MPs call for Internet equality

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The Independent Online
THE GOVERNMENT came under cross-party criticism yesterday for its failure to take concrete steps to improve access to e-commerce and the Internet for all parts of society.

A critical report by MPs urged ministers to bring forward measures to ensure that "computers, the Internet and electronic commerce" were not seen as "exclusively playthings of the middle classes".

"We want to see everyone in society - rich or poor, young or old - able to take part in and benefit from electronic commerce. It will be a measure of the Government's success if the profile of the average Internet user more closely resembles the population as a whole rather than being skewed towards young, university- educated men," a report by the influential Trade and Industry Select Committee found.

MPs were also concerned about ministers' "lack of urgency" in some aspects of policy, most notably the continuing delays in the publication of the Electronic Commerce Bill and the failure to announce the appointment of an e-envoy, who would to represent British interests abroad.

The report added: "The delay in appointing the e-envoy, as yet unexplained, has not served to demonstrate the strength of the Government's commitment to the role or to the need for urgent policy initiatives on electronic commerce. It would seem to suggest, instead, that electronic commerce was not a priority of Government.

"The DTI must increasingly seek to promote the positive benefits of electronic commerce, particularly in terms of its potential impact on UK competitiveness."

The recent government reshuffle, which saw several changes at the Department for Trade and Industry, was intended partly to focus on the growing e-commerce industry. Patricia Hewitt, who was moved from the Treasury, is in charge of e-commerce initiatives.

The report was the second by the committee to be critical of the Government's e-commerce policy. Earlier this year, MPs said ministers' ambitious public aspirations contrasted with its apparent lack of a clear strategic direction, or an e- commerce champion at cabinet level.