The IT industry has called for the UK government to stop delaying the publication of the long-overdue Communications Green Paper, which was initially scheduled for release in 2011.
After putting off the publication of the green paper for numerous months, the government finally admitted recently that “no decisions on the timing of the Green Paper have been made”.
“I think the delay of the Green Paper is a joke, which has gone on for too long,” said Graham Mather, president of the European Policy Forum.
“It is beginning to sterilise valuable decisions on Britain’s digital economy. Even awaiting the Leveson report [into press standards] in October, it should be possible for government to put down some markers about press regulations. If government is serious about the UK digital economy, about spectrum and internet piracy, it should be able to put down markers about the whole of the digital piece.”
He added: “They should stop dithering. If they don’t produce the Green Paper, it shows a lack of confidence and raises questions about whether the department [Department for Culture, Media and Sport] is functioning, or stalling because of the Leveson Inquiry.”
Although the government has denied that the Leveson Inquiry is one of the reasons for the delay of the Green Paper, it said that the inquiry would influence the contents of the new communications legislation.
Chi Onwurah, shadow minister for innovation and science, said that the government was “clearly incapable” of setting a strategic vision for the UK’s digital future.
“ICT is a critical part of any credible growth plan, whilst technology changes are raising important social and legal issues right now. We need a Green Paper sooner, not later.
“[Culture secretary] Jeremy Hunt clearly has other things on his mind right now, and that is unfortunate for the country.”
The Communications Green Paper is supposed to set out the government’s proposals for a regulatory framework for the communications and media sectors, aimed at providing a thriving environment for growth and innovation in the UK.
It is expected to cover a wide range of topics, from the digital infrastructure, including broadband and spectrum allocation, to internet piracy and copyright. Once it becomes legislation, it would update the Communications Act 2003.
Intellect, the IT industry association, pointed out how out-of-date the existing legislation is, and said that the industry was keen to help government formulate its ideas.
Raj Sivalingam, Intellect’s associate director of telecoms, said: “The current communications legislation was drawn up nine years ago, before many of the groundbreaking technologies and platforms, which are shaping the communications landscape today, even existed. The internet is not even mentioned in the current legislation.
“We believe there is a need for a debate on any future regulatory framework and that framework must be flexible and fit-for-purpose, incentivise growth, enable an environment to stimulate innovation and reinforce a world-class communications sector in the UK.”
In contrast, BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, had a more forgiving response to the delay, and even went as far as to say that it could be “worthwhile”.
David Evans, membership director at BCS, said: “Delays on the Green Paper are frustrating, but it is much more important that when it arrives, the paper sets out an ambitious and realistic vision.
“If ministers are taking the time to develop an exciting vision and express some ambition, then that delay will be worthwhile.”
He added: “We are expecting this paper to take seriously the need for infrastructure investment, however that is achieved, but it cannot ignore some of the other issues that affect our digital economy, such as copyright infringement and enforcement. There are a lot of competing needs.
“We need to recognise the scale and importance of the task that ministers face and perhaps encourage them to make the right choices, rather than quick ones.”