Ashley Highfield, the BBC director of new media and technology, has outlined the corporation’s vision for a broadband Britain, and called upon the collaboration and co-operation of Government and industry to avoid a digital underclass.

First there was Freeview, then Freesat, now Freeband is the latest initiative to emerge from the BBC.

Delivering the keynote speech at the Broadband Britain Summit, Ashley Highfield predicted a new era of content delivery by the end of the decade and offered the collaboration of the BBC in a proposed Freeband initiative, together with a promotional campaign to drive digital media literacy, and the provision of on-demand content to drive broadband take-up.

“We have turned innovation into lasting success, in the realm of digital TV. The UK is the world leader in digital terrestrial television penetration, and in overall digital TV take-up, and in interactive TV usage, and we have global pre-eminence in the creation, packaging, and distribution of TV programmes. Can we move this ‘linear’ digital content leadership into the broadband ‘on demand’ world?”

He said that broadband heralds a world of video rich content in which power has shifted from content owners to audiences, where for the first time ever, they are in control of their consumption.

He referred to the BBC’s interactive media player, which has just undergone technical trials: “iMP enables people to download television and radio programmes, choose to record whole series such as EastEnders, catch up on programmes they have missed and watch or listen to them on any device they want – all through peer-to-peer sharing on a broadband connection.”

The BBC, he said, has a critical role to play in this growing market, based on a clear vision of a digitally empowered Britain in which broadband, along with free digital television and digital home storage, play a vital role.

He suggested that the recent uptake in broadband could be accelerated even further if hardware manufacturers, broadband service providers and the BBC were to join forces. He posited a compelling free content and access package, similar to Freeview or the proposed Freesat proposition, but for broadband, suggesting the name Freeband. He said that the BBC would “make a major contribution to providing compelling content for such an initiative”.

“With a wealth of quality original content and innovation at its disposal, as well as arguably the richest archive in the world, the BBC can provide a compelling reason to get a high-speed connection.”

Ashley Highfield proposed a national campaign to promote broadband using “the BBC with it’s airwaves and cross-promotional opportunities to target those members of society who might find themselves on the wrong side of the digital divide”.

No doubt such a call to action will be treated with some circumspection by some organisations that have previously been critical of the strength of the corporation’s online offering.

Apparently the corporation is putting a “huge effort” into producing distinctive video rich content for the web, “partly to put increasingly clear blue water between us and our print newspaper colleagues, but also to create the must-have compelling content to drive usage and get broadband woven into the fabric of everyday life”.

This rallying call also comes in the context that BT is preparing a hybrid service that could combine off-air digital television with video-on-demand delivered over broadband.

The BBC is due to deliver its response to the Graf report, an independent review of BBC Online. One of the comments made by Philip Graf was that “The provision of distinctive and market-leading broadband content services, for example, is likely to help drive wider demand for broadband – although driving the development of new (digital) markets is not a core purpose, per se.”