DIGITAL BRITAIN: Lord Carter finalises Digital Britain's dra

Communications minister Lord Carter has insisted Digital Britain will bear fruit, despite his looming departure and the prospect of a change in government within the year.

Carter told Media Week while it "is for others to judge whether the process has been an effective one", he insisted "we have finalised the action points and draft legislation".

He said the General Election, expected next spring, "hasn't really affected the process". And he claimed much of his work would be completed even in the event of a change in government, adding: "I think you will find the Tories would keep more of the actions in Digital Britain than you might imagine and that they say publicly."

Five's plan to secure Channel 4's future by merging the two companies was rejected by Carter. Five strategy director Charles Constable said such a clear rejection was "a bit of a surprise", adding the merger proposal would have "given scope for further investment in programming and to increase both broadcasters' PSB output".

Some claim Five is now isolated among commercial broadcasters, with Channel 4 set to enjoy a new BBC Worldwide venture. Constable, however, said: "We benefit from being part of Europe's biggest commercial broadcaster, RTL Group. Everyone is talking to everyone and we will be part of the consolidation dance."

Some observers were surprised there was no change to the laws governing media mergers - specifically the Enterprise Act 2002. Instead, Carter said the law should remain unchanged, but with Ofcom carrying out a new Local Media Assessment to assess media M&A deals. Local Media Alliance chairman Roger Parry insisted all the LMA wanted was "an acknowledgement from OFT that the competitive environment had changed".

However, Jeremy Hunt MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, expressed disappointment that the current merger rules, "which seem to take little account of the competition provided by the internet, still remain".

Carter added: "The OFT makes a clear case in its report that the current regime can deal with the structure of the sector if people want it to."

Of his future, Carter refuses to be drawn on whether he would be interested in the ITV chief executive's job. All he would say is "you wouldn't expect all ministers to remain unemployed after they have left office".

Lord Carter on...

The BBC...

"I don't plan on having big fights with anyone, let alone the BBC. It is very supportive of many elements of Digital Britain, including our measures on [a Channel 4 and BBC Worldwide joint venture], digital radio, new media rights framework and moving elements of the BBC outside London. The only point they disagree on is the sharing of the licence fee.

Digital Britain's biggest achievement...

"The biggest achievement is difficult to pinpoint as there were such a wide range of issues covered. But we put the sector on the map and ensured cross-government co-ordination, especially in the processes around [information communications technology]. Finding a funding mechanism to activate the Next Generation of Broadband Networks was a particularly satisfying achievement. In media, highlights are: the radio measures are pretty radical, the service liberalisations of [ITV] and Five."

Universal broadband access...

"There was a lot to learn from the Irish universal broadband process, especially in terms of the tenders and policy processes. It gave us confidence that you can find solutions at the right budget. Ireland went for a wireless option due to the topography and population spread over there, but in the UK a lot of the networks are upgradeable, especially when you take clustering into account. We wanted a fixed and wireless option."

Digital Britain's biggest disappointment...

"The biggest disappointment was IP/piracy, which was the most complex issue to force through."

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