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“Spooks” Caught Up In Digital Britain Debate

UK TV spy series producer calls for the government to crack-down on file-sharing

The long awaited Digital Britain report is due to be released this week and various stake-holders are already throwing their opinions around on what the government’s priorities should be for managing online content and infrastructure.

Speaking on the BBC’s Today radio news programme, Stephen Garrett, executive chairman of Kudos production which makes the fantasy spy series Spooks, said that he hoped the report would pave the way for legislation that would force ISP’s to tackle file-sharing. He accused ISPs of “sitting idly by while money was haemorrhaging out” of TV and film companies, according to BBC reports.

According to other reports earlier this week, ISP Virgin Media appears to be heeding calls to act against file-sharers by considering stopping its customers from accessing its network if they are proven to be persistent users of file-sharing sites.

File-sharing and so-called “software piracy” is just one aspect of the wide-ranging report, which is being led by communications minister Lord Carter who announced last week that he is stepping down from the government in the summer.

Although some critics characterised Carter’s departure as being linked to the spate of high-profile exists from the government in the wake of the expenses scandal and cabinet reshuffle, the government maintains that the communications minister always meant to go after the Digital Britain report was completed.

Meanwhile, Gordon Brown appears to be using the Digital Britain report to add some tech-relatd kudos of his own to his struggling premiership. Brown has already won some Brownie-points from the tech and business community with the recent decision to hire Amstrad founder and star of The Apprentice TV series Sir Alan Sugar as an enterprise czar, while web pioneer Sir Tim Berners Lee is on board to help with digital engagement alongside Lastminute.com founder Martha Lane Fox.

Writing in The Times today, Brown said the internet as being as important as other utilities such as water and gas. “Whether it is to work online, study, learn new skills, pay bills or simply stay in touch with friends and family, a fast internet connection is now seen by most of the public as an essential service, as indispensable as electricity, gas and water,” he wrote.

However some critics may balk at Brown’s claims given the government’s modest ambitions of rolling out just 2Mbps broadband access across the UK. The issue of broadband infrastructure has been further compounded by concern over government funding for even this relatively meager network provision.

Chancellor Alistair Darling said in the budget that a universal service obligation for broadband will be paid for by money left from the switchover to digital TV. “Will [2Mbps] be enough to count as broadband by 2012 when around half the country will have access to 40Mbps or more?” asked the BBC’s Rory Cellan-Jones.

Meanwhile, network technology maker Jupiner Networks put out a statement to coincide with the Digital Britain report claiming that content providers should also be asked to contribute to the development of internet infrastructure.

“There is a common misconception that ‘problems’ with service levels on the Internet are related to the access bandwidth provided into the home. This is only one part of the equation,” said a Juniper spokesperson. “As Internet traffic continues to grow dramatically, service providers will not continue to invest in sufficient capacity to carry that traffic unless they can make a respectable return from that investment. The ultimate funding for that investment will most likely need to come from a combination of downstream customers and upstream content owners.”

Juniper’s comments appear to ally the company with opponents to so-called “net neutrality” who claim content creators should pay more to prioritise their information online – something EU authorities are opposed to.

“From the governance point of view “Net Neutrality” is essential,” said EU Commissioner Viviane Reding. “New network management techniques allow traffic prioritisation. These tools may be used to guarantee good quality of service but may also be used for anti-competitive practices.