Parts of Britain as yet unable to access by fast internet services—sometimes slightly annoyingly called “not spots”—have been promised pipes in the none too distant future. Indeed, there has been plenty of coverage of it on the BBC all day today, along with various other bits in blog land. But what if we all have to give up the freedom of the internet in order for this to happen? Moves towards a new deal on “universal” broadband kicked off last year in Britain when Gordon Brown called his election that wasn’t, and in the process his policy team in Number 10 wrote the best part of a manifesto that wasn’t to go alongside it. This contained, I was told, a new pledge for some sort of universal broadband for everyone in Britain.
This, at least in part, explains why Brown then tasked his former strategy chief Stephen Carter, now enobled as Lord Carter, with reviewing “digital Britain.” Damian Tambini, writing in the science and technology section of June’s Prospect, notes that Carter’s developing plans—partly revealed in an interim report earlier this year and in the budget, and partly in a full report due sometime before the summer—might hide within them a potentially less appealing second deal, in which large telecom companies who invest in future pipes (be they fast pipes to rural areas, or new even faster pipes for everyone else) will be allowed to strike prefential deals with equally large online content providers. At stake, says Tambini, lies a deeper issue: “Should Britain be aiming for an internet that is slower but freer, or one that is faster but fettered?” And should its government be willing to sacrific net neutrality in exchange for faster, more reliable connections and a more profitable industry?