Monday, August 9, 1999 Published at 16:23 GMT 17:23 UK
Business: The Economy
UK 'lacks urgency' over e-commerce
The select committee's report looks at wider issues of e-commerce
By Internet Correspondent Chris Nuttall
The UK government has been criticised by a committee of MPs for a "yawning gap between ambition and achievement" in the promotion of electronic commerce.
The chairman of the committee, Martin O'Neill, told a news conference on Monday that there was frustration both inside and outside government that an e-envoy had not been appointed.
Whoever it turned out to be, they should be equipped with hobnailed boots to see that people in government were not just sitting around, he said.
BT monopoly questioned
The committee is also urging the telecommunications regulator, Oftel, to adopt a more proactive role in enabling higher bandwidth services and free local-call access to the Internet for consumers.
"It's started rather late in addressing this issue of opening up the Internet to small businesses and the home user," chided Mr O'Neill.
"The BT monopoly should be subject to closer scrutiny. If technology enables the break-up of the monopoly and consumers can benefit from that, we feel there ought to be an opening up of the loop." This would allow other companies to offer services over the last mile of copper wire to homes and businesses.
E-commerce statistics needed
The committee's report on electronic commerce is a follow-up to one produced in May dealing with the proposed Bill and issues of electronic authentication and encryption.
The new report deals with wider issues and makes a number of other recommendations:
"The government has invested a great deal of political capital in setting an optimistic agenda for this increasingly important area of economic activity," said Mr O'Neill.
"The Committee intends to monitor the still as yet yawning gap between ambition and achievement and will be returning to the subject of e-commerce in the forthcoming session."
The government has published its draft Electronic Commerce Bill since the report was approved by committee members in mid-July. Oftel last month proposed the ending of BT's monopoly over the local loop by July 2001. The e-envoy post was advertised last year but a high-calibre candidate has yet to be found.
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