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Information have-nots are Bewitched by Blair
January 00

Unless you have been living in a cave for the past year, (or presiding in the High Court), you can not have failed to notice that the government has been talking up the importance of the internet and ecommerce. Aside from the ecommerce Bill that attempts to square the circle of a legal culture that is generally 400 years old, the government has produced the redoubtable (get yours here.)

In the foreword to this tome (incidentally, one of the best examples of Adobe Acrobat at work that you will find) Tony Blair says…

There is no doubt that electronic commerce is going to have a profound effect on business, Government and consumers and on the way people live and work. E-commerce presents enormous challenges. Countries that wholeheartedly embrace e-commerce will benefit from improved national economic performance. Those that do not risk seeing trade ebb away to low cost competitors elsewhere in the world.

Which begs the question what are they actually DOING about this challenge..? So Gordon Brown recently piped up with a couple of e-initiatives and announced a series of tax easements for start-ups through stock option tax benefits (following the proven route that has worked so well for the USA in past 20 years of IT growth), and suggested that the Treasury is “considering” ways to encourage larger venture capital companies to invest more in the IT scene. Too late, mate, it’s a done deal and we are merely customers, not suppliers.

He also said, poignantly:

"Old monopolies and cosy cartels have no place in the market," he said, revealing that the Government's next Utility Bill will place a new primary duty on the telecoms regulator to protect the interests of consumers through promoting competition."

Drawing a veil over BT’s dodgy deals with the government in return for being allowed leverage its (effective) monopoly to deliver video on demand using ADSL, Gordy went on the announce £5 a month recon PCs for all, so that the informationally challenged would be able to hitch a cheap ride on the Information Superhighway. There were no more details at time of press where these are coming from, or if he has had the good sense that they should be Linux systems with Star Office installed, not costly Windows based.

Tony Blair’s foreword in the Blair Bewitched Project manual also makes this observation:

But we must not be complacent. There are signs that we are not capitalising on our strengths and keeping up with the pace of change. For example, it is disappointing that a recent survey of Directors in the UK showed that only 2% of UK Board Directors believe that the Internet poses a serious competitive threat. That cannot be right and I hope the messages contained in this report will represent a wake-up call for many in British business.

Only 2%? Time to panic big time in that case. Let’s hope that this whole e-thing is not just another virtual sound bite, but something with real teeth ready to bite deep into the rump the nation’s complacent and comfortable businesses before some leaner and meaner emissaries from more advanced IT nations do it first.

This story broke on the same day the tabloids featured the story of the taxman trying to get back tax from 1993 from one company that had the effrontery to give its employees free tea and biscuits. Aside from anything else, can you imagine the time and effort required to rummage through the receipts for that period? Have they nothing better to do? But this puts things in their usual perspective: politicians saying one grand thing after another, while the jobsworths dourly do their usual prosaic thing.

Again, on the same day, TeleWest ( announced their major digital cable rollout, promising 750Mbits of (contended) access to all its subscribers, with a collection of the usual set-top-box dross content, including up to150 channels of TV, home shopping, near video on demand – and the holy grail of true video on demand “soon”. The catch is, if you live one house out of their present coverage area (guess who does..?) then they will want to charge you around £120 a metre to get into your premises.

The tariff booklet is a nightmare of mixing and matching, so I won’t even try and describe it. But at entry level, £13 a month gets you a phone line and 18 channels of broadcast TV (all terrestrial channels. And with cable modems delivering 256k in/128k out on a £40 month flat rate, everyone who is the slightest bit interested in the internet will want it. – so houses that are outside such a service will be harder to sell to the upwardly mobile. But Telewest only passes 4.3 million of the UK’s 26 million homes, and it plainly still doesn’t get the plot that the PC is more important that the TV, given that the average upwardly mobile family household has around 3 TV sets, and 3 PCs, and the PCs are used ever more.

In the press pack pamphlet, there is a Q/A section:

How do I get Telewest Active Digital?

All that’s needed is a TV, a Cable Link and a Smart Box. This is simply a small devise that sits on top of the set and converts the incoming Digital information into something customers can view on their screen. It’s that simple.

Folks, if you really believe that, then Telewest Active Digital is not the only thing around here that’s “simple”. Come on Tony, weave your magic and get 750Mbit to each UK citizen as of right. The Queen’s Superhighway beckons, so nationalise the process if you have to – we don’t have time to dither about any longer.