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Election 2010 – Drawing the broadband battle lines

It’s election time and at the moment you can’t turn on the TV, read a newspaper or listen to the radio without being reminded of that fact. Last week saw the launch of several political parties’ election manifestos and whilst the majority of them (notably not the Pirate Party UK) cover a wide range of topical issues we have focussed our investigation on what each party has to say about Digital Britain and the Internet industry. Here is what we found:

darrenfarnden Election 2010 – Drawing the broadband battle lines

Darren Farnden, Head of Marketing

In the red corner: The Incumbents – Labour

Let’s start with the incumbents, Labour. In the past they have been very vocal about their plans for a Digital Britain and their aims to make the UK a world leader in this area. Only last week they controversially rushed through the Digital Economy Bill, now Act (Entanet Opinion: Digital Economy Bill: The end is nigh…). So what are their plans regarding the Internet and Digital Britain if they are re-elected?

Well to be honest their manifesto doesn’t really contain anything new. Their promises are vague and have all been heard before.  They state:

“Britain must be a world leader in the development of broadband. We are investing in the most ambitious plan of any industrialised country to ensure a digital Britain for all, extending access to every home and business. We will reach the long-term vision of superfast broadband for all through a public-private partnership in three stages: first, giving virtually every household in the country a broadband service of at least two megabits per second by 2012; second, making possible superfast broadband for the vast majority of Britain in partnership with private operators, with Government investing over £1 billion in the next seven years; and lastly reaching the final ten per cent using satellites and mobile broadband.”

So they still plan to introduce the USC of 2Mbps across the UK by 2012; they expect to reach the remaining 10% of homes and businesses via mobile and satellite technology; and they are working with industry and investing over £1billion into delivering ‘superfast’ broadband. Unfortunately they do not specify what they mean by ‘Superfast’ broadband, something ISPs are routinely criticised for.

They also plan to reintroduce the highly debated 50p broadband tax which they were forced to drop earlier this year in order to pass their Finance Bill. “Because we are determined that every family and business, not just some, should benefit, we will raise revenue to pay for this from a modest levy on fixed telephone lines.”

Interestingly they also mention providing free access to broadband for disadvantaged families in order to support their children’s learning – although again this is not defined in any way and also providing online information for parents regarding their child’s progress and behaviour.

Regarding the extremely controversial topic of online copyright protection they simply state “We will update the intellectual property framework that is crucial to the creative industries – and take further action to tackle online piracy.” If we were discussing winning an award for ‘Most Vague Manifesto’ then my money would be on Labour to win. I’m not so sure of their chances for the election though!

In the blue corner: The Challengers –The Conservatives

As expected, the Conservatives have confirmed their plans to scrap the Labour government’s proposed 50p broadband tax, instead opting to coerce BT and other network providers into expanding their networks and delivering ‘superfast’ broadband. There’s that undefined word again! They also plan to use part of the BBC licence fee to fund broadband in “areas that the market alone will not reach”. However they do not make any reference to their previous pledge of 100Mbps broadband across most of the population by 2017 – unless that is what they mean by ‘superfast’? It’s anyone’s guess!

They too want to make Britain a digital leader, describing us as “a European hub for hi-tech, digital and creative industries”. They go on to explain how, by establishing our ‘superfast’ broadband network, the UK could generate 600,000 new jobs and £18billion in GDP.

They also inform us that they will put a freeze on major new ICT spending and will be looking to negotiate immediate cost reductions from major suppliers. They will also publish all government tender documents for contracts over £10k online. Doesn’t this contradict the commitment to making Britain a digital leader?

And in the yellow corner: The Outsiders -The Liberal Democrats

I was surprised by the lack of coverage the Lib Dems have given Digital Britain in their manifesto. They briefly refer to it stating they will “Support public investment in the roll-out of superfast broadband, targeted first at those areas which are least likely to be provided for by the market.” Maybe we have a new contender for the vague award.

They also pledge to end plans to store email and Internet records without good cause, an issue brought about by the existing Government’s controversial plans to introduce the IMP (Interception Modernisation Programme). We covered this issue in one of our previous opinion articles – IMP continuing despite industry backlash (Entanet Opinion: IMP continuing despite industry backlash) where we raised our concerns over the privacy, cost and the feasibility of such a scheme.

And then we have the Pirate Party UK

Unsurprisingly the Pirate Party UK ignores all of the other ‘trivial’ issues that affect the voting public’s day to day life such as the economy, education, the environment, the health service etc and focuses purely on three areas: copyright and patent law; privacy law; and freedom of speech. Well I suppose that makes my job easier!

Just as unsurprising is the party’s stance on these issues. What is unexpected though is we actually find ourselves agreeing with them (in principle) on several of their suggestions. For example, regarding copyright and patent law they state:

“Our copyright law is hopelessly out of date. The Pirate Party wants a fair and balanced copyright law that is suitable for the 21st century. Copyright should give artists the right to be the only people making money from their work, but that needs to be balanced with ‘fair use’ rights for the public.”

We agree and have been sending out a similar message for some time via our blog (Entanet Opinion: Bono – stick to singing!).

They continue to explain how they will “legalise the use of copyright works where no money changes hands, which will give the public new rights.” However, counterfeiting, and profiting directly from other people’s work without paying them, will remain illegal.

They also pledge to protect net neutrality, support the 2Mbps USC and, like the Lib Dems, withdraw the government’s IMP in order to protect the public’s privacy. However, our support starts to flake where they suggest reducing copyright protection to just 10 years with an option to renew after 5 or face your content falling into the public domain; and also their solution to misleading broadband speed advertising which would give the customers a right to only pay for the fraction of the advertised speed they actually receive. Whilst we understand the rationale behind these suggestions, we feel the significant reduction to copyright timescales is too extreme and will cost creative industries significantly; and that their suggested payment solution to advertising speeds would be completely unworkable.

Evidence suggests there may also more to deciding on whether to vote for this party than its view on Internet issues.

Quick Summary

Ok so let’s have a quick recap on our findings:

Labour

They haven’t really proposed anything new or unexpected and are far too vague on the details. They plan to re-introduce the 50p broadband tax, continue with the 2Mbps USC and will cater for the remaining 10% via mobile and satellite solutions which could be costly and unsuitable for many residential and business customers. Oh and they will continue to tackle illegal copyright infringement but don’t say how – we presume this will be via their existing Digital Economy Act.

Conservatives

They want to scrap the 50p broadband tax instead opting to coerce network operators into expanding their networks and will use the BBC licence fee to cover the cost of the rest. They have previously pledged 100Mbps broadband to majority of UK by 2017 but appear to have forgotten about that in their manifesto unless that is what they are referring to when they keep stating ‘superfast’ broadband. They also want to freeze ICT government spending.

Liberal Democrats

They barely mention Digital Britain, simply stating they will support public investment in the roll-out of superfast broadband and they want to withdraw the government’s snooping plans in the form of the IMP.

Pirate Party UK

They only focus on three Internet related areas in their entire manifesto! They want to reduce copyright licensing terms to 10 years, legalise the use of copyright works where no money changes hands, protect net neutrality, support the 2mbps USC, withdraw the IMP and give customers the right to only pay for the speed they receive.

So, just as the pre-election polls suggest a hung parliament for the actual election in May, it appears there is also little differentiating them in terms of their plans for a Digital Britain.

Have your say!

What are your thoughts regarding the political parties plans for a Digital Britain? Let us know your areas of concern and praise by leaving us a comment below.

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