Wired Britain? Sorry, faulty connection

Just how well-connected is the UK? According to The Boston Group Connected Kingdom report, this is a country growing rich on an Internet boom. Billions of pounds are generated by the Net economy as we increasingly live our lives online.

Yet, buried deep into report there's a reminder that not all is well in UK.net. The country is only a middle-ranking nation when it comes to other aspects of the Internet: the engagement by government and by by consumers - the report finds that only 40 percent of businesses interact with the government online, a small proportion when you consider the general degree of connectivity found in this country. And we're all losing out: the contrast between the approach of the UK government to the Internet compared to the approach taken by the Dutch government, say, which has reduced its administrative costs by 14 percent by adopting a more rigorous online approach.

It's not an approach, therefore, that's consistent with the idea that we're living in some always-connected paradise, where we can summon up Internet services at the flick of a switch and it's certainly a long way from the Boston Group's claim of a booming Internet economy.

But hang on a minute; let's examine this report in a bit more detail: what does it exactly mean by an Internet economy. For a start, it includes all goods ordered over the Internet, not just those delivered online like MP3s or e-books, but books from Amazon, clothes from M&S, household goods from John Lewis - the whole shebang. This seems to stretch the definition of Internet by some way - one might as well talk about the vans that deliver the goods.

It's hard to see how these can be counted as Internet sales. Surely, these were not dependent on the Internet as a medium. If I'm buying Christmas presents, I'm going to buy them regardless of whether I can order them online. I can see the point of including downloads as an Internet purchase but everything else is dubious methodology.

No-one doubts that the Internet economy is crucial to the UK - but it's crucial to other countries as well. By defining the Internet transactions so bizarrely, it just reinforces the idea that we are are a country that sees commerce as a leisure activity - a nation of netshoppers, not shopkeepers as Napoleon would have had it.

But we're curiously still light on the infrastructure. This week Virgin Media announced that it was set to introduce a 100Mbps service in selected areas - even though some parts of the country are set to get any form of broadband at all (and others lumber at pedestrian speeds). And although we supposedly have mobile broadband in the UK, it's frustratingly sporadic. If we want to be truly Connected Kingdom, we need more emphasis on the infrastructure and less on the shopping.

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This story, "Wired Britain? Sorry, faulty connection" was originally published by Techworld.com.


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