The UK government has published a Green Paper on the regulation of broadcasting, the internet and telecommunications in the digital age which admits it doesn’t know what is going to happen as the three industries converge. It is very difficult to predict with any accuracy the speed and direction of change, the consultation document, entitled Regulating Communications – Approaching Convergence in the Digital Age, says. Rather than making a false choice between tearing up our regulatory structures or sticking to the status quo, we will follow an evolutionary path. The document argues that there should not be a fixed date for switching off analog terrestrial TV and forcing everyone onto digital. It says that the government is encouraging the three main UK regulatory bodies involved in communications – OFTEL; the Independent Television Commission; and the Office of Fair Trading – to work more closely together, but that they will not be merged into an Ofcom super-regulator in the immediate future. The document also says that the commercial terrestrial ITV network should continue with its public service remit until such time as the market allows other channels such as cable and satellite to take over these roles. The government admits that it is skeptical about whether consumers are changing their viewing habits to match advances in technology such as WebTV. Most people will continue to view television in the traditional, passive way for a long time to come, it argues. Mass markets for digital services do not yet exist in the UK and it may be some time before most households have digital TV sets or multimedia PCs capable of receiving good- quality audiovisual material from the internet, the document warns. The government says responses to the Green Paper should be sent to the Department of Trade and Industry by November 30 and that a follow-up statement of its conclusions will be published in early 1999.
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