“Boldness be my friend”, said Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, quoting Iachimo in Shakespeare’s Cymbeline, in his recent address to the Royal Television Society (RTS). Ralph Adam looks at Hunt’s plans for a wide-ranging review of the regulatory regime for the communication sector.
With a White Paper and Draft Bill due in April 2013, the Government’s ambition is to create a new communication framework ‘fit for the digital age’ with ‘dynamic and successful’ markets, by 2015. It sees the first priority as being to capitalise on the extraordinary opportunity presented by our digital and creative industries.
Hunt initiated the review last May by writing an ‘open letter’, with a long list of questions, to everyone in telecoms, broadcasting and the other digital and creative-content industries. Responses were to be published in summary alongside a Green Paper promised for the end of 2011. This has still not appeared.
Around 200 comments were received. The IET’s contribution criticised the Government for placing a strong emphasis on markets, rather than focusing on the engineering or technology on which the communication industry is based. It pointed out that, while concern in this area is driven by the need to support innovative mobile services, the current framework, far from coping with these new challenges, has become part of the problem due to coverage, regulatory and capacity limitations.
For the IET any review should take into account the importance of technology in its vision. Major growth opportunities in convergent wireless and super-fast broadband will be created, affecting the experiences of both operators and users. The underlying engineering will have a big impact on the business environment. Yet, as the IET pointed out, even Hunt’s questions under the heading: ‘A communications infrastructure that provides the foundations for growth’ relate solely to markets.
Other areas within the IET’s ambit have been ignored or minimised. For example, broadcasting appears just once in the ‘letter’, with television mentioned only in passing. This, however, is a debate with strong broadcasting components (convergence, spectrum scarcity, the role of electronic programme guides and the future of public service broadcasting are all key issues) and the sector is sure to feature largely in the Green Paper, if only because content production is a stimulus for economic growth. Here we have a valuable means of fostering culture and community through technology.
Hunt says he reacts as a ‘businessman’ and talks of the importance of technology, but he is using the term in a general sense. In his RTS presentation he spoke repeatedly of the need to be bold, but never in terms of technology. While he sees a future for the communication industry comparable to the City’s Big Bang of a decade ago, he is actually referring to cheap broadband, plurality and a ‘light touch’, with an emphasis on protecting children and cracking down on Internet piracy.
Politically, 2013 is far away. With Jeremy Hunt being the bookmakers’ favourite for the next cabinet minister to be sacked, what are the chances that he will survive to see the Green Paper? As Shakespeare also said: “Virtue is bold!”
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