Internet users face bills for piracy crackdown

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The Independent Tech

Broadband users could end up paying for a new body to tackle music and film piracy under Government plans to be announced today.

Communications Minister Lord Carter will publish his Digital Britain report, which will outline plans to boost the internet and communications industries.

The sector contributes more than £50bn to the UK, and the Government believes it will be the backbone of the nation's economy in the years to come.

Dealing with the problem of people illegally copying and sharing music and films online is expected to be an important strand of the report.

The Times reported that Lord Carter is to propose creating a body to mediate between internet service providers (ISPs) and music and film companies.

It would provide information about people who repeatedly infringe copyright by copying and sharing files, and be paid for by a levy on ISPs, the paper said. Such a charge could be passed on to broadband customers.

The heads of the UK's leading media and telecommunications companies were summoned to a breakfast meeting at Downing Street today ahead of the report's launch.

Lord Carter is expected to replace the universal service obligation, under which BT is obliged to provide every house in the country with a telephone line, with a new industry-wide requirement to provide everyone with broadband access.

The Government is keen for everyone to have broadband access by 2012, and a guaranteed minimum connection speed of two megabits per second may be established.

This would allow everyone with a computer to watch video online in time for the London Olympics.

Getting broadband to every household in the UK would require the installation of new infrastructure, and the report is expected to outline how this would be paid for.

Professor Martin Cave, a telecommunications expert from Warwick Business School, said the country needed to create a network of fast fibre optic connections.

"Large-scale fibre optic investment is essential and UK policymakers must resist introducing any sort of regulation that deters private companies from spending the money needed to upgrade our internet infrastructure," he said.

"With the increasing use of the internet for online gaming and downloading music, we need to allow the internet to evolve and develop in order to cope with these new demands. New technologies such as the BBC's iPlayer require much faster processing and no delay in transmission."

The interim report - the final version will be published later this year - will also set out plans for the future of public service broadcasting.

It is expected to push for a merger between Channel 4 and either Five or BBC Worldwide to create a viable non-commercial competitor to the BBC.

Last week communications watchdog Ofcom warned that Channel 4 faced a bleak future unless such a deal could be reached.

Gordon Brown said the digital economy will be vital to the UK's future economic success.

"Our digital networks will be the backbone of our economy in the decades ahead," he said.

"It is as essential to our future prosperity in the 21st Century as roads, bridges, trains and electricity were in the 20th Century.

"Even at this difficult time for the economy, we will not turn our backs on the future. We will build bridges to the future."