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Internet is a tool for democracy, says UK government

But home Web use still lags behind

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Governments need to use the Internet to enhance democracy and debate, according to the culture secretary, Chris Smith. Taking part in an interview broadcast on BBC Online he said: "We need to develop the ability to use the Internet as a sort of enormous town meeting." "I think all governments need to see that as a way of communicating with at least a part of the population," said Smith, in response to questions emailed by members of the public. Acknowledging that the Internet needs to be brought within the reach of more people, Mr Smith said £270 million of Lottery funds were being set aside to give Internet access to more people through public libraries. He said this would help "avoid the situation of information havens and have-nots". "There should be no outcasts in this New World ahead of us," he said. No doubt the secretary of state also pointed to an announcement made earlier this month when the government said it would provide poorer families with recycled PCs as part of a £400 million package. But many people think the government's actions don't get to the heart of the problem and fail to address the major barrier to the widespread adoption of wired technology: namely, the issue of unfettered local calls for Web access. There appears to be little political will to intervene in the current debate and force a cut in the cost of dial-up access for home Net users. Until the government commits to bringing down the cost of Net access, the UK looks set to continue to lag behind the rest of the world. ®

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