Conor Dignam: Over to Gordon, but don't hold your breath

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Anyone expecting Lord Carter's Digital Britain report to tie up all the media industry's major policy and public service issues in one neat package was kidding themselves. It was never going to happen.

The sheer breadth of the brief – from IP rights to public service broadcasting, universal broadband access, local news and cross media ownership laws – meant this was always going to be a report that dealt with many key issues in broad-brush terms, outlining general direction but failing to provide the detail of quite how it will all be achieved.

The fact that it had also been revealed that Lord Carter will soon be quitting his specially created role of minister of communications, technology and broadcasting also dealt a blow to the report's credibility even before it was published.

But the report does offer an ambitious plan of action that could deliver the Digital Britain Carter wants to see, including universal access to broadband by 2012. The most controversial measure is confirmation that the BBC's licence fee will be "top-sliced" to help pay for this universal broadband access. The BBC will also face contestable funding for some of the "surplus" licence fee earmarked originally to help with the switchover to digital TV. Carter's vision will be welcomed by many who believe the licence fee has to be opened up to a broader base of organisations producing "public service" content.

Digital Britain essentially identifies licence fee funds – or the surplus part of them – as the public pot from which other organisations need to be able to take money to support greater plurality. They will be lining up to take their share.

So funding for new regional news services and programmes for older children may all come from this contestable fund. All in all the report makes grim reading for the BBC. For Channel 4, there also remains uncertainty. It is expected to tie up some form of deal with BBC Worldwide, as the Government's preferred option for safeguarding its future, amid projections of a £100m shortfall in its public service fund. But nothing is yet confirmed – and the BBC will be reluctant to see any transfer.

On other fronts Digital Britain makes more headway, with a clear framework to protect copyright from illegal filesharing and with ISPs being instructed to do more to protect the intellectual property of others.

In the end Digital Britain begs as many questions as it answers – not least whether Gordon Brown's government has the energy or focus to deliver it.

Conor Dignam is the group editor of Broadcast and Screen International

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