Get Carter

Charles Arthur is not impressed by ‘Lord’ Stephen Carter’s Interim ‘Digital Britain’ Report.

I’m still reeling from having to read the word porridge of the interim report on Digital Britain, handed down yesterday by (Lord) Stephen Carter. What a mish-mash of quangos, incomplete thinking, and bars set so low you can walk over them. 2 megabit per second connections for all by 2012? When people in South Korean cities today think things are bad if their speed drops to 30Mbps? A “rights agency” funded by content providers and ISPs (ie, in the end, us) that will come together to dream up a way to “enable technical copyright-support solutions that work for both consumers and content creators”?

I have never, ever heard of a quango writing a piece of code, nor even spotting the best stuff. (Generally, it’s quite the opposite: hello, English NHS record computerisation.) Getting the “right” DRM is an intractable problem. You’ll never reach the end: the only DRM that really works for consumers is none; the only DRM that really works for content producers is either zero or lots. But not all content producers agree with zero DRM. There is no single solution, and the Rights Agency will simply burn up our money failing to find it.

What’s more concerning is the Carter approach to “net neutrality”. That, you’ll recall, is the proposition that a network operator should not discriminate against data packets purely on the basis of where they originate. Thus packets with video or sound should, as they pass over the network, be treated in the same way as other video or sound packets (they tend to get priority over plain old text); data packets should not be held up purely because of where they started.


Carter, however, suggests that net neutrality is a waste of the chance to squeeze some money from customers. (That’s us – you know, the people funding that Rights Agency above.)

Spot on. Carter’s effort is an embarrassing document, the product of an old-style push-media mentality.