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Europe's leaderslack e-vision

Commissioners duck the telecoms issue

What is Europe doing wrong on e-commerce? Europe's digital economy lags at least two years behind the US, despite the fact that the EU is home to some of the world's most innovative technology companies.

Now the European Commission has launched an 18-point plan to close the IT gap between Europe and the US. But the report itself is a perfect example of what is hampering Euro e-business.

Item one on the EC's agenda should be telecoms reform. It is the lack of cheap broadband telecoms access that is hampering e-business and mass Internet take-up in the UK and continental Europe.

But telecoms reform does not figure in the plan. Instead it is the familiar mixture - computers in schools, an IT literate workforce, Internet in the local library and more teleworking.

As in the 1994 Bangemann Report, which was meant to kick-start the Internet in Europe, Internet-based e-commerce is hardly considered. Making the same mistake as the Bangemann report, the emphasis is on education and e-government.

Broadening e-citizenship is a laudable goal. But the US experience suggests this happens only when cheap, always-on Net access is available to consumers at home. Once they have that, there are few barriers to IT literacy, teleworking and e-citizenship.

It would be unfortunate if the EU's "Net Generation" report allows commissioners to say. "We're doing something at last". They must do more, and telecoms is the key. Access must get much faster and much cheaper - very soon.

Otherwise, instead of building a rival to Silicon Valley in Europe, we will simply build a wired-up version of Camberwick Green.


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