Importance of the digital revolution

This week East Ham MP Steve Timms talks of his role to promoting Digital Britain OVER the summer, I received a request from Gordon Brown. He asked me to take on the role of Minister for Digital Britain, alongside my position as Financial Secretary to th

This week East Ham MP Steve Timms talks of his role to promoting Digital Britain

OVER the summer, I received a request from Gordon Brown. He asked me to take on the role of Minister for Digital Britain, alongside my position as Financial Secretary to the Treasury. I said yes!

In this new role I am responsible for implementing the Digital Britain white paper drawn up by my predecessor, Lord Carter, in June this year.

Digital Britain is a wide ranging review of what we need to do to make the most of the opportunities from the new digital technologies over the next few years: providing the broadband networks; developing the digital content - music, video, software; and making sure everyone has the skills and confidence to benefit.

As the world emerges from the worst economic crisis since the second world war, we want to ensure that that UK households and businesses can make the most of next generation broadband.

I first took on ministerial responsibility for telecommunications in 2002. At that time, vast swathes of the country were still out of reach of broadband.

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I received complaints, for example, from people in Newham's Docklands that they couldn't get connected. Today, however, just 11 per cent of UK homes are out of reach of a broadband service. One of the proposals in Digital Britain is the use of public funding to make sure that broadband becomes truly universal.

At the same time, faster broadband services are being introduced by BT and by cable TV networks, so that - for example - a whole film can be downloaded from the internet in a few seconds.

But there are still many people in the UK - about one in five adults, according to recent research - who have never used the internet.

There is a real worry that new technological developments could open up a new divide between those who have them and those who don't.

So as we encourage the roll out of new technologies, we want to make sure as well that everyone can benefit from them. We have set up a network of UK Online centres around the country - one of them is next door to East Ham station - so that anyone can try out the technology and find out what it can do.

And it can do a lot. Looking for a job; buying your groceries; submitting your tax return; buying a plane ticket; finding out what's on at the cinema; reading the Newham Recorder. All of them are easier, quicker - and often cheaper - online.

We want every home and business to benefit from next generation broadband. To fund this, we are proposing a levy of 50 pence per month on telephone lines. This will allow us to extend next generation broadband to 90 per cent of UK homes by 2017.

The technology is changing fast, and Britain is very well placed to take advantage of it. We have higher broadband use than any of the other big European countries - and higher too than the US and Japan. My job is to make sure we make the most of the opportunities over the next few years.

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