Digital Britain - Live Blog

Gordon Brown: Speaking at Digital Britain Summit
Gordon Brown: Speaking at Digital Britain Summit

LONDON - Follow Revolution's live blog from the morning's Digital Britain event in London, where the Prime Minister Gordon Brown leads a high powered line up of speakers.

Hopefully you've found Revolution's coverage of Digital Britian useful. The most high profile moment was the Prime Minister Gordon Brown talking about developing a strong digital economy:

"I say today that we should have confidence that we can develop the skills, talent and we have the creativity for the digital age," he said. "We should have confidence that we can develop services for every countriy and we should have confidence that working together we can rise to this exciting challenge and make Britain a leader in this new age."


Carter concludes that the final Digital Britain reportcan have a lasting legacy.

He says that the government will have to make decisions about its own structure. He hopes that the conclusions of the report will lead to structural change in government. Other countries, he argues, have whole departments dedicated to digital while the UK only has one minister.

And that's the main conclusion from this panel.


Until you get universal coverage you can't provide online public services, says Carter.

Carter focused on that in the report, a point that Prime Minister Gordon Brown backed this morning.


The BBC's Higham asks Hishinuma if there is a lack of trust in the digital industry that there is in Britain.

He concedes that there is but that Japan is developing technologies that will ease consumer complaints.


Higgins from Intellect says that Digital Britain is an underpinning but not enough. He says we all have a role to play in exploiting the opportunities that a digital economy provides. Everyone needs to sign up to the vision, he continues. He says it's not that long ago that ministers were calling people in this industry 'snake oil salesmen' and we can't continue with that. For a number of years there has been a vacuum of leadership from government, he argues. But adds that it's good to see Carter showing some leadership.


Hishinuma says that in the next year more than 90 per cent of Japan will have fibre to the home.

Higham is now turning to China.

Sun says that the Chinese government is taking digital strategy at a very high level and improving the telecommunications for everyone. It encourages lots of companies to invest in these areas. He says the government has invested hugely in building infrastructure.


The BBC's Nick Higham is not keen on the panel being wishy washy. He asks them where Britain would appear in a league table - what position are they in the race for a digital economy?

Hishinuma says his country (Japan) wants to win the race but that China and India are very strong.

Sun says that everyone can win.

Carter says that Britain is "doing pretty well". Politicians reflect on what other players are doing and we're in a good place, he continues. We are a large people in a small physical locality, we speak English - which is important in the creative industries.

Where we need to be concerned, warns Carter, that China and other countries are going straight into very high speed digital infrastructure.


A bit of an international line up this one.

Carter opens things up things for Britain, saying there is a digital arms race but that it's not necessarily Western economies that Britain is competing with.

China's representative Sun, says that he believes with Digital Britain we'll be able to develop a much better digital economy.

Japan's Hishunima says that Digital Britain is a good chance for the UK to restore its competitiveness in the technology and communications industry.

Intellect's Higgins says that a race is a useful in that there are lots of players but that it's not helpful because that means there are winners and losers and we're all winners.

Hmm... I think time will tell who the winners and losers are.


Panel time again and this one could be explosive perhaps only because it's called the Digital Arms Race.

The panel is formed of:

Lord Carter, minister for communications, technology and broadcasting (also author of the Digital Britain report)

Samuel Sun, CEO, Huawei Technologies

Hiroyuki Hishinuma, director for new media competiiton policy at Japan's Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communication

John Higgins, CBE, director general, Intellect


Mandelson's conclusion: we've seen technology tear down barriers in the last ten years, bringing challenges and opportunities. The government's role is to create the best environment for business succeed. In today's converged world we need to do more and that what Digital Britain is about. Our future jobs and quality of life depends on it.

A few questions from the floor now: Will there be govt investment in bringing broadband to more homes?

Mandelson says it's a possibility but talks of not displacing the private sector when they can do a better job than the government.

The BBC's Nick Higham forces the question: "You're not ruling out the type of government that we've seen in Australia?"

But Mandelson brushes off the question, calling it 'typical of journalists'. All light-hearted fun and expect some headlines tomorrow about government 'not ruling out investment in broadband networks'.


Convergence is a reality now, says Mandelson. This means a greater demand for information, access and a new way of doing business and conducting our lives.

"Britain can't take its pioneering status for granted," he says, before praising France, the US and Australia for developing their digital economies.

We can't rest comfortably as long as only half of Britain has broadband, he says, and we need to make sure we deploy wisely. He then says that Britain is working in Europe to enshrine the universality of broadband access in policy.


Mandelson warms up the crowd with a few light-hearted jokes.

The future of public service broadcasting is first up. But the imperative and scope of digital britain goes beyond this, he says, and goes to the heart of UK's industrial success this century as well as the lives we lead.

Right now we're experiencing some of the toughest conditions we have known, he continues. They're tough challenges but exciting.

"The world is on the edge of a new industrial revolution. It's being driven by shift to lower carbon and the immense power offered by digital technologies."

"The UK's economy will above all be continually driven by knowledge. If we're to secure our position we have to create an environment that fosters success."

"Don't believe gloom merchants that talk Britain down the whole time. Yes we're in a recession but changes happening play to our strengths if we can play to those changes."

Heads up on a big government announcement:

"The government's role in seizing these opportunites wil be subject to a government statement on Monday."



The secretary of state for business, enterprise and regulatory reform, or the Rt. Hon. Lord Mandelson is about to take the stage.


I bumped into Glue founder Mark Cridge at the break, who questioned the morning panel's belief in the future-gazing skills of consumers. He says it's difficult for people to predict what type of services they will be using ten years down the line.

I put this to BT chief executive Ian Livingston who said that 100mb is not necessarily the answer because there is no guarantee that consumers will pay for it. By example, he said: "If people decide that they don't want to pay for Revolution in the future then you'll be out of a job."



I'll be back at 11.35. A reminder that you can check out the line-up for the rest of the conference here:

Here is the full agenda for the day.

Next up is a mid-morning keynote from Peter Mandelson.


We're heading for a break here. 35 minutes for coffee seems a bit excessive to me but there will no doubt be plenty of chatter over a cuppa after a lively debate.

Difficult to pick clear winners. BT's Livingston forced his points well while Virgin Media's Berkett got the crowd most engaged. O2's Dunne is the most consumate of the three.


Nomura's Ciao says that it's unlikely that our households will not see two pipes coming into homes. He's talking about the importance of acknowledging that we need an infrastructure monopoly while having competition between suppliers.

Ofcom's McIntosh is itching to get involved after Ciao's monopolistic talk. He says a monopoly environment doesn't give rise to good customer service. By allowing competition we have produced hugely better services for consumers. We live in a different world now and have to think about wireless. We need competition in these networks, he concludes.


"What we can not do in the UK is go back to a monopoly - imagine BT saying that", says Livingstone, to laughs from the crowd and one person clapping.

O2's Dunne is first to mention the environment. We need to think about this when delivering what customers want, he says.

Moderator, the BBC's Nick Higham, is quizzing Dunne. How important is it for Britain to do things quickly from the point of view of major international players like Telefonica?

Dunne: We need to go fast and know who else is going to be on the journey. We can't have a Digital Britain seperate from a Digital Europe. We need to make sure we're going in the right direction - public policy needs to influence that. There are better returns to be made in other markets than (Britain) the most competitive and developed market in the world. For the last 10 years we've invested £9bn in the UK and my budget is the same for this year as it was last year so Telefonica is committed to the UK.


To what extent do you have to provide fibre to the home, asks the BBC's Higham.

Livingstone: lets see what the customer does. It's not a great dea for anyone to invest vast amounts of fibre to the home when the customer won't pay. When you ask the customer how much they pay it's an interesting discussion. We'll take the learnings from our customers and find out what they're willing to pay for.


Next audience question: how important is good customer service to the Digital Britain roll out? The questioner says there are lots of complaints about service. But he would say that - he's from a consumer services watchdog.

Livingstone: "We're seeing huge improvements." Network faults are at an all time low, he says.

Anecdote: I tried to order BT Home Hub and it took me so long to get through to the customer service dept that I gave up. This may, however, be in no way representative of general customer experience.

Back to the debate:

O2's Dunne: customers want to buy experiences, not tech and we need to focus on what they want and deliver the right experience.


The BBC's Higham has opened things up to the audience.

What is the ten year vision, as the Digital Britian report deals with short-term? is the question.

Ofcom's McIntosh says that the report will guide the next ten to fifteen years. We need to get these decisions right as we'll be living with the consequences for a long time, he says.

BT's Livingstone says that the notion that we'll know what happen in 20 years time is fanciful. The next three years are critical, he says. BT's investment is fibre is 10 year plus, he says.

Berkett from Virgin Media adds that it's important that we look at the position today that we're talking about Digital Britain, not digital cities. If we're going to have a digital Britain, any policy has to concentrate on areas where commercial reality doesn't necessarily match the short-term investment.


On to mobile now. O2's Ronan Dunne says that we've seen a huge growth in take up of mobile broadband. People see it as complimentary to fixed network, he says. "We're also seeing the development of the mobile internet."

He says that usage of the iPhone currently uses more data than that used through O2's broadband dongles.

Interesting that - all the networks have been pushing the dongles through lots of advertising but the iPhone trumps it.


BT's Livingstone, sitting next to Berkett, is talking about BT creating the best telecoms environment of any major country.

"We are spending hundreds of millions of pounds on the assumption that we will get through any regulatory challenges," says Livingstones. He says we can't have pockets of monopolies across the country. He says there are a log of regulatory issues, that the BT shareholders have suffered, and that there has been a lot of progress but there is more to do.


Virgin Media's Neil Berkett: "The BBC iPlayer is the Veruca Salt of video - I want it and I want it now."

He's talking about the huge demand for data across broadband networks. That's the first and, I imagine only, reference to Charlie and The Chocolate Factory we'll here today.


The panel is addressing questions submitted via the Digital Britain forum.

The BBC's Nick Higham is quizzing the panel.

He's asking BT's Livingstone how much progress has been made.

"The plumbing is not broken", says Livingstone, questioning the topic of the panel. A few groans from the audience - this is getting tastier.

Livingstone says it's actually a question of upgrading. He says higher speeds will be delivered to half a million new homes by year end. By 2012 10 million homes will have broadband, he says.


"The cost is expensive and the business case is still blurred with regard to creating next generation access," says chair Francesco Caio.

The Prime Minister has just laid out a good business case but I guess it's the Virgin Medias and BTs (those on this panel) that will be footing the bill.


We're about to get serious about digital infrastructure. Not sexy but important. I'll post some highlights here.

The acronyms are out too. We're talking NGA: Next Generation Access.


We've just had a few minutes from British Library chief executive Lynne Brindley. Now for the first panel session:

Fixing the plumbing: Preparing for tomorrow's digital networks today

Taking the stage is:

Neil Berkett, CEO, Virgin Media

Ronan Dunne, CEO, Telefonica O2 UK

Ian Livingstone, CEO, BT Group

Stuart McIntosh, competition partner, Ofcom

Moderating is Francesco Caio, vice-chairman of Nomura Europe


The PM's big conclusion:

"Only a digital Brit will secure the wonders of a digital revolution that will improve our lives in every way. From avoiding car crashes to linking residents and police together. Only a digital britain will enable this."

"I say today that we should have confidence that we can develop the skills, talent and we have the creativity for the digital age. We should have confidence that we can develop services for every countriy and we should have confidence that working together we can rise to this exciting challenge and make Britain a leader in this new age."


Universal broadband will deliver online public services for all, says Brown.

Digital content is the focus now. He says that digital networks bring challenges and opportunities. He wants to reward the private sector for their input.


The Prime Minister says that infrastructure, including digital infrastructure, dominated the recent G20 meeting.

We're about to get more detailed on digital:

He's praising Stephen Carter for his work on the interim Digital Report.

"It set out clear ambitions: updating networks. A dynamic investment climate for digital content, making us attractive for investment. Universal availability of technologies."

He's now praising Virgin Media and BT for improving infrastructure. Chief executives of both companies are on later.


He's comparing the digital revolution to the industrial revolution. "So it is today with this global economy. Global demand exceeds global demand, this global economic crisis and climate crisis are markers that people look back on as a true global society."

The implications are huge, he says. Asia is now manufacturing more than Europe or America.

He says that over the next few years Asians will become importers as well and we can provide, in future, high value goods and services to them.

"The digital revolution is going to be at the centre of everything we do. this is an opportunity not only for our creative industries but the creative talent of Britian as a whole. Building the digital infrastructure will let our creative genius flourish."


Gordon Brown:

"Here assembled are some of the greatest contributors to our creative industries. You are increasingly important to Britain's future.

It's appropriate to be here in the British Library. A library that is the most up to date of any in the world.

Two weeks ago in London the world came together at the G20 to build a beter future.Our task is to think to the future, of the opportunities that lie ahead of us. Today's conference is a vital step forward. Only by embracing digital britain can we maintain our position of a leading economic power.

"Today, out of this downturn, we must build the digital infrastrucutre of our future economy. We must deliver reliable high speed acess to the internet, universal activity to broadband is a vital first stepping stone to Digital Britain."



Gordon Brown has arrived on stage. A welcome break from recent PR troubles, one would think. He's up next.


Four key tests of Digital Britain, according to Burnham:

1. does it come up with the right vision?

2. Will the immediate steps help with current challenges?

3. can we do it quickly enough?

4. can it pull together a broad consensus?

The success or failure of Digital Britain will be judged on these points, he says.


Andy Burnham takes the stage

"British Library has long been the cornerstone of Britain's knowledge economy."

He's giving a general introduction. Gordon Brown and Peter Mandelson will be joining us later, he says.

"We are dealing with a sector but much more. The capabilities of Britain's digital infrastructure will effect the success of all ways that businessses will operate. It will determine the kind of society and democracy we live in. it will shape British culture in the future. These are the questions of the very highest order."

First mention of 'tough times'. Challenge is to focus on the here and now will maintaining the drive for the digital future.


Nick Higham from BBC News is chairing today's event. He says that the start is being delayed because one of the first speaker's has been delayed by a late running train. Not a great start!

If you're not familiar with the Digital Britain report. Here' an article we wrote earlier:

The six people Lord Broadband should listen to


The doors have opened and people are jostling for the best seats. It's smaller than expected. Around 200 people are here. I'm hearing reports that lots have people have been locked out due to registering late. Unconfirmed reports I must stress.


Digital Britain is kicking off with welcomes from the chief executive of the British Library and Andy Burnham, secretary of state for culture, media and sport.

Things will heat up a bit when Gordon Brown delivers the keynote at 9.15. Then we have a panel including Neil Berkett, chief executive of Virgin Media and Ian Livingstone, chief executive of BT Group.

Here is the full agenda for the day.


Morning everyone. It looks like a big day for digital as none other than the Prime Minister Gordon Brown was confirmed last night as the keynote speaker at today's Digital Britiain conference. I'm Andy McCormick and I'll be blogging live from the British Library, where the event is taking place.

I've plonked myself on the free Wi-Fi at St Pancras station before wandering over to the British Library before it opens its doors to the press.


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