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Trade and Industry Secretary, E-Minister and all-round cyberbabe Patricia Hewitt is pleased to report today that the UK is one of the "best connected economies" in the world.

This will come as a great surprise as those living out in the elephant grass and still surviving on Third-World dial-up connections and the promise of broadband by 2010-ish, but it's apparently the case that "96% of Britain's population are aware of a place where they can readily access the Internet whether at home, at work, through mobile technology, or at a public access point".

What's more, the UK "remains one of the best environments in the world for e-commerce. E-commerce transactions across the internet exceeded £23 billion in 2002."

Terrific. To ensure that the UK retains its lead at the cutting edge of the expanding envelope of e-freedom, Hewitt says that the government will support a "Digital Inclusion Panel (to provide) advice to Government and industry about how to ensure a digitally United Kingdom".

Among the panel's specific tasks will be to identify those most at risk of digital exclusion, a fact which will doubtless cheer up participants at today's Institute for Public Policy Research e-Quality conference, where concerned souls agonised about Britain's digital divide.

Well, it seems there's no need to worry after all. And if you aren't already connected, fear not: "The Digital Inclusion Panel will play a key role in helping us ensure that every home in the UK should have a connection to online services through a digital network by 2008 - whether through a personal computer, DTV, mobile phone or other device," boasts Hewitt.

We'll be back to report on progress in five years' time, at which point every Tom, Dick and Harry across this great connected nation will be able to read our conclusions. Watch this space. ®

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