17 June 2009

The internet is as vital as water and gas: Gordon Brown, British PM

16 06 2009 - Every home will have broadband access as we aim for a digital Britain fit to take on the world.

The digital revolution is changing all our lives beyond recognition and today we shall set out how Britain must change with it. Whether it is to work online, study, learn new skills, pay bills or simply stay in touch with friends and family, a fast internet connection is now seen by most of the public as an essential service, as indispensable as electricity, gas and water.

Just as the bridges, roads and railways built in the 19th century were the foundations of the Industrial Revolution that helped Britain to become the workshop of the world, so investment now in the information and communications industries can underpin our emergence from recession to recovery and cement the UK's position as a global economic powerhouse.

Today the Government will publish its Digital Britain report, which firmly places the digital economy centre stage as it is core to our future industrial capability.

The UK's digital economy at present accounts for about 8 per cent of our national income. Its continued development is fundamental to the productivity and innovative capacity of so many other sectors and, with that, the creation and protection of hundreds of thousands of jobs.

I am determined that Britain's digital infrastructure will be world class. For me, it is all part of building Britain's future beyond the difficult, short-term economic conditions. We must continue to invest to become a world leader in the new high-tech, low-carbon industries of the future by reigniting the British genius for invention, discovery and trade - to capitalise on our strengths.

Whenever I travel abroad, I see the presence of British products and services that testify to our national strength in the emerging high-end manufacturing industries, the information and communications industries and creative industries such as advertising, film and television.

These are the dynamic sectors that we need to back and promote. So, like other leading economies, we must develop the next generation of communications networks - fixed, mobile and broadcast.

The private sector is rightly leading the way and investing significant sums. But there is also a role for targeted, strategic action by government.We can create the right framework, for example, for the release of wireless spectrum - a national asset - while also liberalising its uses and extending mobile broadband coverage.

In our fibre optic and cable networks, which will provide the next generation of superfast broadband, the Government must also complement and assist the private sector to move farther and faster.

Modernisation of our communications infrastructure is vital to take advantage of important shifts in technology. The public sector, businesses large and small - and those who work in them - need access to both fixed and mobile high-standard, high-speed networks.

But I am clear that this transformation must benefit us all, business and consumers alike, in every part of the country. Digital Britain cannot be a two-tier Britain - with those who can take full advantage of being online and those who can't.

So the first step must be to make the existing broadband network truly available to all. Just as we remain committed to a universal postal service, we pledge today to give every home, community and company access to broadband internet.

These technological advances will be accompanied by a revolution in content, which they allow. We must develop and sustain public service content, such as commercial regional news, which we all value and rely on, ensuring that it can be delivered across multiple digital outlets by a range of providers accessible to all.

These are difficult times for local newspapers, TV and radio and, as Ofcom has said, a regionalised TV news network is no longer financially viable. However, competition in news - as in business - is vital to provide consumers with the highest quality and we cannot allow a monopoly to take root. Remaining in touch with local issues and holding councils and regional bodies to account is the lifeblood of our democracy.

We also need to help Channel 4 to secure its future. In its short history, the station has produced Oscar-winning films and some of the most popular and highest-quality programming. But it now requires long-term stability to develop as a truly global player.

Improved communications technologies from the progressive digital switchover will enable the Government and local authorities to provide taxpayers with improved individually tailored public services offering the greatest value for money, and increasing efficiency for citizens and businesses. We must also introduce a robust legal framework to combat digital piracy and secure the rights of Britain's creative talent.

Broadband is at a tipping point. High-speed internet access will soon be essential for everyone. Only a digital Britain can unlock the imagination and creativity that will secure for us and our children the high-skilled jobs of the future in a global economy.

Gordon Brown is the Prime Minister


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