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Monday, 11 September, 2000, 09:37 GMT 10:37 UK
Web for all - Quiz Internet Minister Patricia Hewitt

The UK Government is about to unveil a big new initiative to set up a network of community computer centres around the country.

It is aimed at bringing basic computer skills and access to the internet to people who have missed out so far.

But is it enough - and what more should government and the computer industry be doing to make this new technology truly universal?

Patricia Hewitt, the internet minister, answered a selection of your questions in a live webcast.

  Click here to watch video coverage of the forum   

Highlights from the forum

Michael Beckwith, UK
My main concern is that there will be no updates once these community centres have been installed. Technology changes all the time, if the government doesn't update the equipment ever year or two it will become out of date. Has extra money been put a side to make sure that people in the future will not been using out of date computers?

Patricia Hewitt
We all know that computer technoglogy is changing so fast and home computers become out of date almost before you finish paying for them. But we have been looking at this problem. My own sense is that a lot of the answers will come when we have broadband connections, when we can hold the information on the net itself in pull down's etc and not have to keep updating equipment at the centres ever few years. We want to have good equipment as well as good advice.

P Collinson, UK
How are you going to bring internet information and e-mail to remote and often rural parts of the British Isles, to achieve the country-wide ideal, "access for all"? Could the scheme include mobile centres for remote rural locations.

Patricia Hewitt
Our vision is that everyone will be close to a UK online centre and in two years time we hope to have 6000 centres, inluding all the public libraries. But there are some in rural areas and we also have a number which are mobile, in caravans moving around.

Charles Lucy, UK
When will the government abandon Microsoft and adopt open source software to promote savings and universality?

Patricia Hewitt
There is a very broad range of software available. We don't want to tie people to using one type of software as its important for for both indidviuals and for businesses.

Paul Cooper, UK
While lack of skills is an obvious difficulty with using the internet, surely a far greater difficulty is the expense of the equipment required. The cheapest computers available cost around 500, a sum which an unemployed person would find impossible to raise. Does the government envisage any initiative such as the French "Minitel" sceme of some years ago, where users were provided with access equipment at highly subsidised rates?

Patricia Hewitt
Gordon Brown announced earlier this year a programme to give computers free or very cheaply to families on low incomes. But don't forget that we are the world leader in digital television, we already have one in five homes with digital tv and that's the highest proportion in the world and the great advantage of digital tv is that you can get an internet connection through your television and I think we are going to see this trend growing very fast indeed and competeition and market is driving that rather than the government dishing out the kit to everybody.

Pete Morgan-Lucas, Wiltshire, UK
Why should the government provide access to entertainment services like the Web? Do they provide free access to Sky-TV? It's not as if it's expensive to get connected - if you can afford a TV you can afford a basic computer which will be quite adequate to give net-access. Governments should leave this sort of thing to the markets, not try to get involved in social engineering projects.

Patricia Hewitt
Well a highly competitive market is driving this forward but the web is about more than just entertainment. Its about information and communication with friends and family all over the world. Its also about learning and people need to have a connection to the educational riches of the world's resources.

Christopher Willis, England
Why has government on-line in the UK been so disastrous? For example look at the Inland Revenue fiasco. Other countries such as Australia seem to do much better regarding government on-line. Their Inland Revenue department now processes up to 75% of tax returns. The UK processes none.

Patricia Hewitt
We are absolutely detemined to do better and the government is annoucing its plans to get the government services online and also the new money that will enable us to put it into effect. The Inland Revenue is offering online tax returns as of the current tax year. But we do need to move ahead as fast as we can on government services.

Alastair Dudley, UK
I think that the key issue that is preventing the widespread adoption of the Internet is local telephone access. Given that can't bang corporate BT heads together and intoduce free local calls, will you will in your efforts to extend access to the Net?

Patricia Hewitt
In a year we have really seen a very big change. But costs have fallen by 30 to 40 percent since March but we still have got more to do. With competition and with good regulation we will see the costs fall even more.

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28 Mar 00 | UK Politics
Britain digitally divided say ministers

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