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Converge or be damned – Lord Carter’s new world order

Ex-Ofcom chief tells Oz how to do it

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The Australian media, communications and technology industries have been urged to act as a united front in the creation of a new public policy framework by former UK communications minister, OFCOM's founding CEO and current Alcatel Lucent President and MD for Europe Middle East & Africa, Lord Stephen Carter.

“The communications industry is infinitely stronger when it is treated as a converged community in the development of a policy in the management of the politics and in the search for the profit,” he said in Sydney yesterday.

Addressing the Australian film and TV production sector at SPAA this week, Carter, the brains trust behind the UK’s landmark Digital Britain convergence blueprint warned that the pressures of competing in the rapidly shifting communications industries, “are forcing companies to making very hard choices.

And those choices sometimes result in individual groups arguing their own corner, their own vested interest and their own need for protection.”

Visiting Australia for a series of high levels meetings with government and industry and set against the backdrop of the Convergence and Media Reviews, Carter, a self-described “plumber” behind the world’s distribution networks, called for a merging of thought leadership with the creative industries, “the poets” in the creation of the framework for the next 10-15 years.

“Both of those communities are lesser for living in their own hermetically sealed groups,” he argued.

“The Convergence Review has a unique opportunity to look beyond quotas and ownership rules, to look beyond today’s existing platforms and to envisage a world where Australia - because of far reaching public investment and far reaching public policy development - could combine the poets and the plumbers for profit and progress in a way that is quite distinctive and differentiated,” Carter said.

Reinforcing many of the core tenets of the Digital Britain opus, Carter said he believed that the communications industry required, “its own muscular framework, its own policy framework and its own competition framework.”

As a matter of critical social wellbeing, he called for a requirement of public investment for ubiquitous access and culturally relevant content.

“The way to achieve the future industry that you wish, that is rampant with innovation and choice, is not to hang on to regulatory frameworks from a structure of an industry that is long past its change date,” he warned.

Forecasting the death- in the “foreseeable future”- of traditional scheduled linear broadcasting he urged the industry to clear about the issues are all up for grabs and engage in “real and passionate debate about what good looks like in the Australian communications industry in 10 or 15 years time.”

“Poets and the plumbers both speak very different languages, they think and are motivated by very different things, but the reality of convergence is that it is driving them together on a daily basis,” Carter said.

Carter positioned Australia as country that would soon be in a global leadership position in terms of it communications infrastructure, across fixed and wireless, with an opportunity to be engine room of content creation.

“It will be interesting to see what the learning’s from the creative industry is and what that position affords the country domestically as an export economy in a language that is the operating system of the industry that we all work in.”

The question left for the Australian media, communications and technology industries was whether we would create “a cauldron of creativity or a cauldron of conflict.” ®

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