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Wednesday, September 22, 1999 Published at 17:18 GMT 18:18 UK


BT and hamper Net

Thirty years on, the Net is a political and economic battleground

By Internet Correspondent Chris Nuttall

BT and the UK government have been singled out for taking counter-productive steps to hinder the development of the Internet at a debate to mark the Net's 30th anniversary.

"To have an e-commerce minister and an e-czar in the Department of Trade and Industry seems mad to me," said Derek Wyatt, the Labour MP who is chair of the All-Party Internet Group in parliament.

"Shouldn't there be a minister for the Internet inside the Cabinet Office, overlooking the 22 departments? " he asked. "The trouble is that many traditional Labour people come from the public sector and they are the last people to understand where we are on this."

The prime minister, Tony Blair, announced the appointment of an e-envoy, Alex Allan, to work with two e-ministers, at an event last week where he admitted his own ignorance of the Net and computers.

BT puts brakes on ADSL technology

Richard Woods of network provider UUNET accused BT of not doing enough for the consumer in bringing lower cost Internet access through its new Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL) technology, which gives high-speed always-on services over old copper wires .

Mr Woods said this was key to the development of the Net. But BT, which still controls the last section of copper wire from the local exchange to homes and businesses, was making the technology impossibly expensive for other providers, he said.

Other network providers wanting to use BT's Datastream technology, which offered more scope for their own value-added services than its IPStream option, would find themselves incurring prohibitive costs of £3,000 a customer, he added.

"I'm not saying what the price point is, but I would like to see it being well under £40 a month for the consumer. but we could not get the price down to that if BT is going to charge us like this to provision the exchanges."

The shape of the Net to come

The round table debate on the Internet and its future was chaired by Nick Rosen of the Online Research Agency and also featured representatives from Fore Systems and Mirapoint and Steve Bennett, founder and chairman of the online store

Predictions for the future from the panel included supermarkets becoming just distribution depots for online shopping with consumers visiting town centres only if they liked the shopping experience of specialty stores.

Derek Wyatt MP said he felt the Teledesic satellite system being developed for high-speed Internet access would change everything as there would be no need for network infrastructures on the ground. He also said he expected the growth of powerful grass-roots political lobbying over the Net.

A huge exponential growth in existing networks' capacity was predicted by others. The merging of voice and data networks would cause huge security, bandwidth and numbering problems as everyone had a virtual home with multiple addresses for everything in it, they said.

  • Derek Wyatt has launched the World Internet Forum, an international summit to discuss best practice in governments' usage and implementation of digital technologies. Targeted at senior politicians, government officials and industry, it intends to provide a high-level event for debate of Net-delivered services for the provision of social services, health, education and culture. Lord Puttnam will be World Internet Forum chairman and the conference will be held in September next year at Oxford University.

    Save The Web has been formed to battle global media corporations over EU proposals to extend existing copyright protections on the Net. Launched in Brussels, it has opened a campaigning Website and says it will also tackle privacy issues. The future of the Internet in Europe is in real danger, it says.

    Scrambling for Safety 3.5 has had its largest-ever registration for the event, which covers security, encryption and privacy issues. Thursday's debate at the London School of Economics will feature the new e-commerce minister Patricia Hewitt, her opposite number Alan Duncan and Whitfield Diffie, the inventor of "public-key" encryption.

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