4.193 The IDPM said that the Government should move quickly on
the issue of the admissibility of electronic evidence in court
and also that there was "a major need to clarify the legal
powers and responsibility for monitoring and tracking illegal
transmissions ... which may travel across a wide range of networks
and jurisdictions from originator to receiver" (p 238).
4.194 Several witnesses; called for a light touch to regulation
and little direct Government intervention to encourage the growth
of new utilities (eg pp 203, 230, 243). The Institute
of Management Services (IMS) said that as the United Kingdom superhighway
was likely to be a conceptual linking of a number of disparate
networks, all that would be needed in some cases was a regulatory
framework to foster interconnection (p 243). The ECN stated:
"the Government role should only be to regulate for a fair,
open, and competitive market place" (p 218). Telecential
Communications said that the Government should not regulate specific
technologies (p 295).
4.195 Microsoft emphasised that they did not wish government to
control the Information Highway, but they saw "a role for
regulation and framework to help foster the market forces at work"
(Q 368). Given the fast pace of development of the Information
Superhighway, they stressed the need for the government to think
about the future, rather than thinking "about the business
as if it were yesterday" (Q 397).
4.196 BT's main requirement of Government was an open playing field
which allowed them to attack the emerging markets without "unnecessary
constraints". They defined these as "regulatory constraints
that prevent us from using certain technologies in certain areas,
and which constrain us from developing new services by guidelines
which were maybe sensible when they were introduced but no longer
have much meaning in a very fluid and changing new environment.
The IT environment is one that is changing almost on a daily
basis. It is very difficult to take rules of ten years ago and
apply them today sensibly. We are looking for some removal of
these unnecessary hurdles" (Q 502).
4.197 BT drew attention to three regulatory constraints on their
activities; the ban on BT broadcasting entertainment services,
the price cap and the constraint on BT's use of radio technology
(Q 505). BT was to be given radio licences for telephony provision
"in a very great proportion of the country covering a very
small proportion of the population". These would be useful
in reducing the cost of providing a universal telephony service
in the areas concerned but would "not be of great use in
providing the sort of broadband digital services that we are talking
about in connection with the information society." (QQ 513-514)
4.198 The Communication Workers Union (CWU) and the Direct Marketing
Association (DMA) were among those who supported BT's call for
an end to the current asymmetry in broadcasting regulations.
The CWU described BT as "the only organisation able and willing
to create a genuinely national and genuinely broadband network
for Britain", and said that "specifically, the ban on
BT carrying entertainment services on its telecommunications network
should be lifted" (p 189). The DMA called for at least a
level playing field to be established for BT and others so that
"United Kingdom plc." could benefit from the 1998 liberalisation
in the European telecommunications markets (p 201). Mr John Harper
considered the problems and business prospects of the cable companies
and the regulations placed on BT to protect its competitors, and
concluded that: "The situation amounts to a serious drag
on progress with highways in this country" (p 227). Further
deregulation was called for by the Library and Information Commission
4.199 The Royal Academy of Engineering said that a number of its
Fellows were "of the opinion that the Government's constraints
on British Telecom have impeded the interests of UK firms regarding
worldwide manufacturing of "Information Superhighway"
infrastructure. There is little incentive for cable companies
to provide an "Information Superhighway" since there
is not competitive pressure for them to do so. It is unlikely
that they will risk serious investment on digitalising their cable
infrastructure in advance of market pressure without regulatory
requirements" (p 279).
4.200 Dr Rudge of BT emphasised that domestic regulatory hurdles
had particular significance given the globally competitive nature
of the markets in which BT operates. "Some of those no entry
signs definitely slow you down if they do not stop you entirely
... and the trouble is we are in an international competition
and slowing us down is tantamount to death really, you cannot
be slow in this game. When I ... talk to some of our suppliers
... and I say: "The rules in the United Kingdom are that
BT is going to be kept out of this area to see if a couple of
little companies can get off the ground in the next five years",
they look at me with astonishment. That is in effect what you
get [as a result of the present regulatory regime in the UK]--the
big player slowed down to allow one or two small companies to
see if they can make it" (Q 511).
4.201 BT emphasised the importance of the Government's role in
enabling national competitiveness in European and global markets.
"We are going through a liberalisation transition ... not
only in Europe but generally around the world. During this period
we must have regulation and there is a need to strike a balance
between local competition, to make sure that there is local competition
... and national competitiveness in that we are competing against
big players from other countries who are just as determined to
establish themselves in these markets. Keeping an eye on that
balance is not something for the regulator because he has a national
remit, it is something for ... the DTI or Government to ensure
that the balance is a sensible one" (Q 508).;
4.202 The British Computer Society (BCS) on behalf of the Engineering
Council called for government action to ensure the deregulation
of the IT and telecommunications service industries world wide
and to promote the concept of international standards (pp 168-9).
The Federal Trust also supported a programme of accelerated liberalisation
in the EU (p 222). At the EU level, the Federal Trust proposed
a committee of national regulators "to promote best practice
between member state governments and to tender advice to EU and
national competition and regulatory authorities" (p 222).
4.203 Full exploitation of the broadband superhighway would probably
require the involvement of over a dozen regulatory bodies in the
United Kingdom. According to the National Consumer Council, "at
least 10 different agencies have regulatory responsibilities for
different aspects of telecommunications and broadcasting. With
technological and industrial convergence, existing regulatory
structures can result in confusing and contradictory decisions,
as well as gaps in regulatory responsibility to deal with emerging
problems."; This issue was touched on in the House of Commons
Trade and Industry Committee Report on Optical Fibre Networks.
The Report recommended that the Government review both the structure
of broadcasting and telecommunications regulation and the powers
of the regulators. Possible solutions would include establishing
one body with overall responsibility, or two separate bodies to
cover network regulation and content, or to bring each of the
existing regulators into a framework of common purpose.
4.204 In 1994 the Government said that it was "mindful that
the growing convergence of telecommunications, broadcasting and
information services may ultimately require a similar convergence
in the regulatory structure. It would however be premature at
present to promote change in the regulatory structures, in the
absence of much more concrete information about how convergence
will occur."; In the mean time, the Government has continued
to legislate separately for the rapidly converging industries
concerned, including the Broadcasting Bill introduced in the present
4.205 In the light of the convergence of various technologies through
digitisation, a number of witnesses, including CWU and ESRC, called
for a parallel convergence of regulation under one authority (pp
189, 213). The Department of National Heritage (DNH) said that
there was no clear-cut boundary between telecommunications and
broadcasting, and it was possible that the licensing responsibilities
discharged by the Independent Television Commission (ITC) under
the Broadcasting Act 1990 might, in some circumstances, cover
content carried on the superhighways, particularly where it included
moving images. It was questionable whether ITC licensing would
be regarded as an appropriate solution to any problem perceived
to attach to the content of superhighway services, and the legislative
position would need to be reviewed as services developed and the
regulatory needs and responses became clearer (p 591).
4.206 Responses to OFTEL's own consultation exercise indicated
that "there was widespread support for a fundamental review
of the regulatory regimes covering communications" (p 547).
Mr Cruickshank, the Director General of OFTEL, commented on the
calls for a single regulator. "The first thing to say is
that the DTI, DNH, the ITC and ourselves find that we can work
with little difficulty effectively right now. A number of the
concerns which I read in the media about that as an issue are,
for the moment, not real ones. We can work in a complementary
fashion and deal with the issues. Secondly, however, that is
clearly under some stress as the technology changes and we move
towards a digital world in which the distinction between digital
video, telecoms and enhanced services, Internet or whatever, is
not there". Mr Cruickshank thought that "at some point
in the next Parliament there will be a need for a Communications
Act as distinct from a Telecoms Act or a Broadcasting Bill and
the important thing would be for the then Government to properly
identify what the relevant market for regulation is, what the
right framework of rules should be and only then to go to the
issue of what is the right regulatory structure" (Q 1033).
4.207 M Verrue of the European Commission said that by the end
of 1996 the Commission would produce a Communication on the long-term
implications of convergence and the case for consequential regulatory
reform. Discussion on this document should take place with Member
States and national regulators in 1997, with a view to the Commission's
proposing legislative changes in 1998. The Commission's first
priority in this field was, however, the deregulation of the telecommunications
sector. Whilst Canada, France and Germany had, in common with
the DTI and OFTEL, reflected on the legal consequences of technological
convergence no country had taken the legislative initiative in
this area (QQ 646-647).
THE CHALLENGE FOR THE FUTURE
4.208 The Lord Privy Seal said that "Government is giving
considerable thought to the implications of all these new technologies
and the information superhighway, how it will affect the future
of our country ... I think perhaps ... we can all agree on our
objectives. We want a thriving information technology and multimedia
industry in this country. We want all our industries to be in
a position to seize the opportunities which the new technology
offers and to make it work for them. We want every individual
to have the opportunity to explore and, of course, to take advantage
of them. We think that this emphatically is not a task for the
Government alone. On the other hand, the Government does have
a very important role" (Q 1054).
4.209 The British Library emphasised the importance of "raising
awareness within government, within industry and within education
of the potential of the superhighway and the need for all of us
to work together to ensure that we can exploit it for Britain
... we should have every optimism that Britain can come out of
this very well, simply because we have a superb publishing industry,
we have very strong media companies, we have probably one of the
best library and information networks in the world and we have
the English language ... we have everything to play for, but we
have to find ways of getting all parts of the community thinking
about how it is going to affect their particular interests and
lives" (Q 244).
4.210 The DNH said that "this is a time of great opportunity,
helped by the fact that English is increasingly the language of
international communication, but there are also dangers of being
left behind. For example, the UK starts with many advantages
in the field of educational materials, but may be losing the initiative
to the United States" (p 588).
4.211 Andrew Graham said that "the Information Highway is
at a particularly critical point in its development. As a result
there is much that could be done now that will not be possible
later. Moreover ... what is required can be done relatively easily
and without great cost". He emphasised that there was "enormous
potential in this area for the UK both to enhance democracy and
to expand the role of UK institutions ... British universities,
libraries, publishers and broadcasters continue to be respected
throughout the world. Moreover, English is now the world language.
Added to this, the UK has a vibrant media and software industry.
The Information Superhighway is a global phenomenon. It would
be insane if British institutions were to miss a major opportunity
by failing to provide the public information that the information
society so obviously requires" (pp 598, 602).
4.212 Oracle also stressed the need for the UK to be a front runner
in building the Information Society. "Central government
must take an active role in making sure that the UK business community
is aware of (and prepared for) the Information Superhighway.
The commercial development of the Internet and WWW as a global
channel for conducting business has reached a point where it is
vital that UK businesses are in at an early stage in order to
take competitive advantage of the opportunities offered. If they
don't, then they face competition from other countries who do
adopt the WWW as a new business channel, and risk losing market
share in a global market place" (p 618).
4.213 The Technology Foresight ITEC Panel urged the UK to take
early action in joining the Information Society: "the UK
should be just getting on and doing ... rather than waiting for
others to do it ... we could be a leader rather than a follower"
(Q 678). It called on the UK to develop a specialisation and
leadership role in a few key areas of the new technologies (Q
687), and concluded: "this technology is profoundly important
... Sixty years ago people might have said the phone was not terribly
important because people would spend most of their time chattering
on it, chattering is very important in society. Many other kinds
of uses of this technology are very important in society. We
think it is going to be quite disruptive, quite profound and we
ought to be master of it and a leader in its exploitation not
a rather unwilling laggard who just has it done to us" (Q
690). In other words, we need an agenda for action.
Readers of the Internet version of The Times, which
is currently available free of charge (http://www.the-times.co.uk)
can already specify their personal interests.
Library Association/Joint Consultative Committee Statement
on Copyright and the Digital Environment (October 1995),
A similar point was made by the Technology Foresight ITEC
Panel (Q 679).
Appendix 8, paragraph 8.
See Appendix 8.
DTI Press Release, 21 March 1996 (http://www.coi.gov.uk/coi/depts/GTI/coi6798b.ok)
In the House of Lords, the majority of such communications
are conducted via the Overseas Office, which will gain access
to the Internet in summer 1997 as part of the on-going programme
of cabling Parliament.
IPU Report of the Consultative Committee of Experts, p 3.
By 28 March 1996.
The need for a uniform approach to Government policy in relation
to the information superhighways was also emphasised by the Library
and Information Commission (p 250) and the Direct Marketing Association
Janice Hughes of Spectrum Strategy Consultants also emphasised
the importance of the availability of venture capital for the
new information superhighway industry in the United States (QQ
This was a pilot project for testing in a single bureau (Q
To avoid unnecessary repetition some evidence on this subject
is discussed, together with the Committee's opinion on it, in
the following Chapter.
Mercury Communications thought that there was an increasing
divergence between the EU's and OFTEL's proposals (QQ 864-5).
National Consumer Council, The Information Society: Getting
it right for consumers (London, April 1996), 10.
Cm 2734, Creating the Superhighways of the Future: Developing
Broadband Communications in the UK (November 1994), 31.Back