A Manifesto for the UK's Digital Infrastructure


With just over a week left to run before the UK Government's Digital Infrastructure Consultation closes, I thought it would be interesting to float a few ideas here to see what people think the UK should do in this space. Should we bring Google Fiber to the UK? What about Broadband Vouchers for the unemployed? Time to kill the Cookie Directive? Read on, and let me know what you think in the comments...


 [Picture credit: CC BY-SA Flickr user kainet]


First off, let's see what we can do about broadband:
  • ​Extend Broadband Connection Vouchers for businesses beyond the 22 super-connected cities, with a similar initiative for job seekers.
  • Extend the super-connected cities programme to include an "ultrafast broadband" 1Gbit/s (Gigabit) broadband pilot after the fashion of Google Fiber. [Looks like Aberdeen is there already!]
  • Actively target science parks and tech incubators for ultrafast broadband, perhaps building on Janet's Business and Community Engagement programme.
  • Capital funding to extend the rollout of "superfast" 24Mbit/s+ broadband to rural areas by matching telco contributions towards the costs of fibre rollout, pound for pound. 2Mbit/s simply isn't good enough. And if Shoreditch is going to be the epicentre of Tech Britain, we could at least put decent broadband in!
  • Partner with industry leaders around initiatives to close the digital divide, e.g. Microsoft’s Get Online @ Home initiative, and IT4Free from De Montfort University / HP.
  • HMG could also create incentives for telcos to renew the last mile cabling from street boxes to the home / business, which in some cases dates back to the dawn of the telephone era.

There is a lot we could do around building capability too:
  • IPv6 transition plan and timetable for HMG services. Work with the UK Network Operators Forum (UKNOF) to identify current capability, and Janet / HE sector to share expertise.
  • HMG could provide incentives for use of renewables, target best-in-class Power Use Efficiency for public sector facilities such as the Crown Hosting project, tax breaks for shared data centres like Janet’s Shared Data Centre (building on the cost sharing group VAT exemption).
  • New white space spectrum allocation for Internet of Things infrastructure connectivity – is it realistic to assume that a large proportion of the projected vast numbers of IoT devices will have the equivalent of a SIM and [345]G data connection or WiFi, or that we overload the already crowded 800/900MHz frequency bands? [cf. the Weightless SIG].
  • Provide free or subsidised training in digital skills by creating a clearinghouse for matching job seekers with training providers, much like Code Club matches volunteers with schools.
  • Tax breaks for “digital apprenticeships” with firms operating in the digital infrastructure space – telcos, ISPs, mechanical and electrical engineers etc, such as Canada's Apprenticeship Job Creation Tax Credit. Or tax credits for apprenticeships more generally, and perhaps increase the minimum wage for apprenticeships from £2.68/hour :-/

Brokerage to ensure people get a good deal on their digital infrastructure:
  • Challenge the assumption that we will still have a single contractual relationship with a wireless service provider. Why can’t our devices make an a priori decision to use the cheapest provider in a given situation and for a given requirement? [Like dual SIM phones, but without the SIM?]
  • Change spectrum auction approach to something more akin to a spectrum tax or commission to be paid by service providers, to eliminate the need to mobilise vast amounts of capital in order to be a serious bidder. [Like "licensed but shared"?] 

Perhaps also the regulatory environment: (although this risks unhelpful new legislation!)
  • In an era where every human is potentially their own TV or radio channel, much of the thinking that underlies the regulatory framework for broadcast is now outdated and needs to be revised. What if any portions of the regulatory framework for broadcasting could and should apply to citizen journalists broadcasting from their phones and tablets?
  • Time to remove the “cookie directive”, which was counterproductive and impacts badly (according to the Information Commissioner) on usability of EU based websites.
  • HMG could mandate that services which handle personal data should use generally recognised / widely available encryption techniques – e.g. SSL/TLS (with appropriate ciphers, key lengths!), and store user credentials in a salted and encrypted fashion. [Changes to the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations?]
  • Antitrust aspects of the European Framework need to be updated to take account of the new forms of monopoly that have developed through the provision of Internet services, and the “gatekeepers” to those services. The EU could mandate that all devices on sale in Europe provide a mechanism for users to side load apps, or support multiple app stores / markets.

And, pushing this slightly beyond infrastructure...

So, that's me shooting my mouth off - but what do you think? Do let me know if there is already an initiative in any of these areas that I've missed!