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Brown to slash Net charges

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Chancellor Gordon Brown will tonight reveal plans to slash Internet access costs in half by 2002. Well, actually he won't do this tonight, as he's already spilled the beans in an exclusive interview with the FT. And he won't actually reveal any new plans from the sound of it. More accurately, he is to tell Britain where he stands on the metered phone bill debate.

Brown buys into the argument that cheaper phone bills will unlock a huge increase in ecommerce in the UK. High telephone charges means that British companies lag behind their American counterparts, he says.

According to the FT, Brown will tonight announce that he is bringing forward a plan to open the local loop (or last mile) to BT's competitors. We think this is meaningless: under the most recent ruling by Oftel, Britain's telecoms regulator, the deadline for opening the local loop is July 2001. Note: this is the deadline: there is nothing to say the last mile can't be opened up earlier.

In a speech to "financiers", Brown will say he remains "concerned about the competitive disadvantage that British businesses face in this area", despite recent progress. "There must be no foot-dragging here," he will add. What foot dragger can he be thinking off?

The Chancellor is kicking at an open door when it comes to preaching cheaper internet access costs. However, every little helps. Especially, if the government forces BT to get its act together. But why is he doing this? Isn't there an e-commerce minister who is supposed to be articulating government policy on Net access charges? Brown knows a vote-catching initiative when he sees one, and he ain't going to let no political whippersnapper steal his hour of glory. ®

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