The future of the Internet lies in mobile and digital TV rather than PCs and fixed line access, according to the UK's e-Minister, Patricia Hewitt.
Speaking exclusively to ZDNet News on Friday, Hewitt claims current fixed line Internet costs are "still too high", and that the real Internet revolution will start when mobiles and TVs get wired. She reasserts Chancellor Gordon Brown's promise to halve Internet costs by 2002, claiming "we will get there, and we will get there fast".
Hewitt predicts that new technologies, including satellite and cable TV, will eclipse traditional computer access in the future. "What will make the real difference is when we move from PCs as the main means of Internet access to WAP phones, third-generation phones and digital TVs," she said. "In these areas, we are ahead of the US, which gives us a chance to be in the lead."
Throwing down a challenge to BT, Hewitt warned that new technologies were snapping at the telco's heels. "If you look at BT's latest results, you will see the effect of competition that already exists," she said. "Digital TV and mobile telephony are already in the here and now, bringing the Internet to millions of people who are never going to have a computer."
Competition in the cable industry is an example of regulation done right, according to Hewitt. When cable franchises were handed out, BT was not allowed to carry entertainment down the telephone line in order to create an alternative to its dominance of the local loop. "BT was deliberately restricted in order to create a new source of competition, and cable TV has taken off in a big way," she added.
The down side, Hewitt says, is slow rollout of DSL. "BT would make the argument that if it had been allowed to deliver television down the local loop, then it would have rolled out ADSL much earlier because it would be commercially viable," she said. "The reason they weren't allowed to do it was because cable companies would have been killed before they were even born."
This will not be the case for much longer -- BT is due to have its broadcast licence restriction reviewed in July 2001.