Apologies for the short break while we all enjoyed Easter.
During the Digital Britain process we’ve been watching closely the steps other governments are taking to boost their digital economies. Australia has big plans for a massive investment in broadband, which could have far reaching implications for its market structure. This plan is not without controversy, but its scope and ambition are definitely impressive.
So why don’t we just do the same? The first thing to be said is that digital strategies need to be about more than supporting infrastructure. While it’s very important to ensure we deliver investment in networks, we need the right strategies for content and innovation at the same time. If we rush to support new cables being laid we might forget this – at our peril.
Secondly, there is always a danger that the short term need for investment isn’t balanced properly against the long term need for competition. Put simply, you need to be really sure you’re doing the right thing before you take any steps that help entrench a monopoly. State aid rules are generally seen as an irritant but they are there to prevent EU member states from disrupting a free market by favouring national champions.
And thirdly, it’s reasonable to ask whether just because other countries are doing something we should do it as well.
None of which should dampen our ambition in the UK. The examples of other governments who are making major investments show us the appetite for new thinking about telecoms, and heighten expectations in this country. They also show us ways governments can act. It starts to add up to a digital arms race in which we try to outbid each other in our targets and action. This makes it a good but demanding time to be working on Digital Britain.