Digital Britain: Gordon Brown and Lord Carter begin dance of the seven veils

Lord Carter’s Digital Britain report — due out in a few weeks’ time — appears to be moving up the political agenda rapidly.

Stealing some of Carter’s thunder at the weekend, Gordon Brown told Gaby Hinsliff of the Observer that he’d like super-fast broadband access to become the latter-day equivalent of FDR’s public works programme.

“When we talk about the roads and the bridges and the railways that were built in previous times — and those were anti-recession measures taken to help people through difficult times — you could [by comparison] talk about the digital infrastructure and that form of communications revolution at a period when we want to stimulate the economy. It’s a very important thing.”

The Observer positioned broadband as part of Brown’s plan to “ease the pain of recession” by creating “up to 100,000 new jobs”. Since then, the broadband theme has started to resonate with political commentators.

Coincidentally, the widespread deployment of fibre networks would also do a lot to secure the long-term future of media organisations. 

I pointed to this possibility back in November after reading about Lord Carter’s enthusiasm for France Numerique 2012 — the Sarkozy government’s effort to guide the creation of digital infrastructure, services and content for the greater glory of France.

In the UK, deployment of so-called super-fast broadband should enable print-based publishers to diversify aggressively into video.

Theoretically, we’re talking about the Daily Mail competing directly with ITV for ad budgets. At News Corp., those estranged cousins BSkyB and News International may find that they have a lot more in common than they thought.

More formats, more competition: it’s all positive.

Also doing the rounds is the prediction that Lord Carter will recommend a relaxation of the 2003 Communications Act. This could allow regional newspaper publishers to acquire TV and radio stations more easily.

Last year, the regional press was cowed by now-abandoned BBC plans to beef up video content on the Corporation’s local web sites.

In 2009 and beyond, the regional press may yet end up on the front foot, emboldened by relaxed cross-media ownership rules and an infrastructure shift that allows them to take the fight to Auntie.

Naturally, until we get to see Lord Carter’s report in a few weeks’ time, this is all speculation.

But interestingly, it looks as if the Tories are reacting. Today, it emerged that David Cameron is ready to offer “a review into how to give every home ultra-fast broadband within a decade”.

Of course, it would be deeply cynical of me to suggest that Brown and Cameron are vying to curry favour with news organisations whose coverage will influence the outcome of a bitterly-fought election within the next 18 months.

Deeply cynical. . .

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