Agenda for Action in the UK:  Continued


3.1 The importance of being able to learn from other countries' lessons in developing Information Superhighways projects and activities has been underlined by the establishment of the G7 Global Inventory Project, being led by the European Commission. In the United Kingdom the national inventory is being developed by the Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency (CCTA). Its professed aim is to "allow contacts to be established amongst the Information Superhighway community, to facilitate the exchange of information and experience, to avoid unnecessary duplication of work and to promote the development of UK information areas".[1] Australia, Canada, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States also have a national inventory on the Internet. Until recently the Internet has been driven largely by North American and Western European interests. At the end of 1995 97 per cent of its users were based in the high-income countries which account for only 15 per cent of the world's population. This pattern is changing, however, and in October 1995 Internet connectivity was directly available in 96 economies world-wide and indirectly in 77 other countries.[2]


3.2 The Internet started in 1969 as a research project by the US Defense Department's Advanced Research Projects Agency to allow its researchers to share computer resources. The network was then known as the ARPANET and was first demonstrated to the public at the first International Conference on Computer Communications in 1972, by which point 37 computers were connected. ARPANET continued to grow and in 1983 the military part of the network was separated off to create MILNET. The resulting system of networks became collectively known as the Internet. In 1986 the US National Science Federation (NSF) launched a plan to create a network linking its researchers to its supercomputer centres. The scope of the National Science Foundation Network (NSFNET) was widened to include the whole education community in 1987, and went on-line in 1988. NSFNET has continued to grow and has since been connected to networks introduced by NASA (NSINET) and the US Department of Energy (ESNET).[3]

3.3 In developing a unified and highly-articulated vision of a National Information Infrastructure (NII) as one of the key themes of the Clinton Presidency, the United States has positioned itself as the world leader of the Information Superhighways of the future. At present the United States enjoys dominant global positions both in the development of a NII and in the industries supporting it, from equipment provision, through service and network provision to content, and this is starting to have a pervasive effect both on the US society and its economy.

3.4 In September 1993 the US Administration published its Agenda for Action. This stated that the private sector would lead the deployment of the NII, but that the government had an essential role to play, in particular by complementing and enhancing the benefits of private sector initiatives. The Agenda for Action set out nine guiding principles and goals, as follows:

    (i) "Promote private sector investment, through tax and regulatory policies that encourage innovation and promote long-term investment, as well as wise procurement of services.

    (ii) Extend the "universal service" concept to ensure that information resources are available to all at affordable prices. Because information means empowerment, the government has a duty to ensure that all Americans have access to the resources of the Information Age.

    (iii) Act as catalyst to promote technological innovation and new applications. Commit important government research programmes and grants to help the private sector develop and demonstrate technologies needed for the NII.

    (iv) Promote seamless, interactive, user-driven operation of the NII. As the NII evolves into a "network of networks", government will ensure that users can transfer information across networks easily and efficiently.

    (v) Ensure information security and network reliability. The NII must be trustworthy and secure, protecting the privacy of its users. Government action will also aim to ensure that the overall system remains reliable, quickly repairable in the event of a failure and, perhaps most importantly, easy to use.

    (vi) Improve management of the radio frequency spectrum, an increasingly critical resource.

    (vii) Protect intellectual property rights. The Administration will investigate how to strengthen domestic copyright laws and international intellectual property treaties to prevent piracy and to protect the integrity of intellectual property.

    (viii) Coordinate with other levels of government and with other nations. Because information crosses state, regional and national boundaries, coordination is important to avoid unnecessary obstacles and to prevent unfair policies that handicap US industry.

    (ix) Provide access to government information and improve government procurement. As described in the National Performance Review, the Administration will seek to ensure that Federal agencies, in concert with state and local governments, use the NII to expand the information available to the public, so that the immense reservoir of government information is available to the public easily and equitably. Additionally, Federal procurement policies for telecommunications and information services and equipment will be designed to promote important technical developments for the NII and to provide attractive incentives for the private sector to contribute to NII development."

3.5 The White House formed the Information Infrastructure Task Force (IITF) to articulate and implement the Administration's vision for the NII. The Task Force consists of senior representatives of the Federal agencies which play a major role in the development and application of information and telecommunications technologies. Its Fact Sheet states: "working together with the private sector, the participating agencies will develop comprehensive technology, telecommunications, and information policies and promote applications that best meet the needs of both the agencies and the country. By helping build consensus on difficult policy issues, the IITF will enable agencies to make and implement policy more quickly and effectively." The Task Force operates under the aegis of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the National Economic Council. IITF Committees have been established on Telecommunications Policy, Information Policy and Applications and Technology.[4]

3.6 The National Information Infrastructure Advisory Council (NIIAC) was established by President Clinton in 1993. It had 36 members, appointed by the Secretary of Commerce, including representatives of private industry; state and local governments; community, public interest, education and labour groups; creators and distributors of content; privacy and security advocates; and leading experts in NII-related fields. The NIIAC focused on defining the roles of the public and private sectors in building the NII; protecting intellectual property while serving user needs; generating strategies for developing applications in commerce, manufacturing, education, health care, government information and services, and public safety; maximising connectivity of networks; and issues of security. Documents released by the NIIAC include the KickStart Initiative, which provides a blueprint for bringing technology's full benefits to schools, libraries and community centres, and A Nation of Opportunity.[5]

3.7 The National Information Infrastructure Virtual Library Home Page[6] has three purposes; to serve as the US entry point for the G7 Global Inventory Project; to help the public understand the benefits of the NII, demonstrating what is possible today, how it works and how it is evolving; and to collect and disseminate information about product development, research efforts and partnerships for NII-related developers. It includes a collection of online NII-related reports, over 1,200 links to other NII-related sites, examples of online government services information, links to academic and industry NII servers, an inventory of activities related to NII applications and links to standards activities.

3.8 The economic benefits of an accelerated deployment of an effective NII have been estimated in the US "Agenda for Action" as enabling productivity to increase by 20-40 per cent by the year 2007, resulting in an increased GDP of 194 to 321 billion US$. Sophisticated infrastructure has also helped to attract new businesses to particular locations, as has been the case in North Carolina, where the local Information Network has helped to attract high-tech companies to that State.[7]

3.9 The US Government has emphasised the job creation prospects offered by the Information Superhighways, and the benefits which they can offer the ordinary citizen. One example of this policy is the provision of Internet access to America's Job Bank (AJB), whose computerised network links the 1,800 state Employment Service offices. AJB "provides job seekers with the largest pool of active job opportunities available anywhere. For employers it provides rapid, national exposure for job openings. The `nationwide' listings in America's Job Bank contain information on approximately 250,000 jobs. There is no charge either to employers who list their job vacancies nor to job seekers who use the service.[8] In June 1995 the US Government set up a freephone number to answer citizens' questions about the NII initiative. This is part of a public education campaign to urge Americans to "Get Connected to the Information Age."[9]

3.10 The USA has the most successful electronic information industry in the world. Under the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 government agencies are restricted from regulating the use, resale or re-dissemination of public information or the levying of user fees that exceed the distribution cost (p 286). The USA has in the past used R&D funding to help develop the world's major online hosts (notably those known originally as DIALOG and ORBIT). In February 1995 the IITF published a policy document entitled The Global Information Infrastructure: Agenda for Cooperation. This document recognised that technological and regulatory choices made in one country can affect those made in neighbouring countries, creating a multiplier effect for the development of the Global Information Infrastructure. The US Government proposed five core principles to help guide this development: private investment, competition, open access, a flexible regulatory environment, and universal service. The US telecommunications industry is, however, considerably less open to competition than is the case in the UK.[10]

3.11 M Robert Verrue, Director General of European Commission DGXIII, said that there were two main lessons which the EU could learn from the American experience in addition to the US policy of deregulating its telecoms industry. First, "on quite a number of legislative issues the Americans have ... for quite some time ... accepted a fairly strong responsibility at the federal level". This had created a situation in which "the legal and regulatory environment is less diversified and perhaps more predictable for economic operators". Second, the US had a dynamic sector of new firms in content and new programme management. The structure of the small business capital market, in particular venture capital, was a major advantage to American companies (Q 650).

3.12 The Agenda for Action is perhaps not so target driven as the Information Superhighway initiatives adopted by some other countries, such as Japan. But it does contain target dates for the administrative changes needed, and exudes a sense of purpose and urgency: "the time for action is now".[11]


3.13 As a result of Canada's large size and dispersed population its communications infrastructure is very important, and is already well developed. Ninety-nine per cent of households have telephones and 75 per cent have cable connections (Q 806). In Canada the 1994 Speech from the Throne led to the establishment of the Information Highway Advisory Council (IHAC) in March 1994. The 29-member Council was appointed by the Minister of Industry, and included representatives of a wide range of organisations and interests involved in the development and use of information technology and addressed a broad range of issues dealing with the economic, social and cultural impacts of advanced communications and information technologies.[12]

3.14 In May 1996 the Canadian Government published its response to IHAC's final report. Building the Information Society highlights four main tasks for Government. The first is to create a policy and regulatory environment which encourages industry to build Canada's information highway. This is to include a comprehensive policy on the convergence of the telecommunications and broadcasting industries to allow them to offer competing services in local markets. Second, the Government is committed to increasing Canadian content on the Information Highway, for example by continuing the process of digitizing the large collections of libraries, museums and galleries with the aim of making them available to Canadians nationwide. The third task is to realise the Information Highway's economic and social benefits, including the development of "a national access strategy involving policy, regulatory and other measures to ensure affordable access by all Canadians to essential communications services", and reviewing the Canada Labour Code to ensure that Canadian workers continue to enjoy appropriate protection in the emerging information highway workplace. Finally, the Canadian priorities for "Getting Government Right" are taking the required steps to ensure that electronic commerce becomes the preferred means for the federal government to conduct its business; introducing a common electronic infrastructure within federal government departments and agencies to permit seamless public access to government services and programmes; implementing government-wide security services such as key management and electronic authorization and identification; and developing, in co-operation with United States agencies, intelligent transportation border crossing systems to accelerate customs and immigration processing at border stations.[13]

3.15 The Canadian Network for Research, Industry and Education (CANARIE) is similar to SuperJANET, except that CANARIE includes industry as well as education. There is a heavily-funded SchoolNet initiative to provide all Canadian schools with Internet access. Most public libraries have terminals with Internet access and as in the USA, there are FreeNets, community networks with local corporate sponsors (QQ 806, 813-816, 829).

New Brunswick

3.16 The information highway in the Canadian province of New Brunswick is particularly well advanced, and is believed to have attracted some 3,300 new jobs over a five-year period. On 1 May 1995 the New Brunswick Minister of State for the Electronic Information Highway said that "while efforts in other parts of the world are being focused on setting up an infrastructure to support the heavy traffic on the information highway, New Brunswick already has a fully operational infrastructure, and we are working actively to introduce new applications."[14]

3.17 The revised mandate of New Brunswick's Information Highway Secretariat has seven headings; "(1) to create in New Brunswick a truly information technology-friendly society; (2) to ensure that our technology infrastructure is world class; (3) to promote the evolution of call centres and attract new IT investment; (4) to grow the New Brunswick information technology sector; (5) to ensure an appropriate regulatory environment; (6) to ensure that the Province has the required human resource development to attain these goals; (7) to ensure balance in the accessibility of technology infrastructure throughout the Province."

3.18 The Information Highway Secretariat aims to "develop and implement a long-term public advocacy program to promote the advantages and opportunities offered by the information highway for all New Brunswickers." It has a planned work programme, including work with the Federal Government and community groups to provide public access to, and training for, the Internet, with emphasis on rural New Brunswick. Six pilot access points were developed in 1995, 30 more communities are targeted for 1996 and a further 40 in 1997. The NetLearn project is working with educational institutions, libraries, rural and community groups to develop New Brunswick content in both official languages and make that content accessible in every community by 1998.[15]


3.19 In February 1996 14.7 per cent of Japanese households had personal computers. This level, which is low in comparison with the USA, is expected to rise to 21.6 per cent by 1997. The ratio of modem users (not holders) among all PC holders is 12.9 per cent. 44 per cent of PCs, including those for business use, are networked. Modems are not widely used at home, because taking out a new telephone line costs about £500. In January 1996 the total number of Internet hosts in Japan was 269,327, 2.84 per cent of the world total of 9,472,224. The number of Internet hosts per 1,000 population was 2.2. According to the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications (MPT) the biggest reason for the low level of Internet use in Japan is the language barrier presented by English being the common language of the Internet. There are comparatively few Japanese home pages, services and databases, and the high commission fee charged by Internet service providers and the limited information available on the Internet in Japanese are further discouraging factors.

3.20 The Advanced Information and Telecommunications Society Promotion Headquarters was launched in 1994. It is chaired by the Prime Minister with the participation of all cabinet Ministers, and meets every two months. In terms of regulations, there is no barrier to new service providers. Companies have simply to notify MPT of a new service, rather than having to apply for a licence.[16] The Japanese Government is committed to a vision of broadband cable covering 20 per cent of the country by 2000 and 100 per cent by 2010 (Q 313).


3.21 Singapore National Computer Board's[17] IT2000 Vision of An Intelligent Island was published in March 1992 after a study covering the eleven major economic sectors of Singapore. The IT2000 masterplan "aims to transform Singapore into an Intelligent Island, where the use of information technology is pervasive in every aspect of its society--  at work, home and play. Singaporeans will be able to tap into a vast well of electronically stored information and services which they can use to their best ends--  to improve their business, to make their work easier and to enhance their personal and social lives. Singapore, the Intelligent Island, will be a global centre for science and technology, a high-value location for production and a critical node in global networks of commerce, communications and information."

3.22 Singapore aims to be among the first countries in the world with an advanced nationwide information infrastructure in place by 2010. This infrastructure "will interconnect computers in virtually every home, office, school, and factory. The computer will evolve into an information appliance, combining the functions of the telephone, computer, TV and more." The National IT Committee is chaired by the Minister for the Environment and Second Minister for Defence, with the Deputy Prime Minister as its Adviser. Its 13 members include the Chairman of Singapore Broadcasting Authority, the President of Singapore Telecom and the Chairman of Singapore International Media, in addition to academics and government officials.[18]

3.23 The NCB works closely with the public sector to "re-engineer government processes and exploit IT to bring about new levels of efficiency and productivity."[19] The IT2000 Report stated that "the full economic and social impact of government information systems are being realised through very significant productivity improvement, the increasing availability of government database services to the public and the provision of one-stop services in government departments. An audit done in 1988 showed that the CSCP[20] had reduced or avoided the need for some 5,000 posts in the government. In addition, the government obtained a return of $2.71 for every dollar spent on IT in the CSCP[21]."

3.24 In June 1996 Singapore's Minister for Communications announced the development of a multimedia broadband network to be called Singapore ONE.[22] Phase 1 of this project is planned to run from 1996 to 2001 and to result in the deployment of a core broadband network with a number of services and applications focusing on government, education, home and businesses. In the area of government applications the objective is to bring public services closer to the people through full-function distributed government offices using video-conferencing and interactive technology. These virtual government offices, which can be reached through interactive kiosks, will enable users to carry out multiple transactions like applying for various permits or paying bills. "What distinguishes this system from present telephone enquiry or transaction is its ability to allow visual response as well ... In the pilot phase, these one-stop government offices will be located at high human traffic areas ... Users will be able to interact live with government services representatives without having to physically visit their offices. Eventually such services could be brought to the home."[23]


3.25 The European Commission has been very active in promoting the idea and development of the Information Society.[24] The Bangemann Report on Europe and the Global Information Society highlighted 10 applications which might launch the widespread development and use of a European superhighway:

    Teleworking; distance learning and continuing professional development; telematic services for small and mediumsized companies (e.g. video conferencing and electronic mail); road traffic management; air traffic control; health care networks to link all General Practitioners, hospitals and social centres; electronic tendering; a transEuropean public administration network; and city information highways supplying video on demand, home banking and teleshopping.

The summary of recommendations in the Bangemann Report now forms the basis of an EU `Action Plan for the Information Society'.

3.26 The above applications are equally applicable to the United Kingdom on a national basis as for the European Union (EU) in general. Each of the applications takes advantage of the fact that the information provided over the information superhighway can always be the most up to date that is available; decisions can thus be made in realtime, and new developments can be exploited by a larger audience without the lengthy delays sometimes encountered with traditional media. The report suggested that if regional administrative bodies or other organisations were encouraged to participate in these applications then they would soon attract the critical user mass necessary for them to be seen as viable, and this in turn would bring private sector investment to extend their availability. Government subsidies and additional public expenditure were not thought to be necessary: instead, existing resources, such as those funds allocated in the Framework Programme, could be refocused.

3.27 A European version of ISDN (EUROISDN) was seen as the first step towards a standardised broadband superhighway across Europe, and the Bangemann Report called for an extension of access to this network as a priority. The Report also recommended a review of the European standardisation process and regulatory frameworks. Standardisation policies should ensure that all parts of the infrastructure, and all services offered on it, are compatible. To this end it was suggested that the EU standards bodies establish priorities based on market requirements, and identify and adopt standard specifications that the market had originated. A similar conclusion was drawn at the G7 Information Society Conference held in Brussels in February 1995.

3.28 The Commission's immediate aim is to achieve the complete liberalisation, including legislative and regulatory reform, of the telecommunications sector in all 15 EU Member States by 1 January 1998. Among the key Directives under discussion at present are those on Licensing, Interconnection, the revision of the Open Network Provision framework and on Telecommunication Terminals and Equipment (QQ 646, 653). The Commission has also been particularly active in the area of intellectual copyright and copyright-related issues (QQ 644-645), discussion of the definition of universal service (Q 653) and in the organisation of digital signatures on a harmonised basis within the EU and the setting up of a system of so-called Trusted Third Party Services (Q 653).[25] It has also promoted attempts to stimulate the content industry in Western Europe (Q 648).

3.29 One of the programmes run by the Commission is INFO 2000. This is a programme to stimulate the development of a Europe wide multimedia industry, with a focus on information content suppliers. Funding is available for projects in the field of geographic information, Europe's cultural heritage, and scientific, technical and medical information. There is a total budget of £55,000,000 for a four year programme starting in 1996.


3.30 In France Minitel terminals were given free to households in the 1980s. In October 1995 the Minister responsible for telecommunications, M François Fillon, announced that there should be a gradual move from Minitel terminals to multimedia, although an intermediate stage would be necessary when PCs, television and Minitel would all be in use. The French experience of using Minitel terminals could, however, be seen as an advantage as it had enabled most people to use a keyboard and screen to obtain information electronically. 1.2 million households in France have used Minitel regularly to buy things, compared with only 800,000 American households who have bought items via computer. Compared with the UK and the US, however, France has a low level of home computers.

3.31 In March 1996 the Minister announced that telephone tariffs would be changed so that everyone, throughout France, would be able to access the Internet for the price of a local call. 244 public interest pilot projects are being undertaken, and local authorities are active partners in more than a quarter of these. A help-line has been established for project participants to give them access to technical expertise. The telecommunications Ministry will set up a group to evaluate the experimental projects, with membership drawn from regional and industrial representatives as well as parliamentarians and professionals. The Minister also announced that within two years all Ministries would make Government information available in French on the Internet.

3.32 The French Government is keen to promote a French language presence in multimedia services. INRIA (Institut National de Recherche en Informatique et en Automatique) played a leading role in the development of the Internet, and remains active in Internet standards activities. INRIA is the only European partner in the WorldWideWeb. The Ministry of Culture has large databases accessible on-line including one on museums with 120,000 pages of text and images. The Louvre has its own separate Internet server. The Government is also keen to promote Internet use in schools. 700 educational establishments in 13 regional education authorities will be provided with connections to the Internet by the end of 1996, and secondary schools will be given cut price access to the France Telecom digital network. Major Government-funded projects will include provision of computers to schools and the development of on-line educational services.

3.33 By the year 2000 sales of goods via electronic means are expected to reach 20 billion francs (£2.5 billion) and to create thousands of jobs in marketing, the logistics of distance selling, payment mechanisms, security aspects and data exchange. The French Government attaches importance to the development of an appropriate cryptography regime.

3.34 The French Government has placed an obligation on Internet access providers to provide software for their clients which will enable them to block access to certain services while, at the same time, exonerating their responsibility under the law. The telecommunications law passed in June 1996 put in place a new committee, Comité Supérieur de la Télématique, to draw up recommendations on controlling material on the Internet. This law also included a decision to abolish the monopoly position of France Telecom from January 1998. The Minister for Telecommunications has said that if France had the tariffs of British Telecom the average French household telephone bill would be reduced by more than 30 per cent.[26]


3.35 In Germany the Council for Research, Technology and Innovation has been charged with the task of providing a comprehensive overview of applications, problem areas and spheres of activity in important fields of innovation and with making recommendations for action. Its deliberations take place on an inter-disciplinary and interdepartmental basis. The Federal Ministers for Research and Technology, for Economics and for Education and Science are permanent members. The Council met for the first time on 22 March 1995, when it was decided that "The Information Society" should be the first topic to be handled. Work included three working groups on "Research, Technology, Applications", "Legal Framework" and "Social and Cultural Challenges", and the Council reported in December 1995.

3.36 The Council's Report, The Information Society: Opportunities, Innovations and Challenges,[27] identified the following application fields as requiring particularly urgent action:

    --  industry and the service sector: an increase in productivity,

    --  private households: meeting the communication needs of the public; making access to information easier for everybody,

    --  education: creating powerful telesystems and software for research and education,

    --  public administration: increasing efficiency, flexibility and user-friendliness of services,

    --  telemedicine: improving health care including preventive health care, and

    --  telematics for traffic control: guaranteeing mobility by ensuring a safe, economical and environmentally-friendly flow of traffic.

3.37 In private households in Germany there are some 15 million cable TV connections and 8 million satellite receivers. In addition there are already more than 6 million PCs, but only about one million are attached to a telecommunications network. The report suggested that "private households can be the training ground for the information and communication technologies that will be required as interactive services in telecommuting and in telecooperation at work."[28] In discussing the possible benefits of "telecommuting", which it is estimated will affect 800,000 jobs after the year 2000, the report suggests that "on an overall economic and ecological scale, 800,000 telecommuters would mean a substantial reduction of road traffic (by saving around 3.2 billion motor vehicle-km per year)."[29]

3.38 The report emphasised the importance of educational applications. "The education sector ... has the task of preparing people for life with the new technologies and to provide individuals with the skill to handle these media thus enabling them to work with the new plethora of information originating from many different cultures in an active and responsible way. The competitiveness of Germany ultimately depends on how quickly and how effectively the separate institutions within the education system are enabled to meet these challenges." The report found that "in Germany the relevant technology and infrastructure (such as high-speed networks) is not as highly developed as in the USA and many neighbouring European countries, such as the Netherlands and the UK ... Germany's current deficit as regards the relevant infrastructure and provision of education institutions with the new information and communication technologies must be remedied quickly".[30]


3.39 In the United Kingdom, as in Sweden and Finland, the telecommunications market has been liberalised for several years.[31] According to the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), the Government's lead department in this field, the Information Society is already big business in the United Kingdom.

    --  "In 1995, the UK's cable companies alone invested more than £2 billion - that's £6 million a day - in developing infrastructure.

    --  BT has announced a 10 year programme of work to install fibre-optic cabling to bring interactive multimedia services into homes nationwide.

    --  Nearly 3 million personal computers were sold in the UK in 1995.

    --  Over 2 million people in the UK accessed the Internet in the year to August 1995.

    --  And the total market for information and communication technologies in the UK has been estimated at £48 billion per annum."[32]

3.40 The Government has a number of advisory committees to provide advice on policy making in this area, in particular, the DTI's Multimedia Industry Advisory Group, established in 1994. The term "Multimedia" is slightly misleading in this context, as their interest is far broader than the technology traditionally associated with multimedia, i.e., CD ROM, CD-I[33] and other stand alone discs for delivering a mixture of text graphics and audio to a PC. These advisory committees have submitted reports on intellectual property issues, interoperability standards and on opportunities in health and education. The Government's Technology Foresight Programme[34] brings together industry, academics and government in a collaborative effort to identify opportunities in technologies and markets likely to emerge in the next 20 years. Fifteen Technology Foresight Panels have delivered reports on various sectors and the Programme offers funding for innovative industry/academic joint proposals.

3.41 The Information Society Initiative (ISI)[35] was launched by the DTI on 13 February 1996. This is "a four-year programme in which up to £35 million of new money will be invested. It will help United Kingdom businesses to take full advantage of the opportunities offered by new information and communication technologies to boost their competitiveness. This new framework of support and awareness programmes is a partnership between industry and Government, addressed at all who work in manufacturing, service and creative sectors--  particularly small and medium sized companies."[36]; This support will be delivered locally, using 50 local support centres, and through professional and trade associations, and the DTI has produced clear, helpful, and jargon-free literature to promote the initiative. There is also funding available for developing a test bed in digital broadcasting, and other promising areas of technology, such as Virtual Reality, microelectronics design, and bar coding systems are being considered for special funding. Other programmes promote electronic commerce, multimedia in music, neural computing, electronic networking for business intermediaries, and electronic networking for small businesses. At present, the ISI has a heavy emphasis on assisting SMEs, but the longer term plans include studies on, and promotional activities for society as a whole.

3.42 A small Central Information Technology Unit (CITU) was set up by the Deputy Prime Minister in November 1995. CITU's mission is: "To devise a set of strategies and policies which will enable Government to exploit the opportunities provided by information and communications technology in order to provide simple to use, integrated and rationalised services, which are tailored to the needs of businesses and the citizen, and are easily accessible when and where required". A Cabinet Office Press Release[37] announced that "The CITU will take a strategic view of the way IT is used across government, and will ensure that the opportunities IT offers are exploited to maximise efficiency within government and in its dealings with businesses and the citizen. It will also be responsible for ensuring that the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) is used to the full in funding Government IT projects".

3.43 In February 1996 the Prime Minister set up a Ministerial Group on IT, under the Chairmanship of the Deputy Prime Minister. On 3 June he was replaced as Chairman by the Lord Privy Seal, the Rt Hon Viscount Cranborne (Q 1054). Its members are the President of the Board of Trade, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, the Secretary of State for the National Heritage, the Secretary of State for Education and Employment, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Science and Technology. The Committee--  known as GEN 37--  has the following terms of reference: "To identify and take forward significant cross-departmental initiatives to ensure that developments in information technology are exploited to the full in the national interest."

3.44 Although the DTI is the lead Government Department, there is a wide range of activities to support the development and use of the Information Superhighway throughout central and local government. For example, funding has been provided for a local community information project (South Bristol Learning Network), and the Department for Education and Employment (DfEE) has taken initiatives in the use of the Information Superhighway in all levels of education.[38] The DfEE continues to support the maintenance and development of the highly regarded SuperJANET network for higher education, and is developing pilot application projects at primary and secondary levels.

3.45 CITU has been examining the use of Information Technology to "re-engineer government" (Q 1055). The Cambridge Childcare Project, initiated by Anne Campbell MP, provides an example of the potential for "one-stop-shop" terminals in the UK. The service, which is operational in Cambridgeshire as an Internet-based service using free public access points, aims to provide parents with information on childcare, jobs, training and benefits[39] in one convenient and easily accessible place. It has been developed with both public and private sector support, including the Citizens Advice Bureau, CambsTEC and Greater Peterborough Tec, Benefits Agency, the Employment Service, Cambridge Careers Guidance Ltd. and the City and County Councils. A prototype self-service touch-screen kiosk, using sound, graphics and video, has been developed by Andersen Consulting in association with the Cambridge Childcare project. This prototype kiosk makes no distinction between information usually provided by local or national organisations, nor between public, voluntary, or private provision.

3.46 Many government departments have shown enthusiasm for using advanced information technologies as a means of delivering information to the public. A consultation document issued by CCTA (at the time the leading proponent of use of the Internet within Government) in 1994[40] explored the use of the Internet as a means of delivering government reports and other information helpful to citizens. Since 1994 an increasing amount of selected Government information has been made available on the Internet. These include Press releases, texts of speeches, departmental reports, Budget statements, details of new Stationery Office[41] publications and a small--  but rapidly growing--  number of HMSO documents in full text. Initiatives spearheaded by CCTA include the establishment of the Government Information Service to test demand for electronic communication within Government, the pilot Government Telecommunications Network (GTNet) project for direct communication between civil servants and citizens and participation in the EU programme on the interchange of information between administrations. The G7 Ministerial meeting in February 1995[42] resulted in a commitment by participants to wider dissemination of Government material, and the United Kingdom is participating in some of the pilot projects endorsed by the Meeting, such as the Government OnLine project.

3.47 The UK Government is thus supporting the development of the Superhighways through a mixture of local and national initiatives, and through a number of different Departments of State. In some regards, however, its policy is out of step with other countries, for example the lack of a single focal group or Ministry driving the vision of the Information Society forward, and the continued maintenance of Crown Copyright. In the USA and Japan there are plans to link all schools to national twoway broadband infrastructures by the year 2000, but as yet the United Kingdom does not have an equivalent policy.


3.48 The USA has led the way in using the Internet to disseminate information about, and to improve two-way communications with, its parliamentary institutions. The THOMAS Web server[43] is a joint project between the Library of Congress and the University of Massachusetts which went online in January 1995. It includes searchable versions of House of Representatives and Senate bills, searchable summaries of bills and legislative histories of bills and amendments, browsable lists of bills and searchable records of daily proceedings on the Floors of the House and Senate. The next major database to be added will be the full text of Committee reports. Of special interest to this Committee is the fact that the House of Representatives Science Committee, like other House Committees, has its own WWW page.[44] Members of Congress and Senators can be reached by email, and the House of Representatives Home Page includes a heading entitled "Empowering the Citizen--  links to government efforts to improve the government via citizen input". THOMAS has been heavily used by people from all parts of the United States, as well as many foreign countries. Between 6 January and 20 March 1995 there were 294,575 accesses to the THOMAS home page.[45]

3.49 Parliaments in several of the new democracies have been swift to recognise the potential of the Internet. For example, the Parliaments of the Czech Republic, Latvia, Lithuania and Romania all have their own WWW Home Pages. In some cases full text access to acts of parliament and the records of parliamentary debates is already available on-line--  a considerable achievement given the pace and scale of legislative change in these countries.

3.50 Amongst Commonwealth parliaments those of Australia and Canada have been at the forefront in developing their provision of information on the Internet. The Parliament of Australia, with the assistance of the Australian National University, has undertaken a trial to provide information on public access requirements, resources and issues involved in providing public electronic access to parliamentary materials, including Hansard and the Votes and Proceedings of the House of Representatives and the Journals of the Senate. The Parliament of Australia Internet trial did not include parliamentary papers because of their number and size.[46] Most Australian Commonwealth law and Australian Commonwealth regulations in full-text have been made available by the Australasian Legal Information Institute.

3.51 There is a growing interest in the use of the Internet to facilitate inter-parliamentary communications and in setting up a "node page" providing links between the home pages of parliaments either on a Western European basis or, ultimately, worldwide. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has set up the Parliamentary Assembly Network (PA-NET) to facilitate communication between OSCE member Parliaments which are online. It believes that "electronic links between Parliaments will enhance the communication between Members of Parliament, staff members and particularly between Parliaments in transitional states and their counterparts." PA-NET currently provides links to the home pages of over 20 other Parliaments, including Westminster.[47]

The House of Lords

3.52 The Westminster Parliament has not been an "early adopter" of Internet technology either in its use to promote the dissemination of a wide range of parliamentary information both to the UK electorate and worldwide, or in the use of e-mail to facilitate two-way communication and citizens' feedback. "The UK Houses of Parliament's Public WWW Service"[48] provides, inter alia, factsheets about the House of Commons, lists of members of the House of Commons and information about visits to its gallery and about House of Commons business. Although this home page at present makes no mention of the House of Lords, under the heading "weekly information bulletin" information is provided about the business of both Houses, including forthcoming business in the House of Lords and public meetings of House of Lords Select Committees.

3.53 The House of Lords is making arrangements to launch its own home page in autumn 1996, following its adoption of the following three principles on electronic publishing:

    (i) the House should make its publications available free of charge in electronic form;

    (ii) the medium for free distribution should be the Internet;

    (iii) by a system of licensing, electronic material should be made freely available, on a non-exclusive basis, to commercial publishers who wish to process it and add value to it.[49]

3.54 The first phase will include Lords Hansard on-line, which will be launched before the end of 1996. Further developments, including Internet publication of Bills and Committee Reports, are planned for 1997. Some Acts are already available on the Internet on HMSO's web site, and this service is to be expanded.

3.55 There is an on-going programme to cable the Houses of Parliament. On present plans the cabling programme will be completed in the year 2002.

1. Back

2. Inter-Parliamentary Union Report of the Consultative Committee of Experts, Use of Modern Computer Technologies, Such as the Internet, for Inter-Parliamentary Communications (Geneva, 1 December 1995), p 2. Back

3. Information Superhighways, House of Commons Library Research Paper 94/133. Back

4. The IITF's home page, which includes lists of committees and working groups, press releases and other documents and a calendar of events open to the public, is at Back

5. See paragraph 5.4 below. Back

6. Back

7. Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) Report, Information "Superhighways": the UK National Information Infrastructure (May 1995), Annex 2. Back

8. Back

9. NTIA press release "Citizens can call 1-800-NII-8818 for information on the Information Superhighway" (1 June 1995). Back

10. The Assistant to the President for Science and Technology told the Committee that he "wished we were as far along as the United Kingdom on open competition and regulations" (See Appendix 8, paragraph 32). Back

11. The National Information Highway Advisory Council of Canada also identified a need for urgent action (Q 807). Back

12. The Committee is indebted to Dr Mary Dykstra-Lynch, Professor at Dalhousie University, Halifax and a member of IHAC, for giving evidence to its enquiry. We have also benefited from the long-established tradition of exchanging information with the Canadian Senate, and welcomed the Chairman, the Honourable Donald Oliver, and members of the Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications to the first meeting of the enquiry. Back

13. The document is available on the Internet at Back

14. In an address to the Montreal Chamber of Commerce. Back

15. New Brunswick's Information Highway Secretariat, Back

16. Information supplied by the British Embassy Tokyo, based on consultations with MPT and the Ministry of International Trade and Industry. Back

17. The National Computer Board's (NCB) mission is to drive Singapore to excel in the information age by exploiting IT extensively to enhance its economic competitiveness and quality of life. Back

18. National Computer Board, Singapore: Back

19. NCB, Transforming Singapore into an Intelligent Island, p 2. Back

20. Civil Service Computerisation Programme. Back

21. NCB, A Vision of an Intelligent Island: IT2000 Report, p 8. Back

22. One Network for Everyone. Back

23. Speech by Mr Mah Bow Tan, 3 June 1996, also published on the National Computer Board's web site. We are grateful to the British High Commission, Singapore, for providing information. Back

24. The Committee is grateful to M Robert Verrue, Director General of DGXIII, for his invaluable evidence, printed on pp 409-422, which highlights some of the Commission's current and planned activities in this field. Back

25. M Verrue defined this as a system whereby a third party in a communication between two people, firms or institutions, can intervene to guarantee the integrity of the text which is being communicated and, in particular, the signature. Back

26. We are grateful to the British Embassy, Paris for supplying the information in this section. Back

27. Published by the Initiative Informationsgesellschaft Deutschland. We wish to thank Dr Klaus Wild, First Counsellor, Science and Technology at the German Embassy in London, for providing this report, and for his on-going assistance in informing the Committee on German policies. Back

28. The Information Society: Opportunities, Innovations and Challenges, pp 14-16. Back

29. Ibid., pp 47-48. Back

30. Ibid., pp 40-42. Back

31. In all other EU Member States there is one operator with exclusive rights (Q 653). Back

32. Source: DTI Information Society Initiative. Back

33. Compact Disc Interactive. Back

34. Office of Science and Technology, Foresight: first progress report 1996; Sir Robert May, "Technology Foresight: reaching our goals", Science in Parliament, 1996, 53(1), 4-6. Back

35. Full details are available from: Back

36. House of Commons Hansard 13 March 1996, col. 660. Back

37. 22 December 1995. Back

38. DfEE, Superhighways for Education: The Way Forward, HMSO, 1995; DfEE, Superhighways for Education: Consultation paper on broadband communications, HMSO, 1995. Back

39. Including, where required, calculations of the impact work might have on benefit entitlement, which local research found to be particularly wanted. Back

40. CCTA, Information Superhighways: opportunities for public sector applications in the UK (1994). Back

41. Her Majesty's Stationery Office. The entry point is: Back

42. G7 Ministerial Conference on the Global Information Society, Office for Official Publications, Luxembourg, 1995. Back

43. Back

44. Back

45. WB Croft, R Cook and D Wilder, "Providing Government Information on the Internet: Experiences with THOMAS", Proceedings of the Second International Conference on the Theory and Practice of Digital Libraries, Austin, Texas, June 11-13, 1995. Back

46. The answer to one of the Frequently Asked Questions of the Parliament of Australia Internet Trial states that in 1995 approximately 970 Parliamentary papers were published, many of which ran to hundreds of pages in length. Back

47. Back

48. Back

49. House of Lords Debates, 2 April 1996, col. 142. Back


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