How to get the UK wired up and ready to go

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Stephen Timms, MP for Newham North East, is one of Westminster's most wired MPs. After eight years as an analyst at the hi-tech research company Ovum, he is advising the Labour Party's policy commission on the information superhighway. He installed a video-conferencing system in his constituency last year to provide the homeless persons' unit in Stratford with a link to the council's translation centre.

Q: How do we make sure everyone has access to cyberspace?

A: The key thing we have to do is make sure the infrastructure goes in everywhere. Not everyone is going to sign up immediately, but the companies putting in fibre-optic cables have to be required to put in connections to schools, libraries, doctors' surgeries and hospitals.

We must ensure that we have technology other than cable, such as radio, to reach remoter areas. The cable companies, under the present arrangements, will never provide cable for the whole country.

We must make the infrastructure available to all service providers. Now, cable operators only offer services they want to provide. We want open access. Everyone should have the right to convey their material.

Q: Do we need new laws for the information superhighway?

A: I'm not sure there is a need for new legislation, nor have I seen any evidence that the police need new powers. But there would have to be an international agreement in this area, and I've tabled parliamentary questions asking what international agreements there are and which agencies have the responsibility for it.

Q: Will the Internet bring us a US-dominated culture, as many European commentators believe?

A: We have strong cultural industries in Britain. It is very important economically, as well as culturally, that they should thrive. But we should be encouraging them to take up opportunities in the new media, not worrying about the US - that's where the focus of our efforts should be.

Q: What are the dangers of the technological revolution?

A: The biggest dangers are in the area of unemployment, but that's also where the biggest opportunities are. We need to make sure there are adequate retraining programmes for those that need them and we need to make sure youngsters are properly prepared when they come out of school. There's a lot to be done there.

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