Government Charts Digital Britain Progress

The Government claims that a quarter of the recommendations in the Digital Britain report published six months ago have already been implemented. Others, including the passing of controversial legislation, are progressing, it said.

"Around a quarter of the actions and recommendations set out in the White Paper have been completed in the first six months of implementation, with progress in all other areas," said a Government report on the implementation of the Digital Britain report.

The Government said that 'key developments' included the establishment of a campaign to increase the public's online participation; the forming of a body to increase the population's digital skills; the publication of a higher education framework and national skills strategy to educate the workforce in digital technology; and the pledging of £30 million to get people to engage digitally with Government services.

The Government has also said that each Government department will identify two services by 2012 that will form part of its programme to switchover public services to internet-based delivery. It hopes that nearly all Government services will be deliverable digitally by 2014.

The Government outlined the consultations that have been begun or completed into other recommendations made by the Digital Britain report.

These include consultations on new duties for Ofcom to encourage and monitor infrastructural investment and network resilience; digital radio; online copyright infringement; and the public funding of regional news.

The Digital Economy Bill is the proposed piece of legislation to deal with those parts of the report that must be passed into law. It has been controversial because of the late addition by Government of proposals to sever internet connections used by suspected copyright-infringing file-sharers. The Digital Britain report did not recommend that action.

Some of the web's biggest names, including Google, Facebook, eBay and Yahoo!, have written to the Government expressing their concerns about other aspects of the Bill. They believe that Clause 17 of the Bill will give future Governments the right to amend copyright laws without going through Parliament.

"We believe the bill’s Clause 17 – which gives any future Secretary of State unprecedented and sweeping powers to amend the Copyright, Design and Patent Act – opens the way for arbitrary measures," said the letter to business secretary Lord Mandelson.

"This power could be used, for example, to introduce additional technical measures or increase monitoring of user data even where no illegal practice has taken place. This would discourage innovation, impose unnecessary costs, potentially unsettling the careful balance of responsibilities for enabling market change which Lord Carter outlined in the Digital Britain report," it said. "This clause is so wide that it could put at risk legitimate consumer use of current technology as well as future developments."

Another controversial element of the Government's digital plans was also noted in the update on progress. It said that the Government would shortly consult on its plans to charge a monthly 50 pence levy on telephone lines to fund broadband infrastructure development.