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by Ben Norman on 22nd March 2010
Having received the backing of the House of Lords, the Digital Economy Bill is nearing full Government approval [further reading: Digital Economy Bill approved by House of Lords | The Telegraph]. The proposal though, as it stands, has been a source of great controversy. Whilst promoting faster broadband rates and a greater dispersal of the Internet for UK users, issues of copyrighted materials and the infringement of civil liberties have blighted this progressive bill.
The Internet is firmly embedded in the day-to-day running of business, systems of governance and society in general. In a relatively short period of time it has come to dominate the global landscape, revolutionising everything in its wake.
Communication, marketing, finance, shopping and sales have all been streamlined by the availability of broadband. New businesses have been created and unique streams of income developed. In fact we are now so dependent on the Internet that for many, living without it would be almost impossible.
Therefore, to have a Government bill that ensures ongoing development and maintains standards and growth is increasingly important. But before getting too deep into the implications of the Digital economy bill, here are a few of the key features:
Minimum Broadband Speed – 2Mbps
Not officially a part of the bill, this will be something that Ofcom regulate to ensure that providers are meeting standards.
The Government will have the power to intervene in the purchasing and use of .uk websites. If they are deemed to be hosting content that is illegal (including file sharing of copyrighted materials) or illicit, it will have the power to revoke their right to that domain.
Reducing piracy and copyright theft
This is a major sticking point. The entertainment industry have been up in arms over the proliferation of illegally pirated material. Websites such as Pirate Bay have attracted a great of press attention in recent times. Offering torrents of downloadable content, most of which is copyrighted, users are able to share files in what is a legal grey area.
As part of the legislation, the Government plans to oversee digital copyright issues, imposing sanctions on those who wilfully break them. As part of this they can suspend Internet access and the Secretary of State can, at any time, amend the copyright laws if required. This in particular has caused uproar, with numerous major websites(including Google, Facebook and eBay) writing an open letter to Lord Mandelson to voice their disapproval [Source: Web giants unite against Digital Britain copyright plan | BBC].
The Digital Economy Bill isn’t going to change everything overnight, I think that much is certainly true. Some of the more contentious areas will obviously need to be worked on and key elements will be included and removed as and when required. Instead this is more of a blueprint, a statement of intent if you will.
As part of the ongoing mitigation process of the bill, the Government have been keen to promote the more positive aspects. Gordon Brown tomorrow is set to compare superfast broadband to invention of electricity. Whilst possibly an exaggeration, he will discuss how the Internet will allow governments to communicate more openly with the electorate and reduce wastage on services that can be easily performed online.
With the Digital Economy Bill looming large, this could be a watershed period for the Internet. The focus on improving the speed and accessibility of broadband can only be a positive thing for online businesses. The issue of copyright and the potential use or abuse of legislative power will linger on. Ofcom’s changing focus will also be something under intense scrutiny, especially as they move into unchartered waters for them [further reading: Digital economy bill: what you need to know | The Guardian].
The Internet offers a wealth of opportunities at all levels of society. It has opened up many doors and generated new industries and employment. This is a pattern that is set to be continued for some time. Such is the importance of the Internet throughout the world, ensuring the UK has a far-reaching policy in place to manage current and future developments are essential.
Only time will tell how effective this bill will be in the prevention of copyright infringement and the governing of UK web space. However, if it encourage faster, more reliable and better distributed broadband as a consequence, that can only be a good thing. In a fast-moving world and an industry that is growing exponentially, greater speed can encourage greater innovation. If the UK is to be at the forefront of online technology, a good quality connection will be vital.
Whether the Digital Economy Bill covers this in its entirety is certainly up for debate. Can it revolutionise the Internet on these shore? Again, the jury is still out currently. As a statement of intent though, it is at the very least progressive.
What are your thoughts on the bill? Will it have a major impact on your business? Does it go too far? Does it not go far enough? Has there been too much compromise and not enough finite ‘laws’ proposed?