New e-commerce minister is broadband believer

Stephen Timms thinks government is the catalyst that can drive new technology and telecommunications in Britain - and he's now got the chance to make it really work

Stephen Timms MP, appointed as the UK's e-commerce minister on Wednesday, has a long track record when it comes to issues such as high-speed Internet services. Unlike his predecessor Douglas Alexander, whom few in the technology sector had heard of when he took on the role in June 2001, Timms has been involved in IT for some 20 years, and believes that the government must play a key role in supporting the high-tech sector. Before entering parliament, Timms worked for analyst group Ovum and managed their telecommunications reports business. He has also been employed at Logica. Since becoming a Labour MP through a by-election in 1994, Timms has repeatedly spoken about the importance of broadband to the UK, and has served as the honorary president of the Parliamentary Information Technology Committee. Almost eight years ago he slammed the Conservative government for its failure to help the rollout of high-speed data networks in Britain, which he insisted were vital for the provision of new telecommunications services. "There is enormous activity worldwide in that area, but it is remarkable that, as far as one can ascertain, our government are doing nothing to promote the deployment of those new communications technologies in Britain," claimed Timms, speaking in a House of Commons debate in 1994. In that speech, Timms outlined a vision in which the government would act as a catalyst, bringing the public and private sectors together to work in partnership to encourage the rollout of high-speed networks. "I am not asking the government to invest billions and billions of pounds in an information infrastructure -- that will not happen, and it does not need to -- but we desperately need from the government some vision, leadership and the willingness to act as a catalyst to bring together the partners who together can create the innovations that we need. So far, all that we have had is silence," Timms said. Broadband challenges
The current situation is not too far from the position laid out by Timms back in 1994. The Broadband Stakeholders Group, set up in 2001, is a forum bringing together suppliers of broadband infrastructure, services and content, and their customers, from both the private and public sectors. There is still much still to be done in improving the rollout of technology such as ADSL -- which covers just over 60 percent of the population. As minister of state for e-commerce and competitiveness, Timms is responsible for the day-to-day control of the e-commerce agenda, but it is broadband for which he is likely to be most criticised, or praised.

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