IT Forum: Europe can be No. 1 in e-commerce

Internet gurus say Europe can be e-commerce king, if it plays its cards right.

The European IT Forum began today in Paris with speakers flagging a number of problems Europe must overcome if it is to become the largest market for e-commerce by 2003. Metered telephone billing was again attacked for hobbling Europe.

Frank Gens, senior VP of Internet research at IDC, told delegates this morning that Europe is traditionally seen as being one to two years behind the US, but has the potential to lead the US by the same margin if it successfully exploits the advantages of the single market.

Gens told the Forum that currently no country has more than 40 percent of its population online, but by 2003 there will be 14 countries with over 40 percent of its population online, and many of them will be in Europe. Several speakers reiterated the view that the world was just at the beginning of the e-commerce boom.

For e-Europe to succeed some specific problems need to be overcome and Professor Nicholas Negroponte, Director of the Media Lab at MIT, urged European governments to do something about phone pricing. "Metered billing is the killer... If you do just one thing, stop the metered billing". Negroponte argued that telcos would not necessarily lose money by moving to the flat fee system the US employs. "They may make more," he said.

Investment funding was also highlighted as a problem for European e-commerce entrepreneurs. Investment levels in Europe are far lower than in the US. Negroponte flagged the particular problems faced by young Internet startups in Europe. "They [Europeans] have to go through hell... Media Lab graduates can get funding in 24 hours," he said.

Take me to the e-commerce special.