Blair: U.K. Will Own Net Time

SAN FRANCISCO (01/04/2000) - British Prime Minister Tony Blair has a new strategy to make England the center of e-commerce: Establish Greenwich Mean Time as the standard time stamp for electronic transactions.

E-commerce champions hope the idea will make online transactions more secure and traceable. But Blair figures it will propel Britain into a more influential role in international e-commerce. "We have got the potential to be world leaders in electronic commerce, and this type of new initiative will help us get there," he told reporters last week. "[It's] a good initiative by British business to try to put us ahead of the game."

Now U.K. business just needs to agree on an initiative. Two separate projects to establish a standard were announced last week. The Interactive Media in Retail Group, an association of e-commerce companies, proposed Greenwich Electronic Time; the London Internet Exchange, or LINX, has proposed establishing a Greenwich Net Time. The two say they are working together to merge their projects.

Currently, Internet time is kept by atomic clocks that are set to Universal Coordinated Time, a more precise Greenwich Mean Time. Computers around the world keep that time by connecting to a series of servers that communicate via the Network Time Protocol. Located all over the world, NTP servers continually synchronize to maintain as perfect a time stamp as possible. "Universal Coordinated Time is the global, universal time standard, but Internet users are finding that inadequate," says John Laverty at Britain's National Physical Laboratory.

The LINX infrastructure includes three cesium atomic clocks, which are housed at two separate Internet hosting centers on the meridian in Greenwich near London. Atomic clocks are the most accurate timekeepers, but having them housed on the meridian, rather than elsewhere, is more symbolic significance than practical necessity.

Still, an authoritative, worldwide time stamp would be useful for time-sensitive transactions like auctions and online stock trading. The effort already is being sponsored by 12 member companies that include British Telecom, messenger service DHL, Forrester Research, Interflora, NetBenefit, travel agency Thomas Cook, Timex and UUNet.

"We've made a good start," says Gareth Donavon, project development director for Greenwich Electronic Time. "By making the information free and the tools free for everyone, we hope people will adopt the scheme because it works and it's easily available."

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