Nottingham unconference notes

Digital Britain Unconference – Nottingham

Saturday 9th May 2009, 2-5pm

As part of MediaCampNottingham – Lace Market House, Nottingham

In attendance: c. 20 digital media professionals including video bloggers Christian Payne and Phil Campbell, representatives from Arts Council and City Councillor.

Event facilitated and transcribed by: Susi O’Neill, Digital Consultant

MediaCampNottingham’s responses to the Digital Britain interim report:

Key messages:
Digital Britain is a compromise. We can’t keep EVERYONE happy and in money – the government needs to be more bold and protect the rights of children, universal education, and access to all – not just protecting the interests of big business.

The publication did not have enough engagement with industry prior to publication. Some reputable people (e.g. social media experts) were consulted but were their views accurately reflected?
The report should be a wiki – user contribution is vital to form understanding of the range of views.

Key omissions:
No mention of micro-blogging, focus needs to not just reflect home computers and broadband but wifi, netbooks, mobile, and handheld devices.

1. Next Generation Networks

Some of us are starting to carry our own wifi hotspots, but wifi should be a universal access. Access and speed of wifi is incredibly important in ensuring competitiveness. Milton Keynes is the only place in the UK to trial wi-max with a 7-11 mile range. In Japan this has redefined the economy, the UK is a generation behind. This can be installed with street lightening or as part of the upgrade of infrastructure. This will create ‘Supercities’ based on solid, ICT infrastructure. However, there are problems with establishing wifi spots as there are with public objections to phone masts.

Video and multimedia learning:
Bandwidth is also about opening up new forms of content and learning solutions. Bigger bandwidth in Africa is more about getting children to use video and mobile video for learning and communications which is a better solution than text and laptop solutions. In Africa now, and in the UK in the future, the keyboard is an archaic device. The future is in multimedia content – therefore we will need faster bandwidth.

Connection speeds:
2Mb is an embarrassing ambition for 2012 – we need to aim towards 75% towards the cutting edge level (e.g. Japan, South Korea) – talking about GB access not MB. EVERYTHING Digital Britain was to achieve for the future is reliant on the speed of connection – connection is King.

The government should be speaking more about uptime connection, not just downtime, recognising that in the future we will all be content creators, not just passive consumers. For households we need asymmetric bandwidth, at a minimum of 5Mb/s up and down time. A social housing project in the North East experimenting with giving a housing estate’s 15-20Mb broadband connectivity to encourage use.

Photo sharing web service Zoomr moved their business from San Francisco to Japan based on the speed of the internet there. They couldn’t deliver on their USPs, speed and delivery, from their USA base.

Network regulation:
The Government has the technology but does not want to implement it – it is relying on the private sector – do we need privatisation to ensure standards?

Networks need to be regulated as to price and quality/speed and response time for installation and faults – need to understand what we are buying and ensuring longevity of contract.

ISPs should be encouraged to scrap allocations and encourage unlimited use.

Switching between ISP suppliers can be difficult – in Sweden Ethernet box you can select between a range of 6 service providers at different connection speeds. The BT infrastructure is too limited.

We have energy chart for houses in Home Information Packs - this should include what broadband speed is available.

We are too entrenched in using the internet to accept how it is delivered and regulated. There needs to be more transparency to know why or how our liberties may be compromised with current legislation e.g. monitoring emails.


Mobile solutions present new opportunities to connect locally small business and community groups with bigger businesses.

Why are mobile and broadband networks seen as separate issues? Are there ways services could be co-delivered? Wifi is accelerating the convergence between mobile and broadband.


A lot of money is being spent on a small group of people who don’t have digital, and many will fail to migrate to the new platform anyway. This money would be better spent on improving quality of the service.


Digital Radio is suffering from poor quality – people vote with their feet and are not accessing it. Radio is most popular in the car – a digital switch off will not work until more cars have DAB radio. Serious time and investment is needed before a digital cut-off is a viable proposition.


The Digital Rights Agency will only benefit the top 1% of richest artists according to Open Rights Group research and is neither in the interest of content creators or consumers – it should be scrapped.

Good mobile broadband will change content ownership – access, e.g. streaming models like Spotify, are more critical than ownership.

Access to information should not be taxed through ISPs. Monitoring infringes on civil rights. The ‘three strikes and you’re offline’ proposal is immoral. Reducing access to internet is an infringement of human rights. ISPs are beyond control – hackers can infiltrate people’s network access and lead to false accusations.


BBC is resisting competition from Channel 4. But Channel 4 cannot have it both ways – it either needs to be commercial sustainable or fail.

There is still a role for a public broadcaster like the BBC, not here to give people what they WANT but what they NEED – there needs to be an educator creating quality output.

But we have enough pipes to get information out there without television - Is the future putting camera in people’s shirts , or the balls at Wimbledon, we can log on and create our own unique camera views to direct our own online TV.


Promoting usage:
The majority of the population do not have an idea about what Digital Britain is about. People will uptake on broadband use when they realise what benefits it can offer them, unique to their interests and business. There is a government role in selling and educating users as to the benefits of using web for both transactions and creation. The government should also use digital as the primary communication tool - don’t send post about swine flu, this is potentially dangerously slow and wasteful – send a text message or use web to communicate key messages.
Focus on what children will be using internet for in the future. Like Moore’s Law, the learning growth in accelerating exponentially. We need more people in government from the next ‘technology generation’ who understand this.

Community broadband:
BT Fone scheme can become a public hotspot to open up half of your network to others for Pay-As-You-Go on other people’s networks.

Centres and large business have the ‘big pipe’ to allow other people buy into it in smaller quantities. This has been done in rural communities using the church spire as the main aerial for broadband. This has other social benefits: ‘church’ means meeting place, it could get the church used the other 6 days of week as an internet cafe for the community.

In the Scottish Knoyard wilderness – the most remote part of Britain, only accessible by boat – 5Mb/s satellite broadband is being installed at 5Mb, funded by the Scottish government. Universal access is not impossible but needs to be publicly financed.

NOTTINGHAM’S SOLUTION: What we can do in Nottingham to implement Digital Britain

Decisions on where you go – personally like a cafe – or a business making a decision on where to base will be heavily influenced by availability of wifi and/or high speed broadband access. Nottingham can be at a major strategic disadvantage to other UK and European territories if we do not have a high quality of high-speed broadband and wifi.

Wifi solutions need to be county wide or wider not just city wide offering access for everyone.

Can we collate together solutions for mobile, broadband, digital TV, digital radio – look collectively to invest in a new infrastructure with a consolidation between all industries, sharing the cost of infrastructure. Data connectivity becomes a solid, collectively owned structure like roads. The separation between different data industries is not helpful for the consumer. Can next phase of Nottingham’s tram infrastructure be utilised to implant the wires or sensors for high fibre broadband?

We need to ensure planning regulations include future proofing new building for public use – galleries, schools, offices – to ensuring latest wifi speeds and a solid platform for upgrading in the future – however recognising that in preference we would prefer a better investment in universal wifi access.

Public sector:
Job descriptions in the public sector need to ask for willingness to learn and change to access new forms of communications, and to integrate them into public roles with a purpose. Organisations need to make a collective effort to train people to learn about digital communications, changing attitudes and behaviours.

There appears to be a lack of skills and insight from the decision-making bodies. What is the public sector’s qualification to support or not support an initiative?

Council procurement is not always helping local businesses, e.g. Nottingham City Council’s website was procured from Devon – how can smaller local companies be involved? There is an excessive process involved in tendering, could we look at a tiered approach of initial online pre-tendering for smaller to medium budget projects?
Local councillors are approachable for small funds and single gateway application model for next tier funding – but we need to communicate how we do this.

Online reporting structure for public services e.g. reporting a fault in street is good, but it’s not good at communicating back progress. Solutions need to be two-way responsive.

E-democracy needs to be further investigated locally - we need to test smaller grained projects, using agile development to get small pilot projects off the ground with small amounts of money to test it. Building local participation in projects to self-enable for delivery, small grants to deliver community projects e.g. community blogs or digital training for elderly.

Students are ahead of their teachers in technology learning. Students have a right to access learning using digital tools, e.g. Howard Rheingold’s Social Media Classroom work. Could Djanogly Academy be a pilot training ground for a social media curriculum?

Nottingham’s Digital Industries:

The digital creative network in Nottingham is well-connected, but its ecosystem is strong without the public sector, however, we are losing competitiveness to larger cities where the public sector (Local Authorities and RDAs) are investing heavily in the creative and digital industries, particularly in high level skills.

East Midlands has a good globalised computer games industry, but there is less of an association of the region as a producer of great content. Computer games is seen as a strength in Nottingham, e.g. NTU games courses, Game City conference – education is important in developing this: Computer Science and Maths enrollment falling, yet these subjects are important to all tech industries, including games.

Nottingham City Council could set up an action plan for delivering against Digital Britain agenda –developed in consultation with and lead by local businesses.

Could we have a BBC Big Screen in Nottingham? Providing access to and celebrate local content e.g. wii games, film. Encourage community participation in digital content.

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