Blair backs drive for universal Internet access

A Cabinet Office report suggests ways the Government can achieve its aim of universal Internet access by 2005

A Cabinet Office report suggests ways the Government can achieve its aim of universal Internet access by 2005

When Tony Blair declared "I want Britain to aim for universal access to the Internet by 2005," earlier this month, he was throwing down a challenge to everyone involved in public sector IT, writes Mike Simons.

The drive for universal access will be buttressed by moves to tighten central Government targets and those for providing local services online.

This makes the Cabinet Office commissioned report, Achieving Universal Access, essential reading.

The study, by management and technology consultants Booz Allen & Hamilton, was officially launched by Prime Minister Tony Blair and is available from the Downing Street Web site.

With such a pedigree, the report is hardly heretical, but it lays down clear challenges to the Government and the public sector.

Booz Allen & Hamilton spell out the problem. "The UK is Europe's leading e-commerce market, but is developing an acute inequality of access problem."

The report predicts that UK Internet penetration should pass 60% by 2003 with little Government intervention. "However," it warns, "far from evening out the emerging inequalities, the wave of growth is likely to exacerbate them in relative terms, leaving an unconnected or excluded group of over 20 million citizens.

"Waiting for market forces to run their course is not an adequate response. Commercial providers will target the most profitable segments of society first," the authors argue.

The report suggests, "An ambitious but achievable new policy target would be 70% by 2003, with Government initiatives targeted at those sections of the population that would otherwise be left behind."

With Tony Blair giving the Booz Allen & Hamilton report his backing and the Government already acting on some of the areas it has highlighted, there are clear opportunities for IT professionals bidding for funding for development projects.


  • Offer financial and other incentives to users, employers and suppliers to bridge the Internet affordability gap

  • Provide affordable access via publicly available facilities (Job Centres, libraries etc)

  • Redefine the role of Government buildings and assets to provide Internet access

  • Create universal access to training courses and materials in the use of the Internet

  • Co-opt "e-missionaries", eg teachers and students, to train and encourage use of the Internet

  • Make Internet skills a major part of the National Curriculum

  • Use the Internet as a vehicle for re-skilling and lifelong learning

  • The Government should use its force in the market place to advance universal access

  • Barriers to a strong Internet and e-commerce market to be addressed

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