The UK needs a network of computer kiosks in public places to prevent the continued exclusion of poorer consumers from the Internet, according to a report by the National Consumer Council.
But the NCC's idea has been branded as 'hopelessly impractical' by cyber-cafe pioneer Eva Pascoe. Pascoe, founder of Internet cafe chain Cyberia, said it would be impossible for novice users in rural areas to use unattended Internet terminals.
The NCC has called for the Government to establish an independent consumer body that would cover telecommunications and broadcasting and which would be independent of any regulator.
The report, called Information Society, points out that at least 10 different agencies are responsible for regulating telecoms and broadcasting.
It also warns that if narrow commercial assumptions limit the services that are available to consumers, the information superhighway would not fulfil its potential.
'The Internet needs massive support,' said Pascoe. 'It will be several years before we have systems that are easy to use.' In rural areas, Pascoe said, Internet access should be provided by schools out of hours.
The NCC report calls for a mix of private and public funding for the network of kiosks, and says that as an interim measure access should be available through libraries.
An NCC representative said it had not costed its proposals.
- Ministers from 40 countries, including the G7 group, will meet next month in Midrand, South Africa, to discuss ways to ensure that the benefits of the information superhighway are reaching the poorest countries of the world.
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