Government needs to move up through the gears on digital policy.
We can’t afford this government to trudge along in first-gear with communication confusion on digital policy because this only causes regulatory uncertainty for business.
While the UK media was going crazy over the Liam Fox affair and the government was busy dealing with it, few noticed a busy and confused week for digital policy.
Things started with a bad briefing by the Department for Education.
The Telegraph reported the ‘opt-in’ proposal for pornography on all ISPs early last Tuesday morning.
From what I can tell, someone in the Department for Education thought it would make a great story to include a web blocking agreement alongside the launch of a new ParentPort website, a media standards and complaint site which has nothing to do with web blocking.
Somewhere along the way the briefing went awry and suddenly the story that ISPs will provide tools to block pornography (ISPs like TalkTalk and BT already offer these tools for free) became ISPs will require an opt-in agreement to access porn and other adult content through their services. This was incorrect as reported later.
Fine. That is one mistake. But the week got worse.
We then heard from OFCOM which seems to do nothing but delay important events like the Spectrum Auction and avoid releasing guidance on issues like net neutrality, website blocking, and the implementation of the Digital Economy Act.
All of these are pretty big issues here in the UK, in the tech industry, and there is no guidance on what the digital regulator would do in the event of an issue.
At an event on Thursday at which I spoke called “Implementing the Digital Economy Act”, Campbell Cowie, Director of Internet Policy at OFCOM, apologised for not being able to present the audience with an Initial Obligations code outline for the Digital Economy Act and he said that the first warning letters to potential copyright infringers won’t go out until 2013.
However all of this is still pending approval from the European Commission and another process within Parliament.
In short, things are getting more fragmented across this government’s digital policy.
OFCOM, the regulator, and the Information Commissioner’s Office both seem to be sitting back and letting things happen rather than doing – whether that comes in the form of responding to complaints or actually working on issues like the spectrum auction.
But then we see dispersed digital policy all across government departments, from the Home Office and their Prevent strategy to the Foreign Office and their Cyberspace Conference happening in a few weeks.
Are the departments talking to each other? And, more importantly, are regulators and departments talking to the Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS)?
Though government moves very slowly and is often risk adverse internally, especially among civil servants, my concern is they aren’t actually communicating or briefing each other enough.
The fact of the matter is that DCMS under Minister Vaizey has taken a lead on many digital policy issues, has forged relationships with industry and civil society, and has been active in having regular round table meetings and promoting industry and expert-led regulation.
Minister Vaizey and his team at the very least could be the first point of call for all things digital.
Digital and information technology moves at lightning speed. As I write this, I am sitting at Tech Hub in Old Street and today alone one start up launched their new website while another met with a lawyer to draw up their terms of service.
We can’t afford this government to trudge along in first-gear with communication confusion because this only causes regulatory uncertainty for business. And it is these very businesses that this Coalition Government are pinning their economic growth on.
The answers to solving these issues seem obvious enough; less mistakes and less confusion. Expect to hear of more clangers soon then.
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