Introduction: E-envoy on a wired Britain

New e-envoy talks out on immature ISPs, whingeing telcos and why he thinks he will be out of a job by 2005

Andrew Pinder was appointed to the job of e-envoy last month, following the resignation of Tony Blair's favourite, Alex Allan. He has a tough job on his hands, convincing businesses of the importance of e-commerce, getting universal Internet access across the UK by 2005 and making sure the government has all of its services available online by then.

Pinder does not underestimate the toughness of the job he temporarily took in the autumn. Universal access is going to be the "toughest nut" to crack, he says, admitting that prices will have to come down if there is to be widespread use of the Internet. "People have cause to complain about the price of off-peak access and certainly have cause to complain about the price of broadband," he says.

He claims the government will be announcing new ways of extending the reach of high-speed Internet platforms as part of its broadband strategy due to be announced this month, but he declines to go into detail. Pinder does not see the current situation with unbundling of the local loop as a crisis, describing telcos' complaints about the process as "self-interested whingeing". He believes that the government's job is more about proving a good business case for broadband rather than intervention or subsidising services.

Pinder admits that a digital divide already exists in the UK. Living in the countryside, he is also concerned that rural citizens should not be disenfrachised from the push to wire the nation. Pinder is hopeful that the government's "UKonline" project -- designed to provide public Internet access kiosks, give away PCs to deprived families and provide skills -- will help and he is convinced that his role will no longer be necessary by 2005.

ISPs come in for criticism from the e-envoy. He claims they have moaned about the government's controversial online snooping plans (the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act), but have failed to get involved in the process for implementing it sensibly. He urges them to get involved or be left in the cold.

"[ISPs need] to act as grown-ups and come in and help us make sure this thing [RIP] is right because if they don't do that the next time they whinge about something government is doing people will not take as much notice of them and it will be harder for them to get concessions," he warns.

Read the full interview with Andrew Pinder

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