Foot and mouth boosts online traffic

A massive hike in the number of people logging on to government sites for information illustrates the growing importance of the Internet

The foot and mouth outbreak has created huge traffic for government Web sites, with nearly half a million Britons turning to the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries (MAFF) Web site in March, according to a new report from Internet research company Jupiter MMXI.

The research reveals the government's success at getting Britons online in the midst of a crisis. Just over three percent of the UK's online population went to the MAFF site last month looking for information on the spread of the disease, affected areas across the UK, messages from ministers and updates on how the crisis is being dealt with.

In total, nearly four million Britons logged onto government sites in March. The government's online services portal, open.gov.uk, additionally received 372,000 visitors.

"Over the last three months, government sites have increased steadily in terms of reach, but we have never seen a site come from nowhere before," said Dominick Addison, UK marketing manager for Jupiter MMXI.

In September, Tony Blair launched a revitalised campaign to boost Internet use in Britain and get all government services on the Net. A £1bn cash sum has been set aside for the next three years to ensure that all government services are online by 2005.

"The government has been on a push to expose itself as an online government and promote Internet access in the UK," said Addison. "The first time we witnessed this was during the launch of the e-envoy site and the open government portal."

March saw the unveiling of the Government Gateway, a site that lets people pay taxes, and farmers apply for subsidies, online. Eventually, the project will let citizens access all government services with a single password rather than having to set up separate online profiles with each office.

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