Australian Government releases Digital Economy: Future Directions paper

Last night (on 14 July 2009), the Australian Government released its Digital Economy: Future Directions paper. The paper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivativeWorks 2.5 Australia licence.

This is a short summary (or a summary of the Government’s 35-page ‘Snapshot’ summary of the 103-page final report) of some of the key points made in the paper (imho).

The Digital Economy: Future Directions paper explains how government, industry and the community can work together to improve digital economy engagement in Australia. It provides the rationale for government taking strategic and enabling action to ensure that all parts of Australia benefit fully from the digital economy. The paper includes case studies of Australians who have engaged successfully with the digital economy. These case studies are designed to provide an insight into the diverse range of industries that can benefit from the digital economy, including health, education, water, transport and banking.

The Australian Government has defined the digital economy to be ‘the global network of economic and social activities that are enabled by information and communications technologies, such as the internet, mobile and sensor networks.’ (Snapshot p2; Final report p2) The government has recognised that a successful digital economy is essential for Australia’s economic growth and ability to maintain international standing. The government has identified its role in developing the digital economy as that of an enabler. In this role, the government is developing of digital infrastructure, facilitating innovation and setting a conducive regulatory framework.

The Digital Economy: Future Directions paper discusses the initiatives being undertaken by government to improve Australia’s digital economy, in a number of key areas. Some of these areas are as follows.

National Broadband Network (NBN)
(see Snapshot p8; Final report pp 9-11)
In recognising the importance of world-class, high-speed broadband for Australia’s future economic growth and social wellbeing, the government has committed to building the National Broadband Network (NBN). The National Broadband Network will improve Australia’s network capacity and allow Australians to enjoy high-speed carrier-grade video, data and voice services. This will have significant implications for industry in terms of new services, applications and business models. To assist Australia’s research community and commercial sector to fully map the applications and business models which will thrive in Australia’s high–speed future, the government will host a National Broadband Network: Realising the Vision forum before the end of 2009.

Open Access to Public Sector Information
(see Snapshot pp 8-9; Final report pp 12-14)
In the Digital Economy: Future Directions paper, the government has recognised that open access to appropriate categories of public sector information can drive digital economy and innovation benefits. In this context, ‘open access’ means access on terms and in formats that clearly permit and enable such use and reuse by any member of the public. The Australian Government has established the Government 2.0 Taskforce to advise and assist the government in making public sector information more accessible and usable and in making government more consultative, participatory and transparent.

Conducive regulatory frameworks
(see Snapshot pp 12-13; Final report pp 20-23)
The government will consider those aspects of Australia’s regulatory framework that are most pertinent to the digital economy to identify whether reforms are necessary to promote Australia’s development as a knowledge economy. For example, the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General recently agreed to amend state and territory Electronic Transactions Acts to reflect technological advances since the laws were enacted and to allow Australia to implement the UN Convention on Electronic Communications in International Contracts.

The nature of the digital economy is such that certain regulatory frameworks presently face greater pressures than others. Two examples of such pressure relate to:

  • copyright law—the rapid emergence of new platforms for social engagement, content distribution and political communications is putting pressure on, for example, copyright laws; and
  • convergence—where devices and platforms which originally had distinct functionalities converge or overlap and, as a result, put pressure to legislative schemes that were originally designed to deal with distinct devices and platforms.

With respect to copyright law, the Australian Government will consider whether the scope of the ‘safe harbour scheme’ should be expanded to include additional types of online service providers.