and then cast aside, once the rights to the their top games have been snapped up and then shipped abroad. The report states that there are currently 10,000 games developers working in the UK who each generated £124,000 in global sales compared with the film industries average of £49,000 per worker. It also recognises that the UK has a worldwide reputation for creative and skilled workers producing original content like Grand Theft Auto, Tomb Raider, Lemmings, Lego Star Wars and LittleBigPlanet, yay!

The report states that the UK games industry faces huge threats from three main areas; 1) Games are becoming cheaper to develop abroad. 2) There is a skills shortage, with current UK Higher Education courses in games development not being of a high enough quality for industry requirements. 3) When original content is developed in the UK there isn’t sufficient support in this country to maintain ownership of the intellectual property of this content and it ends up benefiting overseas publishers.

To help overcome these challenges the government will listen to feedback to see if there is a need for the industry to receive tax relief or grants like the UK film industry does, and also many video game industries around the world currently do.

Broadband.

The government will aim to give universal highspeed broadband access across the whole of the UK by 2012. The government’s definition of highspeed is 2 megabits per second, which in  three years time may not seem all that fast when compared to the rest of the world. Currently over a third of all UK households are unable to access broadband mainly due to distances from telephone exchanges, to help fund this every Briton with a fixed line telephone will be charged a small ‘levy’ of 50p/month. The monies raised from this will go in to a fund which will help ensure ‘most’ people in the UK are able to benefit from future net services.

Reaction.

My opinion is that the report doesn’t really go far enough and like most things the government tries to do is little more than a messy compromise, it could have been far more aspirational and inspired people/businesses/government to really aim high, make some serious changes which would really have benefited the UK and actually helped make the country a leader in the digital world.

The report has slightly strengthened the age laws related to game sales, this is hardly a big achievement and probably just brings us into line with the rest of Europe.

It’s good to see the report recognises that the UK punches above its weight when it comes to game development and the industries contribution to the economy as a whole, but it’s odd that they are not using this watershed moment to actually make a difference and will only listen to the feedback to see if tax relief or grants are needed, sadly I feel if there is any help to come it may be too late to save the industry which is in dire straits now, just look at yesterday’s post about Midway Newcastle to see how urgent help is needed.

The aim of universal access to 2mbps broadband (remember people rarely achieve more than 40% of their advertised speeds) is barely enough to benefit from current Internet technologies like YouTube, iPlayer and online gaming never-mind the future demands of 2012, the deadline set in the report.

The idea of raising funds by effectively taxing  anyone who owns a fixed line phone is also baffling. Once Internet infrastructure spreads to the remainder of the UK has the ability to sign up to broadband (if they want to) the question being asked is why BT can’t maintain their own infrastructure? and if they do need to turn to the taxpayer for help then the taxpayer should also gain a share of future revenues until the amount is paid back, will this happen? Of course not, it will just be another private company making profits at taxpayers expense (unfortunately a recurring theme the government).

The money raised by the scheme will only be somewhere in the region of £250m, this is barely enough for government to set wheels of the gravy train motion because once they’ve set up a special committee, a task force and appointed a new Czar and then once all these committees and quangos have taken their slice there won’t be enough money left in the pot for tea and biscuits, never mind thousands of miles of cabling or whatever else is needed to put the plan into action.

My feelings are the content of the report should be implemented now, as I feel its only a start not the full solution and then by 2012, we’ll be seeing the benefits of generous tax incentives for games to be developed in the UK, the companies will have the strength to hold on to the rights to the ownership of the intellectual property that they develop, and it won’t be farmed off around the world.

The 2mbps broadband goal is joke, and not because of the seemingly slow speed, but the investment needed to make this happen is huge… and what are they going to do when all these people want their ADSL connections upgrading to ADSL Max (the current up to 8mbps service) then ADSL+ (upto 24mbps) then 21 CN (upto 100mbps fibre to the home) Why don’t they just make the larger investment now and save the continuing upgrade cycle? Australia has, they’ve seen the bigger picture and their government is making a £20bn investment in providing 90% of their population with 100mbps broadband.

Far from Gordon Brown’s claims that Britain will be the capital of the digital world, if these aims are implemented we will be destined to be a stagnant backwater for the foreseeable future until some real tough decisions have been made – like those already made in the US and Australia.

Let us know your thoughts on the Digital Britain report in the comments below.

Source: Department For Culture, Media and Sport.

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