Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 600 - 619)



  600. Now let me ask you about something for which you are responsible. Convergence can only truly come about when there is a real broadband network throughout the United Kingdom, because without broadband you cannot have television sent down the internet network; you cannot have high speed data transmission either. Although this country can quite rightly clap itself on its back for having a very high percentage of people on the internet, and one of you secretaries of state said we have the highest penetration of digital television in Europe, 37 per cent instead of 16 per cent average, we cannot clap our hands on our back for the penetration of broadband networks, whether I gather we are only 22 in the world. How are we going to see true convergence by seeing broadband available to everyone?
  (Ms Hewitt) If I can kick off on this, and Andrew Pinder, our e-Envoy will probably want to develop some of these issues around broadband. Clearly, pushing out broadband, getting high speed internet access to homes and businesses is going to be hugely important if we are, both as individuals and as an economy, to take advantage of the potential of what is happening in the communication and IT sector. Having said that, I think that there is too much readiness in part of the media to simply talk down what has been happening in the United Kingdom and focus only on the fact that so far, and we are looking at a very short space of time, the actual take-up of broadband has been very slow, very slow indeed, compared, particularly, with a country like Korea which is number one in the world, where broadband communication is now something over 10 per cent. This remains very early days. What we have done is to pursue a policy of competition in infrastructure provision, including in broadband. So that we now have not only BT supplying broadband and making broadband available through ADSL technology so it is now accessible to about two-thirds of the population; we also have about 100 internet service providers who are taking BT's wholesale broadband product and retailing it themselves. Alongside that we have the two cable companies, also between them covering about 50 per cent of the population. What we have seen in the last year has been a pretty effective process of competition. We have seen the prices for cable across an area where cable is available falling quite significantly, now amongst the lowest in the world; and of course BT, whom my colleague Douglas Alexander was challenging last autumn to get its broadband prices down, has now (under new leadership) responded to that challenge and announced, a couple of weeks ago, a cut of about £10 a month in broadband offering. Those prices will affect not only BT but also all these ISPs who are using the product. When those new prices come on stream, as they will do next month, and I assume they are all backed up by some fairly significant advertising to the consumers, I think it is reasonable to expect that we will see quite a big increase in broadband take-up. The other point I would make—you absolutely rightly referred to the enormous success we have had in Britain in terms of narrowband internet installation, which is too often overlooked. If you remember we were an early adopter, particularly in Europe, to get flat rate internet dialogue connections very, very cheaply—we are amongst the cheapest in the world for those connections. Ironically, that had a temporary effect of creating such a big price gap between the cheap "eat all you like" dial-up connections we had and the broadband connections. There was a big price gap there. Whereas in Germany, which does not offer a flat rate subscription for dial up internet, the only way you could get flat rate subscription was to go straight to broadband, so pricing structures were very different. That problem changed dramatically with the changing in pricing that I referred to; but the fact that we have got this very large installed base of narrowband internet connections means there is a platform of consumers from which companies can now move people directly on to broadband. I was talking last week to Steve Case, who is now the Chairman of AOL TimeWarner, one of the leading exponents of convergence in action, and he was saying he believes that the policy framework in the United Kingdom is absolutely right. He is deeply frustrated about the situation in Germany, with which we are so often adversely compared, where there is no competition whatsoever. It is very difficult for AOL to get to consumers.

  601. Do you share my concern though that the definition of broadband is unclear? You mentioned the AOL TimeWarner example. If AOL TimeWarner is going to be able to present Warner Brothers television pictures down broadband, broadband has to be very broad indeed. You have said that broadband was available to two-thirds of the population if they wanted to take it up. You identified the problem, rightly, of getting people to take it up. Is it not the case that actually true broadband is only available to something like one-third of the population? What you are really talking about is a broader band than narrowband; and BT is not really able to offer the breadth of band width to give you true convergence which is, after all, what this inquiry and the Communications Bill is all about?
  (Ms Hewitt) We define broadband as moving up from 500 kilobyte/second. There is a whole range of broadband technologies and broadband speeds. The important thing is to give customers real choice here which of course increasingly they are getting, not only from BT on its own but from retail suppliers and also from cable. Different customers are going to want different applications on their broadband, and of course the uses to which DSL technology can be put are growing very rapidly, including the availability of television down DSL.
  (Mr Pinder) I would like to really just reinforce what Patricia is saying. This is a developing market. We are seeing really a spectrum of services coming through, from flat rate and narrow band through the introduction of relatively slow broadband. I would agree with you that the current broadband, which some would define as going from ISDN at 128K, we would accept this is not as helpful a definition. Gradually those products are dropped; newer products coming on to the market are bringing the speed up. Perhaps in response to BT's price cut we have seen NTL coming on with 1 gigabyte. I am sure as time goes on there will be more and more faster products. We will see products in the two, four, eight and ten meg area, which is really what we need to see. I am sure they will come.

Derek Wyatt

  602. Mr Pinder, since you do not belong to either of the two departments, I wonder if you could tell us whether it would be better if you were either a minister or the person who was not e-Envoy but a minister; and, if he was a minister, whether he should be in the Cabinet Office, DTI or DCMS?
  (Mr Pinder) Personally, I am rather glad I am not a minister sometimes, seeing how they are treated and seeing their workload! No, I think it works perfectly well actually. There is an official sitting in the Cabinet Office able to range very widely indeed, not just around the government but outside government. I am in a very privileged position and can operate, I think, quite effectively in making my voice heard in a wide community and across departments. I have got some pretty impressive back-up. Patricia is responsible for the affairs in Cabinet. We actually do have an e-Minister in Cabinet, and of course the Prime Minister takes an interest in these matters as well. I am not entirely sure that having a minister in this role as well would do anything other than slightly muddy the water. We have a Secretary of State who can shout in Cabinet and me operating at the official level in a fairly flexible manner, which seems to work.

  603. Can I come back to the digital television sets and television sets with switch-off. We buy a new television set every eight years, so if you are buying in 2002 it will last until 2010, so the switch-off date becomes rather critical. When we raised this previously with Patricia when she was the e-Minister she said, if I remember correctly, that we could not actually get digital television because the EU had some regulation that stopped us from actually saying to the TV manufacturers, "You must deliver to the market now digital television sets". Yet I said to you, in 1936 the Home Office said, "If you want television sets in the UK you have to have 405 lines", and then they said, "They have to have 625 lines". In a previous life we have dictated to the market, so why can we not do it again. I wanted an update as to why we cannot tell the market in 2005 every set must be digital.
  (Tessa Jowell) I think in response to Michael Fabricant's earlier question I indicated that, as part of the Digital Action Plan, it is intended to conduct a consultation in the first instance on mandating the production of digital television sets, and that will obviously go ahead. I think this has to be a decision for the market. It also has to be a decision for consumer preference; and the price of digital television sets is beginning to fall, but they are still more expensive than analogue sets. I would say in answer to your question, that we do not at this point have a prediction for the proportion of population at the point of switch-over that we would expect to own a digital television set, rather than to have an analogue television set with a set-top box. There is also, of course, the issue which is always raised about the second, third and fourth sets in families. What I can assure you is that the coalition is now established between the government and industry, particularly on this, but clearly the broadcasters also have a role and the BBC is committed to a digital promotion campaign which we expect them to undertake, that we have to sell the objective and the benefit of digital and there is a hearts and minds argument, I think that the pace of market adaptation will be influenced by the level of public demand. In relation to television sets bought today which are still in perfectly good working order in 2010, I think that by 2010 we will see households with a combination of solutions. Perhaps the main television set will be a fully digital one, but with set-top boxes providing the necessarily digital capacity for the second, third and fourth sets.


  604. But the then Government did not wait for the market for consumer preference and hearts and minds when it decided that cars should not be available using leaded petrol any more. It made a specific decision which was interference with the market on a matter of environmental protection. This is a matter of the entire communications strategy of the country?
  (Ms Hewitt) Indeed, Chairman, as Tessa has indicated, we are looking at that with this consultation. We are looking very seriously at the suggestion that we simply mandate digital integration from a certain date; but the price issue is not a trivial one. If you are buying a very expensive thousand pound wide screen television then the additional cost of making that integrated digital is a small proportion of the total price. If you are buying a £50/60/70 portable for a young person in the household to use, or whatever, then at the moment the extra cost of making that digital is quite a significant price increase. I think we are right to consult about that, rather than simply to say, "Yes, that is what we are going to do". Secondly, as far as the point about Europe is concerned, certainly we would have to negotiate with our colleagues in Europe on the question of mandating. Of course, that has important implications for the industry, because they are not making sets purely for the United Kingdom; they are making sets for the European and wider market. We certainly need to look at that. Finally, we are, with the industry, conducting some small scale pilots to look at all these practical questions involved in moving towards digital switch-over, so we can understand what the practicalities are of dealing with all these second and third sets in households and the proliferation of set-top boxes.

Derek Wyatt

  605. I was in Sweden recently and they have announced switch-off in 2007, so they have clearly gone through all the questions and answers you are going through. Firstly, have you been to see what they are doing; or have they been to see you? Secondly, the DTI produced a very brilliant White Paper on the Smart Knowledge Economy, and here we are, as Mr Fabricant said, 22nd in the world for broadband and 13 out of 15 in the EU for broadband roll-out. If we want, as the Chairman says, to actually interrupt the market and do something dynamic, one way we could do that is to give a Smart box away by annotising the cost over three years, by making an addition to the licence fee, so that very, very quickly we would be the smartest economy in the world. What is your thinking and why are you not doing it?
  (Tessa Jowell) The answer to that is, as I said when dealing with Julie Kirkbride's first question, there is an eight year time period between now and 2010, the outside boundary of our date for digital switch-off, and policy will develop over that time. Patricia and I are confident that the collaboration between our two Departments, the drive which is now behind the Digital Action Plan, which is a developing set of instructions to government, industry and the broadcasters, will mean that at some point, perhaps in five years' time, we will take stock of the rate of progress on the basis of normal market mechanisms of persuasion and price and so forth, and then have to consider what steps need to be taken in order to make the policy realisable within the time frame; but now is not the time to do that; not at a time when new technology innovations are producing set-top boxes which are cheaper than they have ever been before; when, in a sense, the market is driving prices down both in relation to digital televisions and set-top boxes. We should allow that process to drive as far as it can and then there will be a point at which we have to make public policy judgments about further steps in the light of progress which has been achieved, but we are not at that point yet.
  (Ms Hewitt) If I may just add, the set-top box will not necessarily give you a return path. There are issues here about making sure that consumers themselves can use broadband in both directions, and not simply receive digital into their television, important though that is, and undoubtedly deliver a wider variety of services.

  606. All the time we wait we do become less competitive?
  (Ms Hewitt) No, I do not agree with that. If you look both at the rate of take-up of digital television where, as Tessa has said, we lead in Europe; if you look at the rate of take-up on internet access, where we are amongst the world leaders; and if you look at the pricing that we have got to the narrowband internet access, where we are world leaders; if you look at the steps we have taken to connect schools to the internet, where we are the world leaders; and if you look at what we are doing though the UK On-line Programme to enable access in communities where there is a very low level of home internet access, because of poverty, and sometimes digital television, we are doing a great deal here to drive this forward. Of course there is still more to do. I think it is a great mistake in this business to think there is a magic wand you can wave here. Singapore, for instance, at not insignificant public expense, has got everybody connected to broadband, but a dearth of interesting content means that nobody uses it. You do have to deal with both the infrastructure and the content and understand the ways you can access this stuff. The fact we have got such vibrant creative content industries gives us another advantage in driving this forward.

Ms Shipley

  607. I would like to begin by welcoming the Secretaries of State and I think it is historic for select committees to have two sat there; it is fascinating and too good an opportunity to miss. Tessa said she would like to see this as a pilot for other departments working together across cross-departmental structures, not before time I suspect. There are serious problems with a lack of that happening in government and previous governments, so welcome. I am interested as to how you can work together without a communications policy. Where are you going to jointly? What is your communications policy? I can see how the two paths work, broadcasting and telecommunications, but which direction do you hit jointly, together? It would seem that, because you happily have a good working relationship, you have been able to set up a very positive team and that is excellent. How will that, in the medium term, be developed and maintained? How would the public and businesses know to which department they have to address something? Is this something that is just going to fizzle out when your leadership is, perhaps, moved to other departments?
  (Ms Hewitt) Could I, perhaps, start by commenting on that, Chairman? We are grateful to the Member for her comments. First of all, the broader issue about joined-up working across government. The important thing here, I think, is to embed this, not just in the way that ministers work, because as you rightly indicated ministers come and go, but to embed it in the way that officials work so that it is in the institutional bloodstream, if you like. The work that is being led, I think previously from the Cabinet Office and now from the Office of the e-Envoy, on joining up government electronically—I do not want to give the impression of any complacency but it is actually another world lead. What we are succeeding in doing is making it possible for officials right across government to access information, to build their own community interest and to work much more effectively and much faster across government than, generally, has been possible with paper-based systems.

  608. Secretary of State, where would you see the problem located?
  (Ms Hewitt) I think in terms of getting further joined up working, this is very much to do with culture. Technology can enable it but we need a culture change that is led by ministers and by senior civil servants, which then encourages officials to work in a different way and to share information. That, as I say, is happening very effectively. On the policy framework within which Tessa and I work, I think that was set out very much in the White Paper from which the Bill stems. Essentially, what we want to have is one of the most dynamic, creative content industries in the world, supported and underpinned by one of the most extensive, competitive infrastructures in the world. The big challenge there, as several Members have reflected on, is indeed the challenge of driving up broadband infrastructure in order that it can support a much wider variety of applications.

  609. In order to do that, and I do think the content/infrastructure debate is a vital one, do you really think, on balance, broadcasting can remain located in DCMS? Do you really think that this is the way that you are going forward?
  (Ms Hewitt) As we were saying earlier, it is absolutely a matter for the Prime Minister, but it certainly is not causing any problems at the moment. I think the industry and the various groups and individuals who are concerned with this, by and large, do know which department to address, but since we have a joint team of officials working on this it does not really matter if they are addressing their comments to the wrong department.

  610. I think Patricia mentioned some comments about the technological possibilities of joined-up working, but what about the inter-personal relationships behind the scenes in Whitehall and bringing those teams, in the medium term, together and keeping it going, though the focus has moved somewhere else in both departments when those people have been pulled off to do other things? How is this going to carry on, this joint-ness?
  (Tessa Jowell) I think the point about long-term sustainability is a very important one. Arguably, this is the easy stage and we have the excitement of new policy and very visible challenges on which we have to deliver. I think you are right, I think that there will be a degree of reorganisation around the boundary of our two departments, in order to drive this policy forward, because just as the policy development has been underpinned by a very high level of joint working, so the support to OFCOM, particularly in the early stages of its development, will have to be accompanied by a similar degree of integration in the implementation capacity of our two departments. Again, subject to our both being responsible for making that happen, we will turn to that once the legislation is under way. This is—if I may just underline the point—a challenge that has been faced by government across a range of major areas of policy, and I hope that what we achieve will inform that process.

  Ms Shipley: This is the first time we have had two of you sitting there and we can see the working relationship, I think I am right in saying. So a historic moment. Thank you.

Mr Bryant

  611. I think the biggest issue that concerns me, as a Member for a seat where many people are excluded from this digi-copia, is about universal access, especially because certainly in broadcasting and in telephony we have had universal access now for some 75, 80 years—not in everything but broadly speaking. The first issue then is about the expense, because everything we have talked about so far is an expensive piece of kit. If you are talking about a computer etc, £15 a month is a lot of money to many of my constituents. The thought of paying for additional channels every month, even at £10 or £7 on ITV Digital, is a great deal of money. I just wonder how important you think development towards this free-to-air proposition is, which very few people in the country still know about—I know there was meant to be series of adverts before Christmas but, I must say, they passed me by—and how important do you think it is that digital terrestrial television survives?
  (Tessa Jowell) I will start on that and start by saying that you will be aware that in addition to the 2006-2010 window for switch-off there are conditions which underpin that in relation to the accessibility of digital signal and the affordibility of digital equipment which, I think, relates back to the discussion that we were having a few minutes ago. Those are tests against which progress on the policy will be judged and there are also tests which have to drive and set the impetus for the policy. The second point is you will know that we are very clear in government about the policy of platform neutrality, maintaining the three platforms—cable, terrestrial and satellite—in pursuit of consumer choice but, also, recognising the point that you often make about your own constituency, about the importance of DTT in order to secure universal access. Platform neutrality is an important driver of the universal access that is one of the tests against which switch-over will be judged. Then, within that, dealing with your point about content, yes, I think it is important that as part of the offer there are good, free-to-air packages because not everybody is going to want to pay for the subscription or the premium services which are currently available. A good free-to-air offering should be available and should be available on terms that can be upgraded if people wish but if we can get to a point—which, in relation to Derek Wyatt's opening questions is an important one we do reach—where there are lots of people who do not want 200 to 300 channels but who will be happy with the 19 or 20 free-to-air channels now, and if the only cost beyond the set-top box is the licence fee, then that is a good package and that is a good driver of universal access. So I think there are both issues in relation to universality by the combined contribution of the three platforms, but also there are important issues for the providers to secure what many people want, which is free-to-air with no additional cost beyond the purchase of the set-top box.

  612. I am still worried—and I am sorry to be so narrowly parochial—because it seems to me that my constituency bears relevance to quite a lot of other constituencies in the country because it has two factors which affect it: (a) multiple deprivation indices and (b) the physical isolation of topography makes it difficult for broadcasting of any kind. I can tell, as I go up any road, who has gone digital because they have got a dish, and that is the only means they have. We probably have got up to more than 50 per cent now of digital television, but I do not think that that necessarily means somehow that the Rhondda has embraced the digital future. I am still worried about the roll-out of digital terrestrial television. I am delighted that BBC 4 now exists but there are an awful lot of people who are paying for it in the Rhondda who will not be able to get it until digital terrestrial television is an option for them. I would urge you to be pushing the BBC to commit itself to further roll-out of digital terrestrial television across the country.
  (Tessa Jowell) There are two issues in relation to digital terrestrial, at the moment. One is, obviously, the position of ITV Digital, which made a statement the week before last. The second is the adequacy of the technology. Here, the actions which are specified in the Digital Action Plan are important in improving the consistency and reliability—the general performance—of the platform. You will be aware of the steps that are being taken in order to improve that. I hope that what we have said persuades you that we are determined to maintain the choice of access to one of three platforms and to ensure that the free-to-air offering justifies the continued payment of the licence fee, albeit linked to the cost involved of purchasing a set-top box.
  (Ms Hewitt) Before you ask another question, I wonder if I could just expand a little bit more on this, because I think, quite rightly, your concern was not simply about access to digital television.

  613. No, indeed not.
  (Ms Hewitt) As in the very disadvantaged estates that I represent, you can have very high take-up of digital television through a Sky subscription with nothing else. That is very important. I know that the National Assembly for Wales is very committed to ensuring that, for instance, the Lifelong Learning network should be accessible in each local authority area. That, if it can be achieved, would not only help to secure, obviously, digital broadband access into the schools but it would also provide a sort of core point of presence within the local authority area that might then be leveraged for other users. One of the crucial things we are looking at in the broadband roll-out strategy is how we can bring together all the different bits of public sector procurement at the moment, which are all too often very fragmented, in order that the private sector infrastructure investors can see that it is more likely to be worth their while to make the investment. We are also looking at how, as we do bring the broadband procurement together within one local authority area—or, perhaps, a broader region—we can then not only get it to the schools and the other public sector sites, very few of whom, as you well know, in Wales have got broadband access, but we can start to make it available to small businesses.

  614. I still feel as if an early date for broadband being available in my constituency is probably going to be 2006-2007, and it seems to me that by then the economy of South Wales will have moved on a very long way, and there is a danger that, especially in former mining communities—where people would not have gone to live if it had not been for coal in the first place—will be left aside economically. There is clearly a challenge here because we are talking about two ministers here, a minister in Scotland and a minister in Wales and we are talking about health ministers and education ministers as well. I just wonder how one can get the kind of single-mindedness that one needs to be able to crack this.
  (Ms Hewitt) Can I turn to Andrew Pinder on this, because it is one reason why we have the e-Envoy and that central office, because joining up all the pieces is complicated.
  (Mr Pinder) One of the things we are trying to do is make sure that we co-ordinate any public sector procurement in the broadband area to try to maximise our purchasing power and get it into the places where you would not, as it were, ordinarily go—what I call the Heineken test. That is work which is currently going on. Departments are going through the spending round, as you know, so that they have put their bids to the Treasury. Those bids are being analysed. In parallel with that, the Office of Government Commerce is doing some work on looking at the practicalities of how one aggregates both procurement at the national level and, also, local authorities and other public bodies in a particular area to make sure that we do get it out to areas as remote as Rhondda and South Shropshire, which is where I happen to live. Those areas suffer the same issues that you do, but without the coal mines. So we are really looking at everything we can to look at how we provide enough stimulus and enough purchasing power to try to make sure that we maximise the areas we get broadband to. I hope 2006 is an pessimistic assessment of yours.

Mr Doran

  615. I will just follow on from those points, but just a little less parochially. Tessa Jowell made it very clear that there was a strong commitment in Government to neutrality of platform and diversity of platform. Given the financial difficulties of most of the platform providers, apart from Sky, are having at the moment, how confident are you that they will stay in business and continue to work as part of your strategy?
  (Tessa Jowell) We have to await the outcome of the process that ITV Digital are currently undertaking. We will continue to take the steps that I outlined in response to Chris Bryant's question to improve the efficiency of the platform, where those steps rely on action by government. Clearly, the difficulties facing the operating companies are a matter for them and the role of government is to ensure that through the regulatory powers that are available and the intervention of the ITC that the sort of issues that diminish the attractiveness of the platform are addressed. One of the problems has been the unreliability of the signal and the inconsistency of reception and that is something that we are addressing.
  (Ms Hewitt) The Radio Communications Agency has been working very, very hard with the digital terrestrial providers to try and boost the signal and overcome some of the problems, not least the issues that need to be discussed with Ireland in the case of those west coast transmitters, in order to try and ensure that we get more extensive and more reliable coverage.

  616. It is not just ITV Digital that is the problem because, if you read the reports, NTL and Telewest, the two main cable providers have got, at least severe, financial problems—debts running into many billions of pounds. Does government have any backstop if any of them fail?
  (Tessa Jowell) In relation to NTL, they are restructuring their present debt burden. There are certainly backstop powers for government in relation to the use of the spectrum, but I think it is important to be clear that we have two companies, NTL and Telewest, and ITV Digital, who are addressing the commercial problems that they are facing, and that is a matter for them. It is not for government to get involved in the problems of the operating companies. That said, the position of platform neutrality and our wish to see the continuation of the three platforms remains, and there is a distinct area for government intervention in order to strengthen the viability of those platforms. Patricia has outlined—which is very important in relation to cable—the action in relation to increasing broadband access and I have outlined the action which has been taken to improve the efficiency of the DTT platform.

  617. I come to this from a particular perspective, and that is Atlantic Telecom, based in my constituency. As you will both recall, Atlantic Telecom collapsed, and, virtually overnight, first of all, people who received cable television had it stopped immediately, and then about a fortnight later they lost all their telephone suppliers. What that showed to me, as the MP on the scene, was a complete lack of consumer protection. I do think that is a serious issue. I know that the telephone aspect was being addressed by a number of meetings with Douglas Alexander, but is there going to be any aspect of this in the Communications Bill which you are drafting at the moment?
  (Ms Hewitt) As you rightly say, Atlantic Telecom had a very serious and immediate impact on the consumers who were served by that company. As you know, both Douglas Alexander and Oftel stepped in very quickly to ensure that, on the telephony side, action was taken, not least to help them ensure that small businesses were not left without telephone lines in the run-up to Easter. We learnt some lessons from that and what has happened as a result is that Oftel have ensured that they have got in place a proper monitoring system so that they are close to the companies and they can see where problems might arise—an early warning system, if you like—and there are proper contingency plans for consumer protection to be put in place if they are needed, and they certainly were in the case of Atlantic Telecom. That will continue to be a responsibility of OFCOM when OFCOM itself is up and running.

  618. Now I am being parochial, because there were two issues there which were important on the telephony side. The first was the loss of the telephone overnight. I think you may recall the requirement is 14 days' notice of the removal of the service and, in the meantime, the only commitment is the retention of emergency services. Effectively, that puts a consumer in a worse position than somebody who has not paid their account. The second is the removal of the numbers. As soon as Atlantic Telecom stopped providing the service Oftel withdrew the numbers and because they were in tranches of 10,000 no other provider would pick them up. As the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry quite rightly says, in the case of many small businesses that was devastating, because for many of them the Yellow Pages is their main source of business and they have had to wait, in some cases, nearly a year for the new directory to be published. These seem to me to be quite specific issues which need to be addressed, rather than just simply monitoring.
  (Ms Hewitt) They do need to be addressed and, as I say, I do think there were lessons that needed to be learned from the Atlantic Telecom collapse. That is what Oftel is doing—learning those lessons.

John Thurso

  619. I would like to pursue some of the points that have been made in regard to broadband, but before I do that can I ask one general question, which is to ask either of you or both of you—whichever is appropriate—to articulate in a simple statement what is the principal policy objective of the OFCOM Bill? What will be the key deliverables against which this Committee and the outside world should judge success or failure?
  (Tessa Jowell) The high-level objective of the legislation is to deliver a communications industry and a communications regulator to service the ambition of the UK being the most dynamic knowledge economy in the world. There are then, within that, some pretty meaty objectives—on my side of the shop—in relation to the broader broadcasting ecology, ensuring that we do two things: that we preserve the distinctive character of public service broadcasting in a context and in an environment where the market for the commercial broadcasters is one which works effectively. In other words, that the presence of public service broadcasters, with the privileges that public service broadcasters have, does not distort the market and act as a disincentive to investment. If I am talking to my constituents, the second part of that rather than the first part is what they would be interested in. Linked to that, I think, is the point that Patricia has made about making it easier for people, to demystify a lot of both the technology and the opportunities that digital offers, both in terms of entertainment but, also, in terms of access to public service information. I happen to think that in 10 years' time we will look at the quality of public service information which broadband makes possible to deliver to our homes and it will change the pattern of our lives. I think we are looking to a communications system that will service the opportunities for changing people's lives, taking account of Chris Bryant's pre-occupation, which is the pre-occupation of all of us, that this very rapidly accelerating progress does not, in turn, become a major driver for inequality.
  (Ms Hewitt) Could I just check whether the question was more narrowly focussed on the current Bill rather than the main Bill?

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