It is not often that a government improves the performance of industry. But the recent electronic communications bill provides a golden opportunity.
Governments can't wave magic wands but they can remove unnecessary hurdles. The Bill does a lot to pave the way for the Prime Minister's dream, to make the UK a leading base for e-commerce.
Currently the UK is about two years behind the US both in business-to-consumer commerce, and in the much more competitive business-to-business arena. The new Bill has a number of constructive ideas: It removes plans to force companies wanting to send private and confidential emails to deposit copies of electronic keys with independent third parties. Inevitably this would have blown the Internet world and the business world apart. Now the industry must come up with its own self-regulation or a statutory scheme will be imposed in five years.
By 2001 the e-commerce trade is expected to grow from 2% to 20% of global business and this bill will seriously assist electronic trade, by giving legal recognition to 'electronic signatures'.
The most vital thing that the Government can do to speed up the progress of e-commerce, is to tackle phone charges. It must exert greater pressure on British Telecom, to introduce unmetered telephone charges and broadband access to the Internet.
This is the biggest stumbling block to prevent Internet access. Despite recent modernisation BT is still acting like a monopoly. It should be aware that if it were based in the States practising its local access dominance, it would be under the type of investigation that Microsoft is undergoing.
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