The UK government is being too complacent in its attitude to the Internet, an opposition MP claimed today.
Steven Webb, Liberal Democrat MP for Northavon raised the issue of high telephone charges and their impact on UK Internet growth in the House of Commons yesterday.
He asked the government to consider the role it plays in encouraging Internet adoption and accused it of refusing to see a need to intervene to force telcos to offer unmetered Internet calls.
"The minister [Michael Wills] spent 15 minutes complacently telling us not to be complacent, saying that the UK is catching up on the US and that the market will deliver," said Webb in an exclusive interview with VNU Newswire.
Webb said he believes the government must take charge, as market leaders such as BT have not necessarily got the best interests of consumers at heart.
"We have to be sure that Oftel is chivvying BT along, to not be sleepy and to be more responsive," he said.
Telecommunications watchdog Oftel is currently reviewing the Internet access market and is due to publish its conclusions at the end of this month.
During yesterday's debate Wills insisted that high telephone charges are not a barrier for people getting online.
However, Webb said that while large numbers of people were currently getting online through free Internet accounts such as Freeserve, their initial enthusiasm is likely to have slowed down once they received the first high telephone bill.
Not for the first time it seems the government does not fully understand the real issue: "We are talking about a cultural shift, not just a case of getting more PCs connected to modems," said Webb.
Webb said that by refusing to register the effect high telephone calls have on Internet use, the government is holding the UK back from the rest of Europe as well as the US.
One example cited by Webb was the fact that cable modems delivering high speed access have been slow to materialise in the UK, while in countries like the Netherlands they are already in widespread use.
Webb was also pessimistic of the impact the government's Ecommerce Bill will have when, or if it is released.
"The government seems to be going cold on the idea, everyone is wondering when it is going to happen. The feeling is they are going to have to do something just to save face," he said.
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