Eye2Eye: E-envoy on a wired Britain Pt II

New e-envoy talks about the future of UKonline and the unbundling 'crisis'

How much of government is currently online?

Forty percent of government sites are online now but they are primarily information services. We need to get some transactions online. We want them to be secure so the government provides a technical infrastructure for secure transactions and UKonline is one of the first sites in Britain and indeed the world to be taking digital certificates. From this month farmers will be able to file their common agricultural returns online, tax returns, VAT returns and you will see a lot of services like that over the year.

The Inland Revenue has a similar service. Is that held up as a flagship service?

No, of course not, and I don't think the Inland Revenue would hold it up either. The Inland Revenue are trying very hard to get services online and have some very creative ideas about it. The Inland Revenue's IT director John Yard would be the first to admit that this one has not been a success. The reason for this is they tried to be too clever. People spent a lot of time filling in tax forms online only to have them rejected and that would include me and it included John. So next time they are going to be trying quite a lot harder and he is confident that it will be used by an awful lot more people.

It's a fair cop, of course it is not one we would hold up. Ten out of ten for effort. But they are learning.

It is obviously doing to be a hard slog getting services online by 2005. Are you going to have criteria for what it means to be electronic and how would you respond to critics who say you will just pay lip service to electronic delivery?

I would challenge that. We are not going to be setting lots and lots of rules and regulations. That is just too bureaucratic. If it is easier to use than doing it on paper then that for me is a good [criterion].

How did you respond to the Forrester report in which 87 percent of technology firms claimed you would fail to get services online by 2005?

The Forrester report didn't add to my thinking and didn't add to anyone's knowledge and to a large extent didn't really reflect what was happening in government. I thought the research was thin.

What are your thoughts about the local loop unbundling crisis and the large amount of operators who are withdrawing from it?

Crisis? What crisis. There have been a small number of operators withdrawing from the process and I don't know the details of why. What I do know is the process of building national broadband communications is a big boy's game and clearly there are benefits in using the existing infrastructure that BT has in place. Clearly BT has been slower than people wanted in opening up its local loop. Government is well aware of that. David Edmonds is on the case and is pushing BT very hard.

Clearly the cable companies and the telecom companies have got an interest in expressing just how hard that is. Our job is to make sure we do what we can to get BT to cooperate and to do what we can to stimulate demand for broadband and make sure the commercial case for spending these large sums of money and getting these networks out there is good. Some of what has been going on in the last week or two has been self-interested pleading.

What can specifically be done to break BT's monopoly of local phone lines?

BT hasn't got a monopoly of the local phone lines. [It is] also opening them up and it is a process that will take some time. It may not be in the timescale many of us want and we are trying to get that timescale changed but we actually have got the most competitive telecoms market in Europe. It is not as competitive as people want, largely because there is an incumbent provider out there with a hell of a lot of infrastructure that people want to use but it has been persuaded to open it up.

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