Moves to make the UK the best place for e-business have taken a further step with the launch of a massive technology giveaway aimed at encouraging people to get hooked up to the internet.
But e-Envoy Andrew Pinder admitted the challenge remained to improve the quality and uptake of online public services. A dramatic rethink of the government's online services strategy is in the pipeline because of disappointing usage, he said.
Speaking at the launch of the government's 'Get Started' campaign, Patricia Hewitt, the secretary of state for Trade and Industry, said the initiative was the biggest ever national campaign to get people online, and marked unprecedented collaboration between the government and the public and private sectors.
More than 8,000 online centres around the country will be offering free internet starter sessions until the end of June.
Technology companies including Microsoft, Packard Bell and Hewlett Packard are showing their support for the initiative by donating equipment to be donated as prizes to participants in the taster sessions.
"I would be surprised if there were any other country acting on this scale," Hewitt said.
Currently, 56 per cent of adults in the UK regularly use the internet. "We've done very well compared to other countries. The fact is that in the UK we're way up there near the top," said Pinder.
"But a disappointing area for me is use of government services, and I'd like to change that," he told vnunet.com.
"The challenge for me is getting government services used as fully as they should be, which is as much as things like online banking.
"Over the next two to three years we have to rethink the way we deliver government services online and redesign them so they're built around the consumer."
Moves to boost broadband coverage had progressed well, Pinder added. "Broadband is going like a steam train," he said.
"It started very badly but we have almost reached BT's two million target. And about 65 per cent of the population has [access to broadband]. We expect to reach 80 per cent in the next two to three years.
"But we need to make sure content is attractive and we want prices to come down - they're half what they were two years ago and I'd like to see them come down again."
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