Iain Lobban, the head of GCHQ, recently came forward in a spate of intelligence leaders publicly discussing hot potatoes. In his case it was the cyber threat to the UK, which subsequently made its presence felt in the Strategic Defense and Security Review (SDSR) as concerns over cyber terror and threats to digital infrastructure build.
I preface with this because it’s an indicator of the extent to which we really are in a digital economy, and while digital hasn’t quite torn down the ‘old’ economic models in the way that commentators during the 90s predicted, it’s raised a lot of new possiblities and clearly opened up new vulnerabilities. Security issues aside, I'm interested in feeling out what domestic policy currently is on digital information and infrastructure.
The last Government introduced the Digital Britain programme in 2009 through the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. This promised a three year plan to boost digital participation, universal access to broadband by 2012 and a fund to invest in enhancing its capacity, amongst other initiatives. The scheme's website can now be found safely archived on the National Archives' servers, which says a lot about what has become of the programme.
Whether for political or economic reasons, or both, the whole thing seems to have been 're-scoped' and will, probably, be rebranded (the reason that universal broadband has been pushed back is the last Government's fault &c., we may yet forget it was ever their initiative). The only concrete thing to come out the programme so far is the Digital Economy Act, shoring up business interests by reinforcing copyright law. Even before the election, many Digital Britain measures had been abandoned due to Tory opposition and the distraction of the election itself.
Meanwhile, without legislative support, it seems that the digital divide in the UK will continue to increase, which essentially equates to an urban-rural split. It's notable that in the constituency of Penrith and The Border, one of the most rural constituencies in the UK, MP Rory Stewart has made broadband a central component of his agenda, at one time presenting the possibility of communities there connecting the final miles of cable themselves. Having secured funding for a pilot project, which could lead the way towards the 'universal' 2mb connection (currently scheduled for 2015), one more Digital Britain measure may yet be achieved. With most in Government and business agreeing that high-speed broadband is the most ciritical element required to enhance the digital economy, this pilot is one to watch.