Examination of Witnesses (Questions 216
WEDNESDAY 23 FEBRUARY 2000
216. Good afternoon. My apologies for not starting
your section on time. I hope you found the last witness enjoyable.
There is a link as well. If I may start, first of all, with Ms
Russell. I am coming back to the subject of to regulate or not
to regulate, which we were pressing Professor Norton on earlier.
We are tending to get polarised positions being expressed by people
very much against regulation in many ways or alternatively they
are saying there is a pressing need for new regulation. In the
paper you submitted to us what comes through fairly strongly is
you have some negative views about the Government's and EU's intervention.
I was wondering whether you could give us some concrete examples
where you believe regulation or positive regulation, which may
come, could be harmful?
(Ms Russell) It really does depend on
the type of regulation you are talking about and the kind of regulatory
issues that you are most interested in exploring.
217. It is general.
(Ms Russell) I was probably being overly negative
in the written evidence. There is certainly a case for regulation
in terms of things like data protection, from a financial point
of view, and also regulation to ensure harmonisation across Europe
and communication. That is utterly essential, particularly with
regard to enabling the infrastructure to allow e-commerce to flourish,
and e-commerce in its wider sense to flourish. Certainly there
is, I think, a need for more interventionist regulation on the
part of regulatory organisations like OFTEL. Generally the feedback
which we have as a new service from the community of userswho
are made up of business decision makers and IT professionals,
who are expert in this areais that OFTEL are much too lax
in their regulation of British Telecom. British Telecom need to
unbundle as quickly as possible and also to stop. An example of
this is ADSL, which will enable high-speed Internet access to
both consumers and businesses. This is the feedback we have had
from actual users of the service, both consumers and businesses,
they are basically building into ADSL and they are pricing it
much more highly than they were and also artificially inflating
the price of baseline access. They are totally benefiting from
the situation and behaving in an anti-competitive manner. That
is one concrete example.
218. It is not just the Government then, is
(Ms Russell) No. In terms of other concrete examples
of anti-regulation. Can I read something from one of our users
in answer to one of your original questions, "Will codes
of conduct and code regulations provide sufficient protection?"
This is a guy who is the managing director of a business-to-business
development company in the United Kingdom, "Anyone who has
worked in or with a self-regulating body will know that it does
not work to the advantage of the victim. Codes of conduct are
mandatory and Government can help with these but at the end of
the day there is still a body, unfortunately, who must impose
itself. This may have the effect of stifling initiative and creativity
if not implemented in a sensible way. However, we know that there
is a huge opportunity for the public e-commerce to mercilessly",
it does not make sense, "be exploited (through sharp practices
and sharp programming). Multi-national efforts have to be made
by Her Majesty's Government, the EU and the World Trade Organisation
to ensure that e-commerce does not suffer from bad press that
it will inevitably attract when the first public catastrophe occurs."
The general feeling of working in an e-commerce environment amongst
my peers is that from a negative point of view about regulation
is that it hinders progress. It is also a lack of access to information
about regulation, being able to ensure that you comply with good
practice, for instance, like complying with the Data Protection
Act. It is difficult if you ring up the Data Protection Registrar
and ask them questions about the new act they say, "Do not
worry about it for the moment", which is quite concerning,
so it is either being seen as obstructive or just generally unhelpful.
219. Could I just pick you up on data protection
and pursue it a little further. We were with some Americans earlier
in the week and they do not have any such Act.
(Ms Russell) Exactly.