Digital guru lashes UK

June 16, 2000

Nicholas Negroponte (pictured), head of the MIT Media Lab, has accused the British government of failing to protect the country's digital future by imposing a tax on internet technology. Professor Negroponte, author of Being Digital, said in London last week that the government was "screwing its children and grandchildren" by auctioning next-generation mobile phone licences, writes Tim Greenhalgh.

He told the International Advertising Association world congress in Westminster that the Pounds 22.5 billion paid for the licences would translate into an extra cost of up to $2,000 per subscriber, stifling research, innovation and access for the next-generation mobile internet.

"What happened in the UK was disastrous," he said. "It is the worst thing that could have happened to the consumer. It is unsustainable and crazy. The rules should have been different. For the other countries that are planning auctions, please, don't pull that trick."

Licence-winners should have been chosen for bids that included lowest cost for consumers, the most cellular infrastructure build, the most phones in schools and public places, and the most investment in creativity. "That's what you should be doing - stimulating innovation, stimulating the economy, stimulating the whole telecommunications process. Instead? A boat anchor," he said.

Professor Negroponte also warned the advanced nations that the developing world would use the models of investment in computer and internet-based education pioneered by Ireland, and more recently Costa Rica, to leapfrog into commanding economic positions.

Feature, page 18.

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