Tony Blair launched a revitalised campaign to boost Internet use in Britain Monday, with plans to close the "digital divide", boost e-commerce and get the government online.
The PM announced UK Online in a speech to business leaders in Leicester, revealing a raft of new initiatives to increase Internet use in Britain and support the country's IT industry. "Its goal is to get the UK online," Blair said of the campaign. "With universal access to the Internet and all Government services on the Net."
The Prime Minister nevertheless claimed success for his government's much-hyped intention to make the UK a centre for global e-commerce but warned that this should not lead to complacency. "There is a revolution in our economy. A fundamental change, not a dot.com fad, but a real transformation towards a knowledge economy."
The UK Online campaign includes a pledge to inject £1bn over the next three years into providing all government services online by 2005 along with a new Performance and Innovation Unit to oversee this transition.
The government also intends to slash the cost of adult information technology courses by 80 percent and to provide free IT courses to the unemployed. Ten million pounds this year and a further £15m next are to be set aside for helping companies exploit opportunities in e-commerce.
Also announced Monday are the first 600 of a planned 6000 centres designed to provide Internet access to poorer sections of the community.
The new initiatives will go some way towards pacifying a business community that, according to recent research, has become frustrated with the government's approach to e-commerce. A study from the World Internet Forum in May, indicated that 93 percent of business felt the government was failing to communicate effectively with business on e-commerce issues. Figures from the Office of National Statistics in July suggested the poorest areas of Britain are becoming increasingly isolated in terms of Internet access.
Monday's announcement also comes just a week after a government commissioned study indicated that nearly all schools in Britain enjoy some sort of Internet connectivity.
The campaign has received the backing of numerous industry heavyweights including Microsoft, BT, the BBC and the Royal Bank of Scotland. E-minister Patricia Hewitt, said that the involvement of these companies would prove crucial to the success of the campaign. "They are already making invaluable contributions: raising awareness of opportunities; opening up their in-house IT facilities to the local community; building the self-regulatory systems which will help global e-commerce markets work better."
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