The government underlined its commitment to full participation in the internet economy by bringing forward its connectivity targets at an Oxford University conference last week.
Richard Barrington, director for industry at the Cabinet Office, told academics, senior managers and legal and fiscal specialists from the public and private sector, that the government was committed to ensuring that every United Kingdom citizen is connected to the internet by 2002. The previous target was 2003.
"The goal is anyone, anywhere, anything, anytime," he said.
He added that the Cabinet was also committed to putting government services fully online by 2005, three years earlier than planned. The commitment forms part of the government's e-business strategy launched by Ian McCartney, Cabinet Office minister, on Monday.
Wider access to education resources will play a crucial role in the development of the new economy by addressing skills shortages. For example, Mr Barrington said, one global internet company was looking for 30,000 skilled network engineers.
"There is a huge skills gap, and it's good that we have recognised this now rather than later," he said.
Mr Barrington, on secondment from Sun Microsystems to the team led by e-envoy Alex Allan, told delegates at the two-day e-business summit, organised by the Continuing Professional Development Centre at St Catherine's College, that the technology was available but needed to be simpler and faster to use.
Don Heath, president and chief executive of the Internet Society (Isoc), chose the conference to launch the Internet Society of England. Christian de Larrinaga, founder and chairman of Isoc (England) said that Isoc had taken a non-partisan role as developer of internet-enabled institutions that were shaping the century.
Carl Symon, chairman and chief executive of IBM UK, emphasised the need for easier net access and usability. He said the next step would be "pervasive computing", where devices such as pagers, cell phones and televisions offer access to the web.