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Updated: UK Government launches Digital Britain report for broadband and online security

Some £200 million of funding will be spent to extend broadband coverage to the 15% of UK homes that do not receive broadband at 2Mb/s, the BBC reports.

Gordon Brown was quoted as saying: “Britain is going to lead the world. This is us taking the next step into the future to being the digital capital of the world. It is making sure no family or business misses out.”

The digital and communications industry in the UK is currently estimated to be worth £52 billion.

Internet police

Ofcom has been given an “explicit duty” to significantly reduce unlawful file-sharing, according to the Digital Britain report. First, written warning will be given to those downloading illegally and repeat offenders face identity release and civil action through the courts, the report states.

Digital Britain also outlines provisions for a suite of technical measures, such as bandwidth reduction or protocol blocking, for ISPs to use should notification fail to stop unlawful file-sharing.

Security

When it comes to the security issues relating to digitalising the country, the Digital Britain report recommends:

  • Developing the UK’s role in global internet Government structures;
  • Carrying out a major exercise this year to test resilience against a telecommunications emergency;
  • Supporting industry proposals for voluntary adoption of minimum standards;
  • Consulting on penalties that Ofcom is able to impose for contraventions of the Communications Act 2003, particularly relating to persistent misuse;
  • Exploring the formation of a Tripartite Internet Crime and Security Initiative, bringing parliamentarians, Government and business together.

Mixed responses

The Digital Britain report has received mixed responses ranging from it being too costly and ambitious, to not going far enough, Infosecurity notes.

Ian Jackson, marketing director at UK-based IT infrastructure and security service provider Imerja, told Infosecurity: “There’s good and bad. It’s great that it brings telecommunications and digital media to the forefront and that’s fantastic news, and it is an absolute massive enabler for the UK economy but very much too little to late when it comes to broadband and the encouragement of that within the network providers at the moment."

“It’s a long way to climb to be a leader as promised that this report will make us.”

Jackson said one criticism from a business perspective, is that Digital Britain is very consumer-focused. “It is focusing on improvements in consumer access to digital media, which is good and needed, but it promises very little, and too late, certainly from a broadband perspective.”

He said the commitment to providing the last leg of the population with broadband connectivity by 2012 "quite frankly underwhelming. ... Great Britain already lags quite significantly in the world for broadband access speeds, and it does nothing to try to lift us up that league table.”

Richard Heap, head of telecoms at accountancy firm BDO Stoy Hayward, also criticised the promise of 2Mbps broadband connectivity: "Despite being widely criticised in January for only committing to a broadband network speed of 2Mb/s by 2012, Lord Carter has gone ahead with plans to provide Britain with outdated technology at a speed akin to a snail’s pace. This is even more frustrating when other countries, such as South Korea, are committing to universal speeds of up to 1Gbps by 2012, which is 500 times faster. Even Gordon Brown has gone on record saying that all households should be able to enjoy broadband speeds of 10mbps.”

Another criticism highlighted by Jackson, is that desptie the focus on connectivity, Digital Britain: "doesn’t provide any real encouragement for the telecommunications providers. ... It doesn’t really do anything to really focus other service providers’ [other than BT and Virgin Media] attention or to motivate them to provide new telecommunications technologies and much, much higher bandwidth for the already reached population.”

The 50p levy mentioned in the report to finance connectivity, is likely to generate £150-170 million, but according to Jackson, an estimated £26 billion is needed to deliver fibre to every corner of Britain.

On the security side of the Digital Britain report, Jackson says that again, it is very much from a consumer's perspective: "It’s about best practice for online surfing, it’s about how parents might help and work with children to get a better and safer online experience, and it’s about pointing them towards some of the existing government forums about safe online usage. So it has very little relevant to the business community.”

“I think one of the things we do like the idea of, is a tougher stand towards piracy and illegal download", Jackson said.

“As a general platform for the proliferation of trojans, worms and viruses, then I would welcome any improvement in stamping out the use of network for that type of activity, because inevitably, the proliferation of adware or viruses end up in the work place if not protected properly."

Jackson said only time will tell whether Ofcom will have enough teeth to do this and whether the measures against illegal file-sharing will be too heavy a burden on ISPs.

“I think it’s a fine line between policing the internet and that policing or monitoring being seen as a way of hampering back innovation and entrepreneurialism, which flourishes on the internet…”

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