British e-comm minister looks at Canadian broadband model

Canada and the UK are running neck-and-neck in terms of e-business and broadband development, according to British Minister of State for E-commerce and Competitiveness Stephen Timms.

Timms was in Toronto Wednesday to discuss e-commerce and broadband programs and policy with Canadian companies and academia; earlier in the week he met with Industry Minister Allan Rock in Ottawa to compare e-commerce and broadband governmental strategies.

Broadband is a key ingredient to creating a thriving environment for e-commerce and innovation, Timms said, adding that the UK has made good progress in getting enterprises to participate in e-commerce.

Timms noted he’s particularly impressed with Canada’s level of broadband adoption and its commitment to connecting remote areas. Compared to Canada’s 80 per cent, he estimated that two-thirds of UK households are within reach of affordable broadband use.

Canada is a world leader with respect to broadband roll-out, Timms said. “We’re seeing rapid development of in the UK but the scale of the use of broadband is not yet at the level it is here in Canada,” Timms said.

Just this past Monday, Rock announced a another broadband funding initiative for northern communities. [Please see Industry Canada fuels broadband initiative.] The UK is looking towards adopting the Canadian model, Timms noted, especially in light of the fact that the UK doesn’t have the vast geographical considerations that Canada has to contend with.

“It’s a big economic imperative for those rural areas,” Timms said. “What we’re finding is that once rural areas do have broadband, then there’s opportunities for companies to move into those areas…and [opportunities for] the companies that are already there to expand.”

Timms noted that the UK is second in the world in terms of developing e-commerce, behind the U.S. and slightly ahead of Canada. “A number of years ago we set a target to have over one million small enterprises trading online and we’ve exceeded that target,” Timms said. While the starting point was to get small enterprises online, the focus has now shifted to business transformation. A program called UK Online was created to assist small companies “exploit the potential of technology transformation,” he added.

Timms noted the UK is introducing a new communications bill that will amalgamate telecommunications and broadband regulatory organizations and is working on getting more government services online. In addition, his government is looking at increasing of role of universities in developing IT skills to boost e-business development, he said.