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Digital Britain: How would Crave have made Britain Digital?

It's all very well complaining about how wrong the government is, but we feel we should put our money (well, theirs) where our mouth is and come up with some better proposals

The dust is settling on the Digital Britain report and we have to say, we're really disappointed. We wanted better broadband, and all we got was a tax on phone lines to pay for some slow Internet connections for people who can't get anything at the moment. We wanted a proposal for ultra-fast fibre-based networks, but that was just hinted at -- no real plan seems to be in place to make it happen.

Worst of all, DAB is now the system of choice for analogue radio switchover. We like the idea of DAB, but the audio quality of the stations isn't a patch on FM, and at this rate it never will be. We're so frustrated by the fact that in the UK, digital seems to mean 'worse quality than analogue, but millions more rubbish channels to watch or listen to'.

We've had a good moan about it all, but what are we going to do? Well, nothing -- you didn't vote us in at the last general election, and while that hasn't stopped Gordon Brown, we think a coup d'état would be rather rude. So here's how we think it should be done: you can argue if you want, that's what the comments section is for.

Phone line tax

The government said, "You're all getting cheap line rental and phone calls, so we're going to use this opportunity to generate a bit more cash." Which is like saying, "Hey, that air you breathe is awfully cheap -- how about we tax you for it?"

The problem here is many people don't want a fixed phone line at all. Ask most people between 18 and 35, and they probably don't even use their home phone, apart from to get ADSL. Now, we're going to charge them 50p a month extra, on a phone line they don't really want, to pay for other people to get broadband. Does that stink? Yes, we're pretty sure it howls like five-year-old trainers.

What would Crave do?
More tax isn't the answer. We think it would be far more useful to tell the country's two main telecoms operators, BT and Virgin, that they've got five years to ensure everyone can get 2Mbps broadband. Their reward for this will be new customers, and if that's not enough, perhaps they can get a tax break. Any tax incentives should be based on the amount of new people able to get broadband, and should be independently audited.

Broadband for all

It's one thing to guarantee everyone two-meg broadband, but that's not fast enough to do much even now. Give it five years, and it will be the equivalent of today's 256kbps.

What would Crave do?
We'd make sure the areas that didn't have decent broadband at the moment were given a fibre to the cabinet type arrangement. This way fast broadband can easily be delivered from now until the forthcoming environmental apocalypse. This would be paid for by the government, and ISPs given the opportunity to run the service, thus paying back the government investment over time. When the scheme turns a profit, the government would sell up and walk away with the public coffers properly in the black.

Next-generation broadband

The government wants Britain's broadband to be the envy of the world. At the moment, we're a wealthy nation with terrible broadband -- especially if you don't live near your phone exchange.

What would Crave do?
We'd open this one up to anyone who wanted to invest. Companies would be offered the rights to lay cable, and then re-sell that to any ISP interested in providing service. If no companies were prepared to invest, the government would pick up the tab and when it has built up a decent user base, sell off the whole shebang to BT or an ISP. This would pay for the introduction of the scheme, but would also generate a valuable install base of users.

We need fibre soon, and it can't just be laid to the homes that are in built-up areas. The logical choice here is to do a deal with a utility company, as gas, electricity and water already flow to virtually every home in Britain. Subsidisation is the key here -- if the government wants to compete, it's going to have to cough up the cash.

Digital radio switchover

The government wants a switchover to clear the AM and FM range of the RF spectrum. We don't have a problem with that, and we think with the right encouragement it could happen in the next ten years or so. We don't, however, think that forcing the BBC off FM and on to DAB exclusively will help much -- it will just infuriate radio listeners.

What would Crave do?
We would make it a requirement for any car sold with a radio to have DAB built-in. We'd also mandate that any DAB radio sold from now on must contain the relevant circuitry for DAB+.

The problem with DAB at the moment is only the BBC can really afford to run stations on both FM and DAB. We'd propose the government use some of the money it uses from flogging spectrum to get smaller stations on to DAB, using the newer DAB+ system, which is more efficient.

The ultimate goal should be for us to get DAB+ rolled out to as many people as possible, as quickly as possible. Some radios sold at the moment are DAB+ ready, and there's no reason that every DAB radio can't be ready for the new standard. We need to stop using MP2-based DAB radio as soon as possible, and get the stations on to AAC-based DAB+.

Rant over. Let us know what you think. Just don't get us started on piracy.