Memorandum by the Communication Workers
1. The Communication Workers Union (CWU)
represents some 280,000 communication workers in the UK, covering
principally posts, telecommunications and related information
technology industries [www.cwu.org]. We regularly contribute to
the public debate on the social and economic implications of information
technology and welcome the inquiry by the Select Committee and
the opportunity to submit evidence to it.
2. The CWU's Senior Deputy General Secretary,
Tony Young, is a Governor of the BBC. The Union's Head of Research,
Roger Darlington, is the Chair of the Internet Watch Foundation.
3. In the interests of brevity, our submission
to the Sub-Committee is confined to a short discussion of the
variegated nature of e-commerce and our response to the first
three (arguably the most fundamental) of the questions posed by
the Sub-Committee in its Call for written evidence.
4. Traditionally e-commerce is said to take
Business to Business (B2B); and
Business to Consumer (B2C).
5. However, we think it important to recognise
a third form of e-commerce:
Government to Citizen (G2C).
6. While G2C is perhaps not seen as traditional
e-commerce, it is essentially transactional in that Governmentwhether
national, regional or localprovide information and services
to citizens online as a result of payment in the form of direct
taxes, indirect taxes and rates. Indeed, in the future, more G2C
will become traditionally transactional, through for example online
payment of taxes and rates and purchase of car and television
7. In the European Commission document e-EuropeAn
Information Society for All, there are 10 "Priority
Areas For Action" and one of theserightly in our
viewis "Government Online". The UK Government
has made e-Government a priority and recently advanced its target
for 100 per cent online service provision from 2005 to 2003.
8. Currently e-commerce breaks down globally
into 80 per cent B2B and 20 per cent B2C, so that the e-commerce
which consumers and politicians "see" is only a small
part of the total. However, in the EU, B2C is only 15 per cent
at present since, compared to the United States, a smaller proportion
of EU consumers are online and those that are online spend less
9. However, in perhaps three years time,
we could expect the breakdown of e-commerce in Europe to be something
10. The key factors determining the growth
of e-commerce can be categorised as the "five Cs".
11. ConnectivityIt is self-evident
that one cannot engage in e-commerce unless one has a connection
to the Internet. Currently about a quarter of UK consumers have
a home Internet connection, virtually all via a personal computer.
In future, we will see a wide range of terminal devices for accessing
the Internet, including interactive television, games consoles
and mobile phones. We are concerned that all citizens should have
easy and affordable access to the Internet regardless of class,
income, disability or location. Therefore we recommend that:
employers permit reasonable use of
their IT equipment for e-commerce by staff in order to develop
transferable IT skills and to stimulate the information economy
as a whole;
a range of public access points be
developed, including post offices, libraries, local government
buildings and community centres (see the Government's report
"Closing The Digital Divide: Information and Communications
Technologies in Deprived Areas").
Also, it is important that regulators at both
national and European level ensure that there is no monopoly on
any technical platform for accessing the Internet and conducting
12. CostIt is essential that
the tariff structures of Internet service providers permit and
encourage surfing at leisure, so that consumers can compare and
contrast e-commerce offerings and take time to choose best value
products and services.
13. Therefore, we welcome new tariff structures
such as BT's SurfTime, and similar offerings from companies like
AltaVista and NTL, and new service offerings, such as BT's roll
out of Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL) technology and
the growing availability of cable modems.
14. We recognise that competition has an
important role in bringing down tariffs and stimulating new services
and that, in this respect, Local Loop Unbundling (LLU) has a role
to play, but we would counsel that:
LLU has serious operational implications
for BT and its staff and cannot be rolled out without addressing
such issues as safety and security.
LLU of itself does not add to the
nation's physical telecommunications infrastructure and we need
to encourage investment in new technologies and new network infrastructures
to become a genuinely broadband society.
15. CashBy definition, e-commerce
has to involve some form of payment and currently, in the B2C
scene, this is primarily through the use of credit cards, but
there are some consumer concerns about the privacy of data and
credit card scams. Therefore, we need to develop various new forms
of e-cash including smart cards.
16. We regret the Government's abandonment
of the smart card element of the Post Office's Horizon project,
but we welcome the encouragement in the European Commission's
e-Europe initiative of the establishment of a European-wide infrastructure
to maximise the up-take of smart cards.
17. ConfidenceIf e-commerce
is to thrive, consumers should not fear going online because of
what they might encounter or experience.
18. As regards content, we support the work
of the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) in its operation of a "notice
and take down procedure" to combat criminal material, its
promotion of rating and filtering techniques, and its new education
and awareness role.
19. There are similar self-regulatory organisations
in Ireland, France, Germany, Austria and The Netherlands, but
the Sub-Committee could usefully encourage the adoption of such
a model in all EU Member States.
20. As regards transactions, we welcome
the recent establishment of TrustUK as a joint initiative by the
Alliance for Electronic Business (AEB) and the Consumers' Association
(CA) and we would encourage the new Financial Service Authority
(FSA) to take on an appropriate role in relation to online financial
21. The European Commission has encouraged
the development of such organisations and schemes with funding
in part or whole for the specific projects, but we believe that
too often the approval of such Commission funding is too slow
and too bureaucratic.
22. CultureArguably the most
importantif the least tangiblevariable in the growth
of e-commerce is culture. It is very noticeable that there is
already a "digital divide" in Europe between northern
countries like Sweden, Finland and Denmark (where Internet access
is 35 per cent to 45 per cent), and southern countries, like Spain,
Italy and Greece (where Internet access is only around 10 per
cent to 15 per cent). The UK currently finds itself somewhere
in the middle of both in terms of geographical location and the
proportion of Internet users [see Annexes A and B for details].
23. Within these national totals, we see
wide variations in the proportion of companies operating transactional
web sites and the percentage of consumers making online transactions.
24. Education is an important factor in
cultural attitudes to new technologies. Every school needs high-speed
Internet access and schools and colleges should be opened up to
adults wishing to develop familiarity with the Internet and all
its uses including e-commerce.
25. Also, the media has a role to play here
and we would encourage bodies like the BBC to run innovative programming
around the e-commerce message.
26. The e-Europe draft action plan was launched
in December 1999 and the Sub-Committee began its inquiry in January
2000. Since then, on 16 March 2000 the European Parliament has
adopted its own report on the eEurope initiative and on 23 to
24 March 2000 the European Council met in Lisbon and considered
the initiative as part of "Employment, Economic Reform
and Social CohesionTowards a Europe of Innovation and Knowledge".
The European Parliament has gone some way to addressing what we
believe is a serious weakness and omission in the original eEurope
document, namely the lack of attention to employment issues. Indeed,
the Parliament has urged an "Eleventh Priority Area":
"Strengthening Employment and Social Cohesion in the Information
Society"something which we very much support.
27. E-commerce, in all its forms, will change
dramatically patterns of employment and the number, nature and
location of jobs. Fears around such issues could prove to be a
brake on the rapid deployment of e-commerce initiatives. Therefore,
the European Commission needs to sponsor research, develop case
studies, and promote best practice in the development of e-commerce.
Furthermore, it needs to promote social dialogue between employer
and employee representatives at all levels, including most crucially
at enterprise level.
28. The agenda for this dialogue must encompass:
lifelong learning through education
and training in relevant skills;
new patterns of work such as teleworking
and atypical work.
29. Of course, the very information and
communications technologies that are causing concerns can assist
dialogue and organisation:
companies can use the technologies
to communicate strategic plans more directly to the workforce;
trade unions can use the technologies
to recruit and service members among a more distributed workforce;
Government and local authorities
can provide employment and training advice and services online
and make all this more interactive.
30. As regards the regulation of communications
infrastructures, clearly codes of conduct and co-regulation are
not enough. We believe that the convergence of telecommunications,
broadcasting and the Internet requires the creation of a new single
regulator for all infrastructure issueswhat we might call
31. By contrast, broadly speaking we support
the voluntary approach to the regulation of Internet content generally
and e-commerce more particularly. Such an approachbased
on codes of conduct and company regulationworks well because:
(a) it is supported by industry and avoids
heavy bureaucracy and costs;
(b) it can be established much more quickly
and evolve much more flexibly than legislative frameworks.
32. However, there is at least one major
drawback to such an approach: it tends to be piecemeal and involve
a whole variety of different codes and different bodies to supervise
or regulate different aspects of online content.
33. Already, in the UK, we have:
TrustUK for problems of buying online;
the Financial Services Authority
for the supervision of financial products and services;
the Independent Committee for the
Supervision of Standards of Telephone Information Services (ICSTIS)
for premium services and chatlines on the telephone network;
the Internet Watch Foundation for
criminal content on the Internet, especially child pornography.
34. The problem will become greater as we
experience multimedia convergence because we will be able, for
to access the Web via interactive
to watch broadcasts on a PC;
to conduct financial transactions
on a mobile phone.
35. Therefore there is a case for providing
consumers with a "one stop shop" for problems relating
to online content:
whether the problem is a credit card
scam, a premium telephone service, a television programme, a website
or a Usenet news group;
whether the delivery mechanism is
a fixed or mobile phone, a PC, a television or a games console.
36. Such a "one stop shop" could
be a new organisation or a virtual operation run on a contract
basis by an existing organisation. This "one stop shop"
would not itself advise or intervene on all problems of online
content, but it would:
provide a single point of reference
for customers and suppliers;
make an initial determination of
the nature of the problem and the agency best suited to handle
log the reference and refer the problem
to an appropriate agency.