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Drawing: Broadband Britain – Digital Economy Bill

The UK Digital Economy Bill is in progress through parliament. If you use technology in your life this will have a profound effect upon you and how you are able to use digital communication.

This matters because the bill sets down the rules by which the country will grow new industries to help escape the recession caused by the financial houses and the government’s efforts to bail them out.

There are many controversial elements but one of the headlines is the three strikes and your are out clause which allows disconnection (or lately, temporary disconnection) of service for ‘illegal’ downloading of content from the web.

Content – words, pictures, videos and music – is enormously valuable stuff and has made very many large companies extremely rich through licensing its use. However, the digital distribution networks of the web make it extremely difficult for the traditional models of content ‘ownership’ (supported by the laws of copyright) to work.

This is why I have used speechmarks around the word illegal above because the law is not clear on what constitutes illegal download at present. The Digital Economy Bill is supposed to resolve this – among other things.

The other really big issue in the background is control of  access to all this digital content. The answer to this lies in the physical lines which provide our broadband services. Britain has long lagged behind competitor nations in providing a truly national answer for a broadband infrastructure.

At present, the government is committed to something called the Universal Service Commitment which guarantees a certain level of service to everyone in the country by 2012. They plan to raise the money for expanding this to rural areas of the country which currently have poor access through raising a new tax on existing telephone landlines – the so-called Broadband tax.

At present most of the national network is still controlled by BT‘s quasi-monopoly. There are many other companies who would like a bigger slice of this profitable pie and at present BT holds the ring as a kind of agency. It will sell capacity to its competitors but for a hefty fee.

The Open Rights Group is a key lobby group for people interested in this area. You can also follow the real-time conversation about the particular issues of the bill at #debill.

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