UK Government’s BERR launches YouTube Channel

I've just spotted that the UK Government's Department for Business and Regulatory Reform (BERR) has launched its own YouTube channel (I wonder if it's the handiwork of @neilyneil?).

One of the first videos uploaded is a piece to camera by Lord Carter talking about his recently published Digital Britain report:

Pleasingly BERR have opened up the comment section to allow viewers to discuss and feedback on Lord Carter's report.
Unfortunately, no-one has contributed yet.
See Joss's comment below. Looking again this morning it seems the comment option is now turned. I'm sure it wasn't yesterday when I looked… looks like BERR are trying to drive discussion to their own destination which, in its own words, is a "discussion site …created by the Secretariat for the
Digital Britain Steering Board, to provide a space for you to engage
with us directly in an online debate about Digital Britain.
" Wow! The "Secretariat for the
Digital Britain Steering Board" – how social is that :)

It's worth noting that there is already a huge volume of discussion of the report online. Just take a look at a Twitter search for the hashtag #digitalbritain. I'd recommend Lord Carter get online himself and started engaging in the discussions already happening.

Technorati tags: BERR, Lord Carter, Digital Britain

Dear Lord Carter, please read this blog post – Why The Government’s Digital Britain Report Worries Me

The UK Government made a significant announcement last week as it unveiled plans to seriously review and examine everything digital and its relation to business and culture.

As far as I’m concerned, the announcement, by Lord Carter, Minister for Communications, Technology and Broadcasting, is is a vitally important topic and while it gained some coverage in the UK blogosphere (notably posts by Wadds, Stephen Davies and Dominic Campbell), I think it deserves a lot more debate.

The reason it deserves more debate is that while the Government is appearing to take seriously the opportunities – economic and cultural – offered by digital convergence the language it is using to drive forward a review of these opportunities is worrying.

One phrase in particular I find intriguing:

“We [the Government] will seek to bring forward a unified framework to help maximize the UK’s competitive advantage and the benefits to society.”

Now, while no one will argue that maximizing the benefits the Internet brings to UK society is not desirable, and while some would argue that maximizing the UK’s competitive advantage is not a necessary priority it cannot be denied that the Internet is throwing up enormous economic benefits.

But what concern me here is the term “unified framework“. This brings to mind the idea of an extremely top-down, bureaucratic regime of Internet governance for certain industries or social/cultural groups that the Government decides is a priority or that would benefit specifically from support.

Of course, I’m prejudging what the government has in mind. However, I am prejudging to illustrate a point. namely, that as any fule kno – the beauty and power of the Internet is that it is a decentralised network where the power of creativity or production is in the hands of the individual user.

As a result, production and methods of production are as unique and *non-unified* as there are individuals involved.

It is perhaps worrying that the Government’s announcement seems to indicate a failure to grasp this idea.

Related to this point of decentralised production by end-users is the notion of what actually gets created (and “digital content development” is one of the key Government areas for review).

The announcement observes that digital convergence is “critical to every business in our economy, acting both as a catalyst for creativity and allowing efficiency gains.”

But if we look specifically at ‘social or peer production’ – the user-generated content I suspect the Government is alluding to (especially with reference to “efficiency gains” – then again it is acutely important that the *user-generated* element of this creative content and production is just that: created by the user.

This is significant because it means the Government can’t just pick a key industry and say “Right. This is the sector in which we need efficiency gains and more creative content.” This, of course, is for the individual with a PC in their study or bedroom to decide.

But don’t get me wrong, we are experiencing a major transition in the way economic models, businesses, creativity and social relations behave. And the Internet is at the heart of this transition – both driving it and being driven. The fact that the UK government has woken up to it is extremely heartening. key issues are under review, such as:

  • “Broadband Development – examining options for maximizing participation and levels of service across the UK 
  • Spectrum: identifying the barriers to the release of spectrum and a fully functioning market in the trading and use of spectrum
  • Universal access to high quality, public service content through appropriate mechanisms for a converged digital age
  • Intellectual property: the UK Intellectual Property Office will take forward work to deliver a digital copyright framework which supports creativity, investment and job creation in these important sectors”

My concern comes from experience of the way government and organisations function which is usually highly top-down and hierarchical. Culture Secretary, Andy Burnham, who is sharing ministerial responsibility for the Carter Review, says as much in the press release:

“Over the last year we’ve worked with experts to get a clear understanding of the issues to address and obstacles to overcome if our businesses and citizens are to take full advantage of technology.” [My emphasis]

IMHO speaking to self-appointed ‘experts’ about how other people (“citizens”) should make use of technology is the old way of doing things. And in my view approaching the opportunities of the Internet in this way will achieve the exact opposite of what the Government intends to achieve.

Former Yale academic, recently appointed Professor of Entrepreneurial Law at Harvard UniversityYochai Benkler, has written extensively about emergent economic models in a digital age.

As suggested above these models rely on social and/or non-market forces to achieve the “efficiency gains” flagged by the UK government. In his Wealth of Networks, Benkler observes that in this emerging economic and institutional ecology:

“the State plays no role or is perceived as playing a primarily negative role … Just like the market, the state will have to adjust to this new emerging modality of human action.”

Benkler suggests we are on the cusp of a new era for economics and creative opportunity as the UK government seems to acknowledge in its planned Digital Britain Report. However, Benkler is explicit that these new opportunities for the economy as well as democracy and human freedom are contingent on the key players (governments; regulators; gate-keeping corporations etc) getting it right from the outset.

The UK Government’s announcement doesn’t fill me with optimism that this is likely to happen.

Technorati tags: UK Government, DCMS, BERR, Carter Review, Digital Economy

Thoughts on the Internet as a ‘game changer’ for PR and communications consultancy

Doc has a post about Internet regulation in Canada where after nearly 10 years of regulation free Internet, the Canadian Radio and Television Commission has just announced that it is to look again at ‘broadcasting using the Internet’.

The issue of Internet regulation is a major one and not for this post – although it is edfinitely something I want to follow up in the UK.

Instead. what I wanted to share was Doc’s neat summary of why the Internet is important to everyone and everything.

Doc asserts that: 

“the Net isn’t just a game-changer for everything it touches, but a subject of transcendent importance, so unique, so unlike anything that preceded it, that it wasn’t like anything.”

And this is precisely the problem. All too often (and more like all of the time) people want to know how they use the Internet to improve what they already do, or want to know what impact the Internet will have on their organisation.

But how do you give these people an answer when they are asking the wrong question?

Of course, it is the PR consultant’s job to tell the client the right question to ask and then answer it. But it is often difficult to get beyond traditional expectations.

Take this as an example: a client may call on their PR consultant to tell them how to communicate better using the Internet. However, the right answer might in fact be that before the client can change its communications, the way the company operates must be transformed to bring it in line with the expectations, identities, social norms etc of a digitally networked society. Now this is traditionally seen as management consultancy and *not* what the PR agency is paid for.

This position – of course – supports what Grunig has said about PR all along. Unfortunately, it has been an uphill struggle to sell Grunig’s ideas first time aprund, let alone when we are working in a digitally networked world which operates as an entirely different paradigm.

Technorati tags: Net Neutrality, regulation, Doc Searls, consultancy, management, paradigm shifts

That McCain technology policy

Further to my previous post, I appreciate this is more Weinberger (not in itself a bad thing) but it *is* relevant to the post below about copyright.

Weinberger flags Republican presidential candidate John McCain’s technology policy which, in Weinberger’s words, shows that:

  1. He’s flat against Net neutrality.
  2. He wants to see copyright extended and enforced more vigorously.
  3. He thinks the current infrastructure only needs a couple of tweaks.

So there you have it. Not only are large corporations trying to protect IP through greater enforcement and tighter controls on the Internet, but politicians are now looking to curry with corporations. That’s when we really need to start worrying!

Net neutrality is an issue for everyone (heavy topic with fun picture)

I must admit I’ve not really ever delved too deep into the whole ‘free internet’ debate.

For me it has always been a case of "I’m sure it’s a worthy cause, but it’s something for others to take care of." – which, I’ll be honest, is a pretty easy position to occupy and has got a lot of people into a lot of trouble in the past.

But then today I saw this image:


Now, this really drove the ‘net neutrality’ debate home. How would you like to live in a world like that!

So while I still haven’t read the full cases for or against as of today I am officially taking an interest. If anyone cares to join my quest for information why not try:

Technorati tags: net neutrality, free internet, David Weinberger, Jeff Jarvis