The 2007 Parliament and the Internet Conference

The second Parliament and the Internet Conference was held in the Houses of Parliament on October 18th. The day was based around keynote speeches – from Nicholas Negroponte, Minister for Competitiveness Rt Hon Stephen Timms MP and Commander Sue Wilkinson from the Metropolitan Police – and a series of workshops which focussed in depth on different areas of internet related policy. The event was sponsored by Microsoft and Symantec, and a senior representative from each also made a plenary speech.

Stephen Timms MP focussed his comments on the need for Britain to have a world class ICT industry in order to remain at the forefront of global innovation in the sector. He pointed out that many developing nations, such as India and China, are placing great emphasis on developing IT experts and that there can be no complacency in this area from either the Government or UK business.

Commander Wilkinson spoke eloquently of the difficulties that e-crime poses for traditional methods of police investigation and explained that solving crime with an internet dimension was becoming a significant element of the work undertaken by herself and her colleagues. She applauded the co-operative approach to crime being taken by Government, industry and law enforcement and stressed that collaborative working would only become more important in the years to come.

The six workshops allowed for a high degree of attendee participation and as summary of the major themes discussed at each can be found below:

Workshop A

The impact of internet social networking on politics

At a workshop organised by the Parliamentary IT Committee (PITCOM), Joanna Shields, Bebo’s President – International, provided an overview of the interconnection between social networking sites and politics. The insightful presentation included a closer examination of the “Bebo demographic” (13 – 24 years olds) and their lack of interest in politics as well as a more general look at the changing face of politics resulting from the introduction of innovative technologies.

Shields argued that social networking sites have excited young people into taking an interest in politics and “issues” of importance to them just as ePetition sites like that on the Number Ten website have done for a wider group of citizens.  With regard to politics more generally, those attending the session agreed with Shields’ assessment that the internet has levelled the playing field allowing for greatly increased two and three way communication (e.g. politician to voter to voter etc).

Workshop B

The challenge of next generation broadband

Next generation broadband was considered by a workshop convened by the Broadband Stakeholder Group. There was recognition of the huge impact broadband has had on the daily lives of UK citizens over the last five years. Key examples were changes in the way people communicate, work and interact with government. Panellists argued that great strides have been made in making broadband widely available, with the UK leading the G7 broadband coverage but we now face a new challenge.  While new ultra high-speed services may well be deployed in some urban areas, it is less likely that the market will support their deployment in rural areas. There is a risk that broadband speeds will increase for some, but with significant variations in services available to citizens depending upon where they live. 

Work on this issue is being led by the Broadband Stakeholder Group in partnership with Government and Ofcom, and will focus on four areas of activity: the economic and social value of broadband; debate on the commercial landscape needed for investment; finding the right regulatory environment and investigating models for targeted public sector intervention.

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Workshop C

The issue of ‘bad’ Internet traffic and P2P

An interesting look at the role of the intermediary in the online world was provided at the workshop led by the Internet Services Providers Association (ISPA UK).  The session, which was hosted by ISPA’s Secretary-General Nicholas Lansman, investigated how the role of an ISP had changed and focused on the challenge presented by issues such as Peer-2-Peer copyright infringement.

Informative presentations from expert panellists Rachel Clark from the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, Emma Ascroft from Yahoo! and Ted Shapiro from the Motion Picture Association were followed by a productive debate where contributions were heard from a number of different perspectives during a well attended session.

Workshop D

Tackling crime and achieving confidence in the on-line world

EURIM (the European Information Society Group) arranged a workshop which considered methods of achieving increased confidence on the internet. At the session, there was strong support for developing a practical and comprehensive approach to tackling crime and nuisance in the on-line world. There are growing concerns about criminals turning to the Internet to commit old crimes and invent new ones. It was felt that the impact is not out of proportion with offline forms of criminal activity but the potential is enormous in terms of speed, penetration and multiple attacks. The police response is important but will only deal with an appropriate range of offences and cannot deal with a lot of low-level nuisance that causes public concern. The UK is already working on a positive approach to governance – arguing for partnership between Government, Parliament, Industry and Civil Society through a United Kingdom Internet Government Forum. It is proposed that the same four-part governance oversee an industry-led “complaints unit” to better target corrective action – an approach which would complement both the proposed Police Central Unit and the Fraud Reporting Centre which is now being established..

Workshop E

The regulation of premium rate services

The All Party Communications Group looked at the regulatory issues affecting premium rate services (PRS). Barry Houlihan, CEO of Mobile Interactive Group, explained that the size of the PRS market has shrunk significantly over the last 12 months and that the industry acknowledges that restoring consumer confidence is essential. Bob Imrie, representing the National Consumer Federation, felt that many consumers are still very unaware of the risks posed by PRS and commented that he advises those unsure to avoid 0900 numbers altogether. George Kidd, Chief Executive of PhonePlayPlus, expressed the opinion that establishing the boundaries of PRS regulation is important and that senior executives at ITV and Channel 4 are now aware of the steps that need to be taken to restore their reputation in this area. The session’s Chairman, Derek Wyatt MP, concluded with the comment that perhaps a 2011 Communications Act may be required to clear up any remaining confusion about the regulation of PRS.

Workshop F

The future of voice over IP services

ITSPA (Internet Telephony Providers’ Association) hosted a lively workshop on broadband telephony and the ability to access 999 services. With the increasing use of VoIP amongst British consumers, Lord Erroll posed the key question; whether 999 should be a consumer right amongst all forms of this new technology. Helen Keefe from Ofcom outlined the position of the regulator, expressing its intention to ensure all VoIP services which broke out onto the PSTN offer a 999 service. Eli Katz (ITSPA chair) indicated that ITSPA was generally supportive of Ofcom’s position; however there was a desire for 999 to be de-coupled from the PATS conditions. Charles Miller (Home Office) agreed, stating that it was fundamental right of the consumer and that the PATS linkage only hindered a provider’s ability to offer 999. John Medland (BT) provided an insight into how VoIP calls were dealt with by emergency call centres, outlining the current difficulties of tracing VoIP calls. The workshop agreed that 999 should be made mandatory where necessary but a review at a European level should amend the necessity for 999 access to be linked with PATS regulations.