Can the UK be the world's leading e-commerce environment?

So, Tony Blair has declared that the UK should be the world's best e-trading environment by 2002, and we now have an e-minister (looking at Britain's e-commerce policy) and an e-envoy (championing e-business within government). Some detractors would argue that the government sees e-business as the purchase of books online, rather than the larger opportunities presented by wholesale restructuring of supply chains, reduced inefficiencies within industries etc. (Durlacher's latest B2B report shows significant opportunity in the 80% of global trade conducted between businesses). We believe that the government's show of good intentions is highly positive. After all, it is not really their job to understand the intricacies of e-business - it is sufficient only that government works towards providing a streamlined environment in which creative ideas, companies and consumers can operate and innovate efficiently.

One of the key components of a leading e-commerce environment will be a large vibrant market of e-consumers. It is acknowledged that Europe has an edge in mobile technology, and Britain and Germany are already the leading mobile markets due to the number of consumers accessing mobile value-added services such as SMS and mobile data. On the fixed line side, Europe has long suffered from per minute telephone charges for internet access, which potentially has deterred take-up of the internet, as well as reducing session durations (average session lengths in the US are twice as long as in Europe).

Our latest residential internet survey shows that internet usage in the UK could triple if telephone charges were unmetered, both as a result of increased frequency and longer sessions. Gordon Brown recently went on record saying he would like to see internet charges halved by 2002, and that he would like to see an early opening up of the local loop to competition. It seems that we will finally see a range of unmetered internet access services reaching the market over the next few months, with BT announcing reduced charges for their "Surftime" unmetered access service to be launched in summer, and Telewest launching unmetered access even sooner.

Average e-commerce spending in the US over the Christmas period 1999 was several orders of magnitude higher than for UK consumers over the same period. The impact of unmetered access services on the market could determine whether the UK will see its big "e-christmas" in 2000 or 2001. E-retailers will be all too happy with the earlier date.