Ashley Highfield Advocates Use of White Space for Broadband in UK at Edinburgh International Television Festival

In a speech at the Media Guardian Edinburgh International Television Festival, the managing director of consumer and online at Microsoft UK (and former BBC director of future media and technology) Ashley Highfield advocated the use of unused spectrum in the broadcasting bands to provide fast broadband to rural communities. This is an endorsement of the White Space initiative first proposed in the US by a coalition of corporations including Microsoft and Google. It also provides a possible alternative to the unpopular proposal made in the Digital Britain report that a charge of 6 pounds be levied on all landlines to pay for broadband expansion and upgrade. (See also the online forum on Digital Britain.)

Highfield’s prediction that the TV industry has a window of 2-3 years to create viable digital businesses, or face “a version of the iTunes moment”, has gained most media coverage.  Interesting that his speech came on the same day that James Murdoch attacked the BBC, and the provision (or in his terms the ‘dumping’) of free news and entertainment content on the internet, for hindering competition

“The corporation is incapable of distinguishing between what is good for it, and what is good for the country,” [Murdoch claimed]. “Funded by a hypothecated tax, the BBC feels empowered to offer something for everyone, even in areas well served by the market. The scope of its activities and ambitions is chilling.”

“Dumping free, state-sponsored news on the market makes it incredibly difficult for journalism to flourish on the internet. Yet it is essential for the future of independent journalism that a fair price can be charged for news to people who value it,” he said.

He added: “We seem to have decided to let independence and plurality wither. To let the BBC throttle the news market, and get bigger to compensate.”

Erica Naone has written an article (18 August 2009) on the technological issues around the white space idea in the MIT Technology Review.

Video of the whole of Murdoch’s MacTaggart lecture is available via the Guardian’s website.

The BBC’s business editor, Robert Peston, responded by reportedly engaged in a ‘slanging match’ with Murdoch.  Peston earlier delivered the Richard Dunn memorial lecture entitled “what future for media and broadcasting?”.

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