HC Deb 15 May 1996 vol 277 cc933-4
4. Mr. Batiste

To ask the President of the Board of Trade what steps he is taking to promote the use of the Internet in the United Kingdom. [28359]

Mr. John M. Taylor

My Department is involved in a range of initiatives helping users to gain business benefit from electronic networking, including the Internet.

Mr. Batiste

Can my hon. Friend confirm that it is important to British industry that school leavers should be familiar with the Internet? Can he further confirm that cable companies, such as Bell Cable Media in Leeds, already offer schools free connection to the Internet and, on top of that, a valuable package of services without charge? Does that not demonstrate the utter sham of the sweetheart deal between the Labour party and British Telecom, a deal that undermines competition and gives nothing to the British public?

Mr. Taylor

I completely agree with my hon. Friend about the deceitful sham and I confirm both the points that he made about the excellent promoters of cable, particularly in his constituency. I also confirm that a number of companies are already offering schools free access to the Internet. We do not propose to reverse our consistent policy preventing BT from broadcasting over its existing national network. Yes, the cable companies are doing it free. That should be welcomed.

Mr. Hoon

If the Minister is so keen to promote the use of the Internet, what steps does he propose to take to ensure that all Internet service providers enjoy access to the network on consistent terms and conditions? In particular, does he agree with Oftel's recent consultation document, "Promoting competition in services over telecommunication networks", which says that Internet's services should be reclassified as systems business?

Mr. Taylor

The information society initiative, launched by my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, is illustrative of the Government's attitude to these fast-moving developments. The Government are not being interventionist—nor should we be—but we are helping new and inexperienced users, such as small firms, and we have expressed our total approval of the developments in schools.

Mr. Waller

What backing is the Department giving to the information society initiative, promoting the use of communications technology? What response have the Government received from industry?

Mr. Taylor

Two pilot schemes are running in Manchester and in Harlow. The Government have committed £35 million in new funding, and we are encouraging smaller users in particular to see the great commercial advantages that are available to them and to their businesses from the Internet. A clear trend is emerging from the Internet. Its commercial application makes it buoyant, and the level of participation will continue to rise.