UK’s Brown: ‘Digital Revolution’ Is Key to Recovery

By Kevin Hilton

A “digital revolution” is central to the UK’s coming out of recession, Gordon Brown told the Digital Britain Forum on April 17. The British prime minister said broadband and the media industry in general are key to a new technological future and gave his full support to total broadband Internet coverage across the country, saying “universal connectivity” is a “critical stepping stone to a digital Britain.”

In January, the UK government published its interim Digital Britain report, recommending full access to broadband, the creation of next-generation networks, modernising wireless-radio spectrum holdings, and upgrading digital delivery for public services. The final report mapping out how to achieve these aims, plus a fully digital radio infrastructure, is due to be published in July.

This will lead to the “digital economy bill,” which will dramatically change the regulation of television, radio, and regional newspapers, enabling operators to merge and exploit the potential of the Internet and other new media.

Brown said the “digital future of the UK is a complete departure from what has gone before.” He put a positive spin on the current dire economic situation, saying the downturn could be used to “build the necessary technological infrastructure we need for the future.” He added that “the digital network will become the backbone of our economy” and, with “super-fast Internet” on the horizon, everyone has to start preparing for the changes the technology will bring.

Other speakers at the Digital Britain Forum included Neil Berkett, chief executive of Virgin Media; Ronan Dunne, CEO, Telefónica O2 UK; Ian Livingston, chief executive of the BT Group; and Caroline Thompson, COO of the BBC.

Thompson told the conference, “The BBC needs to make a step change in the way it delivers its online services to ensure they build the widest possible public value. We have a strong presence in the online world, but we’ve not always done all that we could to use this presence to bring people online and drive access to wider content.”

As part of its campaign to get the public on the Net, the BBC has appointed an online access champion, who will ensure that the corporation “plays its full part in helping more people take advantage of online services.” This responsibility has been given to the BBC Online Controller Seetha Kumar. In her previous post as head of BBC HD, Kumar launched the UK’s first free-to-air high-definition public-broadcasting service.