Liveblogging: Lord Carter's Digital Britain keynote at NESTA

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Lord Carter’s Digital Britain interim report made waves earlier this month, and not in a good way. Cory Doctorow roundly thumped it; Charles Leadbetter deconstructed it in the context of what he calls mutual media, reaching the rather damning conclusion in his report (PDF) that Digital Britain can be saved, so long as Lord Carter rethinks his entire approach (not kidding).

This morning Lord Carter gives his first major speech since the report was published; he’ll be joined by Neil Berkett, CEO of Virgin Media; media expert Peter Bazalgette and the discussion is chaired by NESTA’s Jonathan Kestenbaum. None of these luminaries are on Twitter yet (to my knowledge – tell me if they are).

Here we go…

Tue 24 Feb 09 @ 8:32 AM:  Not a good start – we’ve just been asked to turn off our phones.

Tue 24 Feb 09 @ 8:33 AM:  Kestenbaum says that Digital Britain interim report strikes a balance between the importance of users in content and network creation and the difficult economic times we find ourselves in. Has he read the report?

Tue 24 Feb 09 @ 8:38 AM: Livestream here.

Tue 24 Feb 09 @ 8:38 AM: Carter’s up. He has a prepped speech, but will just talk off the cuff.

Tue 24 Feb 09 @ 8:39 AM: Drawing the distinction between reports to government and reports of government, saying Digital Britain is the latter, because it’s meant to be implemented in the real world for the purpose of making a real change. The goal is to get the people to debate the issues as objectively and analytically as possible. Slating the public nay-saying sentiment that prevails at the moment – I’m thinking he’s read the backlash since the report was first published.

Tue 24 Feb 09 @ 8:43 AM:  @dominiccampbell points out people can tweet their feedback on the report to @innovationedge

Tue 24 Feb 09 @ 8:44 AM: Carter’s going through the list of key focus areas in Digital Britain, starting with infrastructure.Media misunderstands how public policy and private sector markets can work together to create the infrastructure which will drive demand for higher capacity networks.

(Above: A word cloud generated by the Twitter feed during the debate)

Tue 24 Feb 09 @ 8:50 AM: Legal protection, online safeguards – third area of interest. Admits is the area where report’s ideas are least formed, and the area on which they could use the most help from industry/users. This aspect is forcing businesses to find new models and new chances.

Tue 24 Feb 09 @ 8:53 AM: Universal service obligation for broadband is a critical building block – sans this, we could never move to switch off analogue services, such as the broadcasting signal. Other public services must follow, but this can only happen with a base level connectivity for all, which is what they based their 2MB USO connection forecasts on. This is looking ahead to digital public service delivery in future.

Tue 24 Feb 09 @ 8:57 AM: Moving on to the panel discussion now. Berkett up first. Virgin’s perspective very simple; Digital Britain embraces all the questions, accepts that it’s a complicated issue. Next stage around engagement with public is critical. Important thing is to focus on what we can do now to make it happen.

Tue 24 Feb 09 @ 9:00 AM: UK plc needs to demonstrate what next generation access will look like, proving the commercial model without disrupting those who have already invested (Virgin’s spent £13bn on its networks)

Tue 24 Feb 09 @ 9:02 AM: Content must be available for all platforms – doesn’t mean ‘give it away’ for free, though

Tue 24 Feb 09 @ 9:03 AM: We seem to have a reluctance to accept that business models must change to manage and control content to safeguard users and providers.

Tue 24 Feb 09 @ 9:05 AM: Peter Bazalgette’s turn. The paradox: vast amount of digital activity with very little revenue.

Tue 24 Feb 09 @ 9:06 AM:  USO question – Public utility vs boosting the economy. Which is more important – that everyone has access, or that the networks are boosted in terms of speed and capacity? He thinks the latter is most important now. Has ideas for revenue creation – like product placement on TV, online’s godsend might be behavioural advertising – paying for content with our attention spans and our personal data – but we need to sort out policy around this area.

Tue 24 Feb 09 @ 9:09 AM: (OT: Peter Bazalgette’s got the funkiest socks on the panel)

Peter Bazalgette's funky socks

Peter Bazalgette's funky socks

Tue 24 Feb 09 @ 9:09 AM: Exploring the future for IP and content creation should not protect old industry (draws parallels to shipbuilding industry in the past). Cites the example of Tate and British Library creating their own content and distributing by podcast – that’s a classic example of public service broadcasting.

Tue 24 Feb 09 @ 9:12 AM: Public money now twice as significant when it’s spent, so it must be spent wisely. Good point from the backchannel: #digitalbritain report makes no mention of software or data – content is more than television shows and music clips #carter

Tue 24 Feb 09 @ 9:14 AM: That’s a wrap – moving on to questions now.Kestenbaum repeats Carter’s comment on the importance of the atmosphere in which the debate is conducted before opening the floor.

Tue 24 Feb 09 @ 9:16 AM: Q1. How does government plan to deal with the challenge of anticipating the rate of change of technology? Berkett answers: It’s a phenomenon we all have to live with. Referencing Virgin’s technology, the concept of having fibre closer to fixed line connections is not new, their vision is to have gigabit connectivity in the next 10 years. Technical solutions should be driven by commercial need. Carter answers: Government is trying to do as little forecasting as possible. Citing DAB as an example of one of the few calls on technology choices that government has made. Knows there is an interesting debate ongoing across Europe on 4th gen mobile, UK government feels we should harmonise on spectrum.

Tue 24 Feb 09 @ 9:23 AM:  Q2 on digital education in schools. Carter: government isn’t organised in a converged way, agrees that government needs a radical review on digital literacy, says it’s a huge issue and that there is a marker on this subject in the Digital Britain report.

Tue 24 Feb 09 @ 9:27 AM: Response from the floor – from Nico don’t see anything in the report about the people’s involvement in Digital Britain.

Tue 24 Feb 09 @ 9:29 AM:  Charles Leadbeater asking about service delivery, creative use of new business models and the dividend around entrepreneurial activity. Bazalgette says: it’s already there. Doesn’t think it’s Carter’s job to supplant that. Social dividend is there and developing and will continue to do so. Economic dividend is not there.

Tue 24 Feb 09 @ 9:33 AM: Carter’s ready Leadbeater’s paper, thought it was great and asked very good questions. “But when you’re doing what I’m doing, you’ve got to draw the line somewhere.” The questions are real and profoundly important, but isn’t sure his report can answer the questions *and* achieve its goals.

Tue 24 Feb 09 @ 9:36 AM: Carter: (referencing content delivery platforms like the BBC) In a decade, these will be open source platforms because they’ll have to be.

Tue 24 Feb 09 @ 9:39 AM: Berkett: The issue of ‘protection’ needs to be cracked or else the [media] industry’s going to suffer. Bazalgette says there isn’t a single media company who knows what their model will be in 10 years’ time.

Tue 24 Feb 09 @ 9:41 AM: Carter: Britain is naturally good at tech/media stuff – question is, how do we maximise the opportunies?

Tue 24 Feb 09 @ 9:43 AM: Kestenbaum’s final observation: the models and assumptions around the issues have totally broken down, Carter’s rebuilding and rebooting them for the Digital Britain of the future. There isn’t a single theme in public policy now that has as much enthusiasm and optimism around it.

And that’s it. If you’re interested in joining the debate, register your interest at

  • RickWaghorn

    Ever since I got waved away from NESTA’s door with our proposition for supported by a self-service advertising system aka Addiply for being, quote, ‘beyond their area of expertise and experience…’ can’t take them too seriously.

    NESTA. ‘Making innovation flourish…’


  • Ricky

    Getting quite bored of Twitter being some kind of verifier as to whether anyone knows anything about digital technology or not. The notion that if you’re not on Twitter then you can’t possibly be interested or insightful about the digital market is a little dubious.

    • Loula

      actually Ricky you are wrong.

  • RickWaghorn

    Charles Leadbeater asking about service delivery, creative use of new business models and the dividend around entrepreneurial activity. Bazalgette says: it’s already there…

    Oh, yeh. Where?

  • AlastairDuncan

    poinabout content being morethan tv shows and music clips. Why is there nobody on the db advisory panel from web content creation land?

  • Mike Butcher

    I’m very disappointed that there was no-one on the panel who could give a ‘tech company’ perspective (I’m talking web startup, games developer, mobile company etc). Instead they were all people largely from the media side of “digital”. Yes, I know this debate is about policy, but if you don’t understand the ‘digital platform’ how can you frame the policy?

    • AlastairDuncan

      There’s a real feeling of ‘old media’ about this whole debate, particularly when it comes to definitions around content. Let’s not forget that Lord Carter grew up at JWT before hopping to NTL. Peter Bazalgette’s point about generally unsuccessful attempts by old media to build new media properties does strike a chord too.

  • Roger

    NESTA no doubt is full of good people with good intentions but it is very difficult to take them seriously. Reading the list of finalists for their £1 million give away the Big Green Challenge is like reading through a Bird and Fortune script. The UK Innovation Index Project is about as surreal as you can get, even on public money.

    • AlastairDuncan

      In a world where the government is buying back Royal Bank of Scotland and selling off Royal Mail, I can see the Royle family on the panel about Digital Britain policy and putting up a few sensible insights. Setting aside opinions of NESTA though, what do we want for public policy on digital britain?

  • Participation Marketing

    Digital Britain debate on TechCrunch UK…

    Join in the #carter fun here.


  • Michael Kowalski

    Britain is “naturally good at media stuff”, yes. And with the fall from grace of financial services, media people are thrilled at that prospect that their industry could be the single basket where we put all our eggs. What makes this odd is that, as Kestenbaum put it, none of them know what their model will be in 10 years’ time—or whether they will even have one.

    • Mike Butcher

      Most of the analysts say the Media Industry will HALVE in size in the next 10 years. Growth industry!

  • tristam sparks

    whenever a centralised organisation, such as a government, tries to control decentralised organisation, you’re bound to run into conflict.

    government wants to increase the economy’s capacity. information has to be free. so you end up with government siding with 100 year old attitudes towards copyright and publishing, to protect it’s corporate “partners.”

    @Ricky knowing about twitter is not necessarily a qualifier in these discussions, but the way their service, which includes a low barrier to entry and an open api that allows potential businesses to grow out of its own creation, is an useful analogy of how the internet itself has influenced the economy and society. innovation flounders as soon as it’s regulated or barriers to communication are erected.

  • tristam sparks

    ps. can the author clarify this?

    “If you’re interested in joining the debate, register your interest at”

    is this an email list? what?

    • Basheera Khan

      @Tristam The email address is where you would send notification to Digital Britain that you want to formally respond to the report. You can also comment on specific sections of the report via Write To Reply –

      I also just noticed that Digital Britain has since this morning added a link to their newly launched discussion forum –

  • alan p

    I felt a bit sorry for Lord Carter – vested interests (no doubt with armies of lawyers & lobbyists) breathing down his neck and many noisy muppets in his face.

    I’m afraid if We The People want to have a voice the response will need to be achievable, reasoned and well argued (Sorry, but access to “The Twitter” does not make one a digital media policy expert)

    Biggest issue though is that the overall UK TMT industry is the size of the UK Fin Serv industry so is clearly been designated as one of the champions to lead us out of recession.

    But if all the money (£1.3 trillion and counting) has been given over to prop up the guys who f*cked the country over (in my day, when you took over an underperforming company you fired the management – plus ca change) where is the investment to really do this well going to come from?

    Also, if its going to champion the way out it can’t then have its revenues destroyed by piracy (sorry, open rights of access to information).

    And to make it more “interesting”, the industry will need to have tax breaks to compete with all the other countries trying to get into the space via incentive packages.

  • alan p

    Forgot to add – we are writing a considered response, would be happy to collaborate with others doing the same.

  • mtemple

    coverage of nesta news

  • Tony Hirst

    A lot of people claim not to have been very impressed by the Digital Britain report, so how about we write our own version of it?

    Digital Britain, in our own words:

  • Lindawool

    I would just like to say “hello”.

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