Supplementary news, reports and analyses are available for download at:



CHIEF EDITOR: Felix Librero

ASSOCIATE EDITOR: Patricia B. Arinto


Danny Butt

Claude-Yves Charron

Suchit Nanda

Maria Ng Lee Hoon

Milagros Rivera

Rajesh Sreenivasan

Krishnamurthy Sriramesh

Jian Yan Wang


Frederick John Abo

Musa Abu Hassan

Ilyas Ahmed

Zorayda Ruth Andam

Lkhagvasuren Ariunaa

Batpurev Batchuluun

Axel Bruns

Danny Butt

Donny B.U.

Elizabeth V. Cardoza

Claude-Yves Charron

Kapil Chawla

Masoud Davarinejad

Deng Jianguo

Hj Abd Rahim Derus

João Câncio Freitas

John Fung

Atanu Garai

Goh Seow Hiong

Lelia Green

Nalaka Gunawardene

Shah M. Ahsan Habib

Mohd Safar Hasim

Sarmad Hussain

Jong Sung Hwang

Malika Ibrahim

Seungkwon Jang

Jihyun Jun

Keisuke Kamimura

Kyungmin Ko

Thaweesak Koanantakool

Shelah Lardizabal-Vallarino

Heejin Lee

Lawrence Liang

Yu-li Liu

Geoff Long

Salman Malik

Muhammad Aimal Marjan

Jamshed Masood

Ram Mohan

Charles Mok

Rapin Mudiardjo

Frederick Noronha

Thein Oo

Sushil Pandey

Adam Peake

Phonpasit Phissamay

Gopi Pradhan

Ananya Raihan

Naomi Robinson

Massood Saffari

Lorraine Carlos Salazar

George Sciadas

Basanta Shrestha

Abhishek Singh

Rajesh Sreenivasan

Krishnamurthy Sriramesh

Tan Geok Leng

Suranart Tanvejsilp

Myint Myint Than

Tran Ba Thai

Tran Ngoc Ca

Kalaya Udomvitid

Brian Unger

Sajan Venniyoor

Eunice Hsiao-hui Wang

Sangay Wangchuk

Chanuka Wattegama

Esther Batiri Williams

Andy Williamson

Yong Chee Tuan

Zhang Guoliang

Zhang Xinhua



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SAGE Publications Asia-Pacific Pte Ltd
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This edition of the Digital Review of Asia Pacific

is dedicated to the memory of


whose contribution to ICT institution building

and human capacity development in Sri Lanka was outstanding,

as was his commitment to and engagement with

regional and international ICT4D platforms.


Foreword Muhammad Yunus


Preface Claude-Yves Charron and Maria Ng Lee Hoon


Introduction Felix Librero




Issues for the region

ICT4D in Asia Pacific—An overview of emerging issues Danny Butt, Rajesh Sreenivasan and Abhishek Singh


Mobile and wireless technologies for development in Asia Pacific Tan Geok Leng and Suranart Tanvejsilp


The role of ICTs in risk communication in Asia Pacific Krishnamurthy Sriramesh, Chanuka Wattegama and Frederick John Abo


Localization in Asia Pacific Sarmad Hussain and Ram Mohan


Key policy issues in intellectual property and technology in Asia Pacific Elizabeth V. Cardoza and Lawrence Liang


State and evolution of ICTs: A tale of two Asias George Sciadas


Review of individual economies

.af Afghanistan: Muhammad Aimal Marjan


.au Australia: Lelia Green and Axel Bruns


.bd Bangladesh: Ananya Raihan and Shah M. Ahsan Habib


.bt Bhutan: Sangay Wangchuk and Gopi Pradhan


.bn Brunei Darussalam: Yong Chee Tuan and Hj Abd Rahim Derus


.kh Cambodia: Brian Unger and Naomi Robinson


.cn China: Zhang Guoliang, Zhang Xinhua and Deng Jianguo


.hk Hong Kong: Geoff Long, John Fung and Charles Mok


.in India: Frederick Noronha and Sajan Venniyoor


.id Indonesia: Donny B.U. and Rapin Mudiardjo


.ir Iran: Masoud Davarinejad and Massood Saffari


.jp Japan: Keisuke Kamimura and Adam Peake


.la Lao PDR: Phonpasit Phissamay


.my Malaysia: Musa Abu Hassan and Mohd Safar Hasim


.mv Maldives: Malika Ibrahim and Ilyas Ahmed


.mn Mongolia: Lkhagvasuren Ariunaa and Batpurev Batchuluun


.mo Macau: Geoff Long


.mm Myanmar: Thein Oo and Myint Myint Than


.np Nepal: Sushil Pandey and Basanta Shrestha


.nz New Zealand: Andy Williamson


.kp North Korea: Kyungmin Ko, Seungkwon Jang and Heejin Lee


Pacific Island Countries: Esther Batiri Williams


.pk Pakistan: Jamshed Masood and Salman Malik


.ph Philippines: Lorraine Carlos Salazar, Shelah Lardizabal-Vallarino and Zorayda Ruth Andam


.sg Singapore: Goh Seow Hiong


.kr South Korea: Jong Sung Hwang and Jihyun Jun


.lk Sri Lanka: Nalaka Gunawardene


.tw Taiwan: Yu-li Liu and Eunice Hsiao-hui Wang


.th Thailand: Thaweesak Koanantakool and Kalaya Udomvitid


.tl/.tp Timor-Leste: João Câncio Freitas


.vn Vietnam: Tran Ngoc Ca and Tran Ba Thai


Review of sub-regional associations

Association of Southeast Asian Nations: Lorraine Carlos Salazar and Shelah Lardizabal-Vallarino


South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation: Atanu Garai and Kapil Chawla


About the contributing authors





The overview of emerging issues in information and communication technologies (ICT) for development in Asia Pacific in this edition of Digital Review of Asia Pacific (DirAP) takes up the question of whether ICT ranks equally in priority with other sectors of development for investing the scarce resources of poor countries. It then takes the position that ignoring ICT will only lead to further excluding poor countries from the circuits of power and prosperity.

Indeed, this is a small world today and ICT is making it even smaller. The list of Impossibles in this world is shrinking. We should not wait too long to cross off a few more items from this list:

• It is impossible to eliminate poverty from this world.

• It is impossible to provide basic education to all.

• It is impossible to ensure necessary health care to the needy.

• It is impossible to make universal access happen.

ICT is quickly changing the world, creating a distance-less, borderless world of instantaneous communication. Increasingly, ICT is becoming less costly. Thus, ICT has much potential to create opportunities for growth and development in the rural areas of Asia. As ICT begins to create income generation activities in rural areas and as it becomes an instrument of rural economic and social activities, it begins to pay back on our hard-earned investments.

The Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, one of the poorest countries of the world, long ago made the choice to invest the present and future of the poor in ICT. ICT is a new opportunity for grassroots innovation. I saw an opportunity for the poor people to change their lives but only if this technology could be brought to them to meet their needs.

Towards this vision, we created Grameen Phone and we provided loans to poor women to buy phones to sell mobile phone services in the villages where they live. In this endeavour, we see the linkage between microcredit, our established strategy, and ICT, our newer strategy. Today, Grameen Phone is the largest phone company in Bangladesh and serves more than 12 million subscribers.

Social businesses such as Grameen Phone can play a significant role in creating opportunities that will help societies and their members to continue in the path of progress. Social business is a very important concept to me and very close to my heart. I define social businesses as a non-loss, non-dividend company, dedicated to achieving social objectives. Investors can take back their investment money, but they cannot get any dividend beyond that. Promoters of social businesses are the catalyst for positive change in a society.

Today, I would like to challenge our intellectuals, innovators, business leaders, corporations and institutions to help identify ways and means to help create social ICT businesses locally, nationally and internationally. Social business is a promising concept that I would like to bring into the ICT world, for we are applying it in earnest to our work with the poor in the villages of Bangladesh. I would like to emphasize that my challenge to our thought leaders is not only to create social business ideas in the ICT arena, but also to develop replicable designs that will help others in non-ICT sectors to be innovators of social ideas and social businesses.

In the future, I look to DirAP to document the stories of grassroots ICT innovation and learning for the Asia Pacific region, in technology deployment and research, as well as in innovative systems of delivery that bring useable ICT in a sustained manner to the doorstep of the poor.

Muhammad Yunus
Founder, Grameen Bank
Nobel Laureate, 2006


Information and communication technology for development in the
Asia Pacific region: Encountering Rashomon's diversity of perspectives

The Digital Review of Asia Pacific (DirAP) has the mission of generating new descriptive, analytical and predictive knowledge about the field of ICT for development in the Asia Pacific region. It attempts to provide in-depth analyses and syntheses of ICT policy, developments and applications, and issues and debates concerning the significance of policy and technology enabling environments for national and regional socio-economic development. DirAP targets both regional and global audiences, especially decision and policymakers and practitioners from both government and NGOs.

From our perspective as publishers, DirAP's key contributions to the state-of-practice and state-of-the-art in ICT and ICT for development in Asia Pacific may be summarized as follows:

1. It adds a major source of research-based data and information to a field that is growing into a discipline with as yet relatively little research literature especially relating to Asia Pacific.

2. It gives ICT stakeholders in Asia Pacific opportunities to develop skills in research methods, research processes and research documentation.

3. It draws together a large number of leading ICT players from both developed and developing countries in Asia to reflect on platforms they identify as important for engagement to influence change.

4. It permits a time series narrative macro view of how total project investments by all parties aggregate into national syntheses on both country-level performance and issues-based performance.

5. It harnesses the intellectual contribution of a sizable community of practitioners and researchers from a multitude of disciplines from most of the developing countries of the region.

The voices of DirAP are independent and if they are ideological at all, they are the voices of these writers who are the key movers and shakers in the ICT for development arena in the region. We believe that this multiplicity of voices, which includes those of policymakers, professionals from the private sector and senior scholars, offers a unique opportunity to access the richness and the complexity of the debates, of the choices being made and to be made, and of the major issues faced in the interface between communication and development. And we strongly believe in the importance of this complementarity and diversity of voices, ensuring that, as in Kurozawa's Rashomon, the perspectives of the different actors are represented but also debated through research and statistical evidence.

The previous editions of DirAP were launched at the UN World Summit on the Information Society in Geneva (December 2003) and Tunis (November 2005) in both English and French versions, and they were extremely well received. We hope that this edition will provide you with an important source of perspectives about the major achievements in the midst of constraints as well as the challenges ahead, in your respective working environments within Asia Pacific. And we hope that this edition will provide a well-deserved visibility to the different types of ongoing experiments in the region to stakeholders in other parts of the world, on the different lanes of the Information Highway towards knowledge societies.

Claude-Yves Charron
The Network of UNESCO Chairs in Communications,
Maria Ng Lee Hoon
International Development Research Centre


In his Nobel lecture and in his Foreword to this edition of the Digital Review of Asia Pacific (DirAP), 2006 Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus, founder of Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, observed that information and communication technology (ICT) is transforming the world into a 'distanceless, borderless world of instantaneous communications' and that poor people can change their lives if they had access to and can use ICT to meet their needs.

For Muhammad Yunus, the first step in bringing ICT to the poor in Bangladesh was the creation of a mobile phone company called the Grameen Telecom of Bangladesh, a part of Grameen Communications, which was undertaken jointly with Telenor of Norway. Grameen Bank provided loans to the poor women of rural Bangladesh to purchase their own mobile phones and to sell mobile phones to villagers. The mobile phone business proved to be a brisk one and today there are almost 300,000 women engaged in the mobile phone business serving 10 million subscribers to Grameen Telecom of Bangladesh.

The operations of Grameen Communications are anchored on the basic principle that 'empowerment of disadvantaged individuals and groups can be accelerated through access to information'. In the Grameen Digital Center website, it is reported that because 'information regarding government, community, health, education, agriculture, environment, etc., is not available to all people, specially to rural people', the rural areas 'suffer considerably from lack of adequate information services' and the rural areas of Bangladesh have 'become distant centres of poverty and hunger due to the lack of communication and other support facilities'. By providing computer, Internet and mobile phone services in the rural areas, therefore, Grameen Communications is 'creating opportunities for addressing poverty and hunger through technological intervention'.

Indeed, there is growing recognition of the role that the new digital technologies can play in fostering human development. In 2002, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan issued this 'challenge to Silicon Valley':

The new information and communications technologies are among the driving forces of globalization. They are bringing people together and bringing decision-makers unprecedented new tools for development. At the same time, however, the gap between information 'haves' and 'have-nots' is widening, and there is a real danger that the world's poor will be excluded from the emerging knowledge-based global economy.

Also in 2002, the United Nations adopted the Millennium Declaration, considered a landmark document reflecting the aspirations and concerns of peoples worldwide, setting specific targets to reduce poverty, and calling for 'concerted action to fight injustice and inequality and to protect our common heritage, the earth, for future generations'. One of the many commitments made in that document is to 'ensure that the benefits of new technologies, especially information and communication technologies, are available to all'.

Between 2002 and 2006, several documents on ICTs and their role in people empowerment, poverty alleviation and development have found print. Moreover, a number of conferences have been held by governments and by international organizations, including the World Summit on the Information Society in 2003 and 2005. Two major recent initiatives are the Global Alliance for Information and Communication Technologies in Development (GAID), which was convened the second time in Kuala Lumpur on 19–20 June 2006, and the First Meeting of the Internet Governance Forum convened in Athens from 30 October to 2 November 2006. A key message from the Internet Governance Forum is that the Internet must be 'accessible, usable and safe for all'.

The DirAP seeks to contribute to the ongoing discussion of how best to put ICTs in the service of human development. DirAP is a biennial publication that aims to provide descriptive, analytical and reflective analysis of current initiatives and issues in ICTs for development (ICT4D) in the region. Given the diversity of concerns of more than 30 countries, economies and sub-regional organizations in the region, providing a descriptive analysis is not an easy task. However, the intention is not to focus on a specific direction that growth and development of ICT4D might take in the region, but to highlight some possibilities in light of current developments and the efforts of governments and institutions in the region.

In its 2003/2004 edition, DirAP reported on the status of ICT4D initiatives in 23 countries and economies, and provided an overview of issues on governance, open source and Internet politics in Asia Pacific. In the 2005/2006 edition, the qualitative analysis of the state of ICTs in 29 countries was complemented by a quantitative analysis that also provided a visual representation which revealed the wide gaps in the growth and development of ICTs across countries in the region. The 2005–2006 edition also included reviews of two sub-regional groups, ASEAN and APEC, and thematic chapters on: (a) bridging the digital divide in Asia Pacific, (b) Internet governance, (c) the social, political and cultural aspects of ICT, and (d) appropriate ICT for Asia Pacific.

This edition (2007/2008) continues the tradition of providing an analytical overview of the state of ICT4D in Asia Pacific. It covers 31 countries and economies, including North Korea for the first time. Each country chapter is an attempt to provide a relatively comprehensive coverage of the various aspects of ICT4D in each of the countries at the time that the chapter was written (in 2006). To provide a broad perspective of the issues covered, the chapters are written by a team of authors representing different sectors, such as government, academe, industry and civil society. There are also five thematic chapters providing a synthesis of some of the key issues in ICT4D in Asia Pacific today.

The banner thematic chapter titled 'ICT4D in Asia Pacific—An Overview of Emerging Issues' by Danny Butt, Rajesh Sreenivasan and Abhishek Singh analyzes current and emerging concerns regarding the growth and development of ICT4D in Asia Pacific, including the impact of ICTs on economic inequality, the environment, culture and content, and policy concerns with reference to Internet governance, e-Governance, regulation, and competition and security. The authors note that the dominant approach to ICT4D in Asia Pacific tends to be patterned after the approach adopted by advanced economies, with its focus on new technologies that might make older structures obsolete, limited discussion of potential risks or unexpected consequences, and little attention to cultural and social issues that are critical to project success. Rather than accepting a one-size-fits-all philosophy, governments in the region should 'formulate a strategy of engagement that suits their particular situation' while also 'foster[ing] networks where we can learn from the experiences of others in similar situations'.

In the area of regulation, for example, Butt, Sreenivasan and Singh note that because countries in the region differ greatly in terms of level of development, 'each country needs to develop its own set of culturally sensitive and national priority-consistent policies'. In so doing, countries must consider the need for regular and effective cooperation and coordination among ICT regulators and industry, a holistic view of the national and regional landscape, and focused and coordinated implementation. In general, governments must not forget that the non-ICT components of development are equally important, and that political will is necessary to ensure success.

In 'Mobile and Wireless Technologies for Development in Asia Pacific', Tan Geok Leng and Suranart Tanvejsilp discuss key technological developments—mobile phones, Wi-Fi, WiMax and meshed wireless networks—that bode well for ensuring universal access to the knowledge economy. The chapter highlights some highly innovative applications, especially of mobile phones, in Asia Pacific, including distance education via SMS, small-value transactions and e-governance. The chapter also discusses the barriers to use of mobile and wireless technologies in many parts of Asia Pacific that are caused by language and literacy, as well as some efforts to overcome them. The chapter concludes with 'a discussion of "development-friendly" policies that policymakers can adopt to expedite the rollout of [mobile and wireless] communication infrastructure and spur greater take-up of services and applications'.

An important application of mobile and wireless technologies in the Asia Pacific region is in risk communication and disaster management. In the thematic chapter titled 'The Role of ICTs in Risk Communication in Asia Pacific', Krishnamurthy Sriramesh, Chanuka Wattegama and Frederick John Abo provide a comprehensive analysis of experiences in the use of ICTs in dealing with serious public health emergencies such as the SARS and avian flu outbreaks and natural disasters such as the Asian Tsunami, volcanic eruptions, typhoons and other natural disasters that have recently occurred in the region with dramatic and tragic dimensions. The chapter highlights the importance of effective risk communication in disaster management in particular and in development efforts in general. Key regional and international programmes harnessing ICTs in risk communication during all phases of disaster management are described and a number of recommendations for policymaking in Asia Pacific countries are given. The recommendations include not only establishing the necessary ICT infrastructure that will enable the use of ICTs as tools in disaster management but also promoting 'risk communication in local languages, given that English is spoken by a mere fraction of the close to three billion people who live in the Asia Pacific region', harnessing the power of mass media and promoting coordination among them during disaster situations, including risk communication 'as one of the dimensions of the activities of telecentres, which are found in many rural Asian societies today', and participating in regional efforts.

Taking up the challenge of localization in Asia Pacific is the focus of the thematic chapter by Sarmad Hussain and Ram Mohan. Localization, defined as the 'process of developing, tailoring and/or enhancing the capability of hardware and software to input, process and output information in the language, norms and metaphors used by a community', is of utmost importance in a region where more than half of the world's 6,800 languages is spoken, including 21 of the 30 most spoken languages in the world, but where only about 10 per cent of the population is reached by the Internet. According to Hussain and Mohan, 'Asia Pacific is lagging behind in the use of ICTs not only because of the unavailability of affordable hardware and connectivity, but also because computing is still primarily in non-Asian languages', in particular, English.

Because of the 'great linguistic diversity of the region', localization is a complex undertaking for which there are no easy or short-term solutions. Hussain and Mohan point out that for policymakers, the decision to embark on localization projects involves striking a balance between the requirements of majority and minority languages and between basic and advanced localization, developing the necessary linguistic and technical expertise, generating resources, choosing the appropriate licensing option and computing platforms, and participating in regional and international standardization activities. They conclude that although it is challenging, the task of localization must be understood as 'an opening for Asia Pacific to revitalize its IT industry and to develop its knowledge economy'.

The intersection between intellectual property (IP) and technology is the focus of the thematic chapter written by Elizabeth Cardoza and Lawrence Liang. The chapter discusses key issues in IP policy for countries in Asia Pacific, particularly in light of increasing pressure from developed countries to impose IP regimes that fail to take into account the socio-economic, cultural and technological needs of developing countries. The key issues include copyright and its impact on access to knowledge and technology; emerging practices in IP protection that are likely to impact on technological development and innovation, such as digital rights management; and the implications of IP provisions in bilateral free trade agreements that go beyond the minimum requirements of the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).

In the light of the possible trade-offs between stronger IP enforcement and technological and economic development in developing countries, Cardoza and Liang highlight the need for policymakers in Asia Pacific to make use of available flexibilities and exceptions under TRIPS and to adopt non-proprietary models of knowledge production and exchange such as free and open source software (OSS) and open content. In negotiating bilateral free trade agreements, countries need to take the initiative of proposing 'novel rules, related incentives and alternative mechanisms on policy areas where there are clear and significant interests' such as proposals relating to data protection and cultural heritage/traditional knowledge. They also need to ensure transparency in negotiations, foster better public awareness of what the stakes are, and weigh the impact of stronger enforcement of IP rights on other development priorities. Cardoza and Liang also recommend a regional or multilateral approach to negotiating trade agreements with powerful countries as this is more 'likely to result in commitments that are of general value and impact' and will thus help them avoid decisions that might jeopardize national socio-economic development goals.

DirAP's mission is to generate new descriptive, analytical and predictive knowledge about the field of ICT for development in the Asia Pacific region. It attempts to provide in-depth syntheses and analyses of ICT-related policies, developments and applications, and issues and debates that meet the needs of policymakers, academics, scholars and practitioners from government, the private sector and civil society. It is hoped that this edition of DirAP fulfills its mission.

Felix Librero
Chief Editor


3G 3rd Generation wireless networks

4G 4th Generation wireless networks

A2K Access to Knowledge

ACE ASCII Compatible Encoding

ADB Asian Development Bank

ADSL Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line

AiDA Accessible Information on Development Activities

AP Access Point

APT Advanced Packaging Tool

ASCII American Standard Code for Information Interchange

ASEAN Association of Southeast Asian Nations

ASR Automatic Speech Recognition

ATM Automatic Teller Machine

AUSFTA Australia-US Free Trade Agreement

B2B Business-to-Business

B2C Business-to-Consumer

B2G Business-to-Government

BcN Broadband Convergence Network

BPO Business Process Outsourcing

BTS Base Transceiver Station

BWA Broadband Wireless Access

ccTLD Country-Code Top-Level Domain

CDMA Code Division Multiple Access

CD-ROM Compact Disc Read-Only Memory

CIT Cheque Imaging & Truncation

CPP Caller-Party-Pay

CPU Central Processing Unit

DAB Digital Audio Broadcasting

DLT Distance Learning Technology

DMB Digital Multimedia Broadcasting

DNS Domain Name System

DRM Digital Rights Management

DSL Digital Subscriber Line

DTT Digital Terrestrial Television

DVB Digital Video Broadcasting

DWDM Dense Wavelength Division Multiplexing

EDGE Enhanced Data Rates for GSM Evolution

FDI Foreign Direct Investment

FLOSS Free/Libre and Open Source Software

FOSS Free and Open Source Software

FTA Free Trade Agreement

FTTH Fibre-to-the-Home

FWA Fixed Wireless Access

Gbps Gigabits per second

GDP Gross Domestic Product

GPLv-3 General Public License of the Free Software Foundation (FSF)

GPRS General Packet Radio Service

GSM Global System for Mobile Communications

GSMA GSM Association

gTLD Generic Top-Level Domain

HDD Hard Disk Drive

HDSL High bit-rate Digital Subscriber Line

HDTV High Definition TV

HSDPA High-Speed Downlink Packet Access

HTML Hyper Text Mark-up Language

iB3G Integrated Beyond 3rd Generation

IC Integrated Circuit

ICANN Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers

ICDL International Computer Driving License

ICP Internet Connection Provider

ICT Information and Communication Technology

ICT4D Information and Communication Technology for Development

IDM Interactive and Digital Media

IDN Internationalized Domain Name

IDRC International Development Research Centre

IEEE Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers

IETF Internet Engineering Task Force

IOSN International Open Source Network

IP-DC Internet Protocol Datacasting

IPR Intellectual Property Rights

IPTV Internet Protocol TV

IPv4 Internet Protocol version 4

IPv6 Internet Protocol version 6

IR Information Retrieval

ISDN Integrated Services Digital Network

ISM Industrial, Scientific and Medical

ISO International Standards Organization

ISP Internet Service Provider

IT Information Technology

ITES Information Technology Enabled Services

ITU International Telecommunications Union

IVR Interactive Voice Response

IXP Internet Exchange Point

Kbps Kilobits per second

LAN Local Area Network

LCD Liquid Crystal Display

LDC Least Developed Country

LF Low Frequency

Mbps Megabits per second

MHP Multimedia Home Platform

MMS Multimedia Messaging Service

MPEG Moving Picture Expert Group

NAP Network Access Provider

NGN Next Generation Network

NGO Non-Governmental Organization

OA Open Access

OCR Optical Character Recognition

OECD Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development

OPGW Optical Ground Wire

OSS Open Source Software

P2P Peer-to-Peer

PBS Public Broadcasting Service

PC Personal Computer

PDA Personal Digital Assistant

PHS Personal Handy Phone System

PLC Power Line Communications

POP Point of Presence

PPP Public–Private Partnership

PSTN Public Switched Telephone Network

PTT Post, Telegraph and Telephone

PWLAN Public Wireless Local Area Network

R&D Research and Development

RFID Radio Frequency Identification

RIO Reference Interconnect Offers

SAARC South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation

SARS Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome

SCPC Single Channel Per Carrier

SDH Synchronous Digital Hierarchy

SIM Subscriber Identification Module

SME Small and Medium-sized Enterprises

SMP Significant Market Power

SMS Short Message Service

SSML Speech Synthesis Mark-up Language

S&T Science and Technology

STM Synchronous Transport Module

TDM Time Division Multiplexing

TD-SCDMA Time Division Synchronous Code Division Multiple Access

TLD Top-Level Domain

TPM Technological Protection Measures

TRIPS Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights

TTS Text-to-Speech synthesizer

TVRO Television Receive Only

UHF Ultra High Frequency

UNDP United Nations Development Programme

UNESCO United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization

UPS Uninterruptible Power Supply

URL Uniform Resource Locator

USP Universal Service Provision

UTF Unicode Transformation Format

VAS Value-Added Service

VoiceML Voice Mark-up Language

VoIP Voice over Internet Protocol

VSAT Very Small Aperture Terminal

W3C World Wide Web Consortium

WAN Wide Area Network

W-CDMA Wideband CDMA

WGIG Working Group on Internet Governance

WiBro Wireless Broadband

Wi-Fi Wireless Fidelity

WiMAX Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access

WIPO World Intellectual Property Organization

WLAN Wireless Local Area Network

WLL Wireless Local Loop

WSIS World Summit on the Information Society

WTO World Trade Organization

Issues for the region

ICT4D in Asia Pacific—An overview of
emerging issues

Mobile and wireless technologies for
development in Asia Pacific

The role of ICTs in risk communication
in Asia Pacific

Localization in Asia Pacific

Key policy issues in intellectual property and
technology in Asia Pacific

State and evolution of ICTs:
A tale of two Asias

ICT4D in Asia Pacific—An overview of emerging issues

Danny Butt, Rajesh Sreenivasan and Abhishek Singh


In 2007, it cannot be denied that information and communication technologies (ICTs) have had a transformative impact on the entire Asia Pacific region. Even in the least developed areas of the region, where ICTs have yet to make a significant mark on everyday life, the processes of lawmaking and the flow of economic goods are in some way influenced by globalization and networked markets enabled by ICTs.

As ICTs become central to the economic structure of countries all over the world, the approach to their role in social and economic development has become more sophisticated. In contrast to earlier policy agendas which sought to increase the use of ICTs as a pathway to achieving development, there is an increasing recognition that ICTs cannot be seen as inherently good or bad, as their effects are dependent upon the particular context of use. For example, access to e-commerce facilities may allow a producer to sell goods to an external market, resulting in higher sales. However, this same channel will allow the importation of goods and services which will pose a threat to local industry development.

Therefore, the decision to enter a global electronic market is a strategic one: the success factors for local businesses and regions will depend to a large degree on access to e-business skills, marketing budgets and distribution capacity. Where these exist, there is the possibility of greatly enhanced economic prospects through e-commerce. Where they do not, it is likely that exposure to global markets will result in overwhelming competition. The early Internet dream that held e-commerce as the saviour of the artisan producer has not come to fruition, even though there have been well-promoted individual success stories. Instead, the rise of ICTs has brought unprecedented consolidation in markets.

Globalization researcher Saskia Sassen explains that this is due to the separation of organizational functions enabled by ICTs: the distinctive way information technologies facilitate dispersal of routine activities and centralization of control activities explains the increasing dominance of cities in global economic activity (Sassen 1991). While there will always be success stories among the poor, there is no doubt that ICTs are, overall, increasing the gap between wealthy and poor businesses, countries and regions.

Little of the policy literature on ICT for Development (ICT4D) explicitly considers these larger overall effects of ICTs. More commonly, ICT4D discussions share uncomfortable similarities with ICT analysis emerging from highly developed economies, such as:

• a focus on new, 'revolutionary' technologies designed to make obsolete older structures and ways of working, with little assessment of the total costs of such a transformation;

• limited discussion of risk or unintended consequences from ICT developments; and

• an abstract theoretical model for economic development through technology that downplays cultural and social issues which are critical to individual project success in the ICT field.

Throughout Asia Pacific, the theme of Universal Access drives ICT4D policy. Policy initiatives carry ambitious titles such as 'Computers for all' or 'One laptop per child'. These are worthy ideals but in the policy setting they become problematic as they are never finally achievable and they provide little guidance for the tough decision-making that is required to support the use of ICTs where basic poverty issues, such as access to food, water and basic health care, remain unsolved. Kerry McNamara (2003, p. 1) points out this significant gap in evaluation:

Despite a proliferation of reports, initiatives and pilot projects in the past several years, we still have little rigorous knowledge about 'what works'. There are abundant 'success stories', but few of these have yet been subjected to detailed evaluation. There is a growing amount of data about the spread of ICTs in developing countries and the differential rates of that spread, but little hard evidence about the sustained impact of these ICTs on poverty reduction and economic growth in those countries.

Given this unhappy trend, why should developing regions even consider expanding their investments in ICT? Would it not make more sense, as some advocate, to concentrate on traditional industries and means of development?

Our view is that even though ICTs are making economic development more challenging for developing areas, ignoring ICTs will only lead to further exclusion from the circuits of power and economic prosperity which rely on these technologies. But the challenges for a truly inclusive information society remain substantial and there are no magic solutions to follow from increased levels of investment in ICTs. It remains the task of each business, government, NGO and individual to formulate a strategy of engagement that suits their particular situation. More importantly, given the very unstable nature of ICT-enabled markets and relationships, it is imperative to foster networks where we can learn from the experiences of others in similar situations, rather than accepting one-size-fits-all philosophies proposed by those benefiting from the status quo.

Documenting and sharing these experiences is one of the key objectives of the Digital Review of Asia Pacific (DirAP). The thematic chapters in this issue, on Mobile and Wireless Technologies, Risk Communication, Localization, and Intellectual Property Regimes, highlight the wide range of options that are available for policymakers and ICT4D practitioners in these critical areas. The chapters on individual economies also highlight the diversity of ICT4D projects being undertaken throughout the region. In the rest of this chapter we outline the major trends in ICT as they affect human development—including technology, the knowledge economy, digital and economic divides, security, environment and e-Government. There is also an overview of the regulatory issues facing policymakers in Asia Pacific. After a brief look at the regulatory focus in developed ICT market countries, the chapter focuses on trends observed in developing ICT market countries and seeks to distil the key elements of regulatory approaches that have seemed to work, that have managed to encourage the growth of a healthy, competitive and innovative culture around ICTs. Our hope is that regulators and authorities in Asia Pacific can assess their own policy framing and implementation mechanisms against these measures and in cases where the measures are already adopted and part of the regulatory approach, there may be scope for a modified approach tailored to a country's culture and business environment.

Technological developments

Technological developments continue to bring about significant changes in cultural and economic life in Asia Pacific. The most significant changes are coming about through three linked areas of innovation: broadband, convergence and wireless. These technological changes reshape the social and economic opportunities that are available in the online environment.


Broadband diffusion is continuing at a rapid pace. At the technological level, DSL has established itself as the dominant protocol for broadband delivery among regions with a high investment in fixed-line Plain Standard Telephone Network (PSTN) infrastructure. The growth in available bandwidth via broadband changes the kind of content that is available to users, because of two distinctive characteristics.

First, broadband is 'always-on', which means that broadband Internet networks take on the form of a utility or basic service, in the same way that telephone or broadcast networks are consistently available. This means that Voice over IP (VoIP), for example, can become a viable replacement for the telephone, although the opportunities to significantly decrease telephony costs are somewhat offset by the lack of control and reliability that nations expect from critical infrastructure. Who gets to decide what is 'good enough' for service delivery remains a critical issue.

The second effect of broadband is in expanded bandwidth, which means that the online distribution of audiovisual material increases. This distribution mechanism replaces broadcast networks for many young and affluent consumers who engage in 'series stacking' (downloading many episodes of a series at once) or downloading pre-release music or movies. Further, the growth in processing power of the personal computer now allows users to treat their personal computer as a music and photo library, video player and home video editing suite. Users increasingly send their own audio-visual content among Internet networks, and this has led to the growth of popular user-generated content services such as the video-sharing site YouTube and the photography website Flickr. The expanded possibilities for audio-visual Internet communication among those without high levels of text literacy should not be underestimated.

The Asian region is a world leader in the development of broadband, with countries such as South Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan having high penetration rates and offering new kinds of applications and services through high-speed data.


Convergence is coming to the fore, as previously distinct forms of media (radio, music stores, television, film, telephony) are now both emulated by and reconfigured within Internet networks. These raise challenging business and regulatory issues for communications regulators who have previously relied on regulation of different physical infrastructure for specific media forms. For example, spectrum allocation allowed for a finite number of free-to-air television and radio broadcasters and this also meant that content control via the broadcasters was a relatively simple affair. In the new media environment where content from a particular producer may be hosted offshore, and with an infinite number of content 'channels', maintaining complete control over local content is almost impossible. There are important cultural policy implications: for example, the concept of a 'quota' of local programming may no longer be appropriate in a non-channel based environment.


There is a continuing proliferation of mobile devices and wireless networks, facilitating both increased movement and reduced costs for 'last mile' delivery. In their country chapter in this volume, Ananya Raihan and Shah M. Ahsan Habib note that Bangladesh had 12.6 million phone users in April 2006, an increase of more than tenfold from 1.2 million phone users in 2001. During the same period, fixed line subscribers merely doubled. This reflects the central role that wireless and mobile technologies now play in extending the reach of communications networks in developing countries.

Platform choice for cell spectrum is also critical in a developing country with limited resources. In highly developed market economies, there is sufficient investment capability to allow firms to establish competing infrastructure (for example, both GSM and CDMA). For developing countries, a combination of donor and private sector investments from foreign countries will influence the technological platform that is deployed. This platform choice may have far-reaching consequences in the future.

Innovative mobile operators are embracing the changes that are occurring. As Keisuke Kamimura and Adam Peake point out in this volume, in Japan 600,000 'one-seg' telephones capable of receiving digital television broadcasts were sold in the first three months of the service being available. While this is encouraging, customized content still cannot be produced due to licensing regulations and a range of unresolved issues such as royalties, which are disbursed according to a system designed for a standard television environment. As usual, regulators are on the back foot with respect to the new technological developments.

Once again, Asia is playing a leading role in the deployment of wireless. While Japan has long been a leader in the provision of mobile data services such as i-mode, South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan and the Philippines are becoming recognized for their role at the forefront of the 'mobile information society'.

An important issue with respect to mobile and wireless is security. In a fixed line environment, it is usually possible to track the source of a particular communication made over a network. With the emergence of pre-pay calling and wireless Internet, such tracking is not always possible. Different policy remedies are available. For example, Australia requires identification to be shown at the point of sale of prepaid calling services (Australian Communications and Media Authority 2006), although such initiatives also raise privacy issues.

Overall, recent developments reflect the ongoing reality that technological change will continue to occur quickly and regulatory or business propositions that are tightly tied to particular technological solutions are at risk of becoming redundant when these conditions change. A focus on developing the capacity to adapt to change and developing a clear picture of the desired social, economic and cultural objectives, whether in public or private sector bodies, is required.

Electronic waste and environmental impacts

These new technological developments often make previous technologies obsolete. However, the physical items themselves do not disappear. A serious question regarding the ongoing sustainability of ICT4D is electronic waste or e-waste, which is the most rapidly growing waste problem in the world. Toxic elements of ICTs such as lead, beryllium, mercury, cadmium and flame retardants pose both an occupational and environmental health threat. Most of the consumption of information technologies occurs in wealthy economies, while the waste products are often shipped to developing countries (where the raw materials came from in many cases). This makes ICTs dependent upon a process which for many countries results in a conversion of their natural resources into toxic material.

International movement of hazardous waste is controlled by the Basel Convention 1992. There is also a proposed amendment, the 'Basel Ban', which prohibits international trade in waste classified as hazardous. Although this has not been ratified, the European Union is voluntarily abiding by the ban (Terazono et al. 2006, p. 6). Nevertheless, close to 40,000 tons of used electronic equipment find their way to India every month, unnoticed, and they are getting routed to illegal electronics dump grounds, reports Ravi Agarwal, director of the non-profit environmental group Toxics Link. The equipment is then incinerated, contaminating the environment with toxic organic compounds and metals (Basu 2006).

There are positive aspects of the international trade in e-waste. The working lives of products can be extended through reuse, and second-hand goods can still be used in many recipient countries even if the goods are considered obsolete in the exporting countries. This not only increases resource utilization efficiency, but also provides economic benefits for people in the importing countries. However, it is difficult to ignore the vastly asymmetrical risks associated with this trade. Often, related industries in recipient countries, especially in the informal sectors, do not consider externalities such as environmental effects. Market price alone does not reflect the true economic value of a material. There are human costs through illness and long-term spoiling of natural resources that can occur through toxic spillage.

There are initiatives in the region to control the e-waste problem. The EECZ Programme (, for example, is dedicated to reducing the environmental pollution caused by industrial activities and hazardous waste in the Chinese province of Zhejiang. The programme is focused on establishing a well-regulated hazardous waste management system and supporting eco-efficient production.

Combating e-waste will require a range of strategies. As a net importer of waste, Asia Pacific could negotiate an agreed range of standards that will allow shared monitoring and enforcement. Much of the current trade occurs in the informal sector and it is difficult to determine the long-term effects. Of course, more eco-friendly manufacturing processes and more serious attempts to reduce the generation of e-waste will be critical. Ultimately, the selling price of technology should also reflect its true cost, including environmental and human costs which are largely ignored by ICT producers.

ICTs and economic inequality

ICTs and poverty alleviation

While the entire ICT4D sector would claim to focus on development in favour of the poor, it remains challenging to find simple solutions or agreement on priorities for ICT4D and poverty. The various technology parks invested in by governments as a key part of ICT strategic plans underscore the difference within countries between those able to make use of ICTs (largely in urban centres) and the rural poor. The question of how to foster social mobility among the rural poor is complex and will not be easily resolved.

McNamara (2003, p. 4) points out that this development issue is not confined to ICTs and that 'the enthusiasm for ICTs has also mirrored earlier fads in development thinking in overemphasizing one factor and failing to focus adequately on the complexity and difficulty of fostering pro-poor change, and on the political and structural constraints on that change in a given country'.

This is not to say that ICTs do not have a role to play, but it is one that needs to be integrated into a larger analysis of structures (for example, trade, education) that may not be largely driven by ICTs. For example, a recent UNDP report on telecentres aimed at empowering the poor found that user satisfaction with the centres is 'closely associated with the capability of the staff at the centres and this in turn affects the degree of community acceptance that the centres enjoy' (Harris and Rajora 2006, p. 13). Such findings show how technology by itself is far from sufficient to achieve clear results in the ICT field and that a range of human skills are required.

ICTs can, however, make a difference to many specific factors that exacerbate poverty. In the area of disaster alleviation, as outlined by Krishnamurthy Sriramesh, Chanuka Wattegama and Frederick John Abo in this edition, ICTs have a critical role to play in preparation, warning and response. This comes from the ability of ICTs to duplicate and deliver instantaneous data in many different formats. Krishnamurthy et al. note, however, that ICTs alone will not save lives and that they need to be integrated into a larger, holistic management system.

Another issue in pro-poor development is that transferring critical services to ICTs needs to take place without dismantling services that are relied upon by those who are not online. In this edition, Lelia Green and Axel Bruns discuss the further marginalization experienced by those unable to access online services after cutbacks to face-to-face bank transactions in Australia.

ICT-related economic development

At the regional and nation-state level, ICTs and technological convergence pose significant challenges for economic development. Many countries throughout the region are beginning to focus their economic development policies on ICT industries. These industries can be difficult to develop without an existing base as they often require integration with dominant platforms and standard-setting bodies which are based outside the region (for example, operating systems such as Microsoft or Apple). A common strategy is to undertake clustering of ICT industries to enable learning from each other and develop regional linkages. The Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC) in Malaysia is a prime example. The informal exchanges and learning that take place in technology parks lead to overall skill development. This is why countries such as Iran are providing large subsidies for such initiatives in their five-year development plan. As Masoud Davarinejad and Massood Saffari point out in their country chapter, there are now nine such parks in Iran alone.

Another significant and sometimes controversial strategy is the use of tariffs to protect local ICT manufacturers. Without such tariffs it is very difficult to develop a local hardware industry and without such an industry technological skills that are necessary for future competitiveness may remain undeveloped. On the other hand, the tariffs may also result in ICT hardware remaining unnecessarily expensive and out of reach of many users and thus prevent the development of new markets. For countries with a limited local industry, like Lao PDR, this debate is ongoing as the chapter on this economy by Phonpasit Phissamay makes clear. It is difficult for policymakers to view these issues objectively due to the tremendous pressure applied by industries with economic interests in the outcome of policy decisions.

Business Process Outsourcing (sometimes termed BPO or, more commonly, simply 'outsourcing') continues to be a growing phenomenon that is having a transformational impact on the economies of the region. On one level, outsourcing has become a significant source of income for many Asia Pacific countries as European and US firms make use of ICT to have labour-intensive service tasks such as call centres, animation work and data processing performed in lower wage countries. However, these industries are challenging to forecast, as they are subject to task migration: if one's own city can host a call centre for a firm, there is a strong chance that the firm could shift to outsourcing to somewhere else if it gets a better deal, as the required skills are relatively transferable (May 2000).

The Internet as private infrastructure

One of the newest pressures affecting ICT-enabled trade is the concept of 'Network Neutrality' (Butt 2006a). The theoretical model for the Internet suggests that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) carry any and all Internet traffic equally, rather than being able to prioritize or block certain traffic or charge differential rates for different kinds of data. User groups advocate for legislative measures to maintain this openness, arguing that it is necessary because users do not have true competition in the telecommunications area due to high switching costs and limited choice. These groups are concerned that the increasing attempts to link content with network service provision will result in users being required to sign up to a particular ISP in order to receive certain kinds of content. Competing businesses might bundle exclusive access to particular content packages along with network access in order to extract the maximum revenue per user, because provision of basic network access alone has low-profit margins. This will result in a fragmentation of the network, as users will not generally purchase more than one access technology in order to access all possible content.

Many people assume that the Internet is a public facility because the technical protocol for transferring information (TCP/IP) is public. But the actual physical networks are owned primarily by private entities who interconnect via market transactions. This raises significant new challenges for governments in particular who are dealing not only with a global facility that is relatively impervious to national interests, but also with a private governance structure that has little incentive to consider the needs of poorer potential users not already connected. In the early days of the Internet, the bulk of the bandwidth was owned by academic or research networks and the profit motive was not usually present, even though the networks only served a small elite. As the Internet becomes important infrastructure for communities around the world, serious challenges are developing for those seeking to expand Internet use in the public interest, when the infrastructure is privately owned.

Peering and exchanges

Related to the issues arising from the ISP business model, there are also policy challenges emerging due to interconnection agreements between networks. Because the Internet is not a single network but a network of networks, the market transactions between these networks can have effects that seem unintuitive from a policy perspective. If two networks within a country do not have a 'peering' arrangement, for cost reasons, traffic may end up travelling to quite remote physical destinations before returning to the very same city. This is akin to how smaller economies are served by airlines—for example, travel between small islands in the Pacific can be more expensive than around-the-world tickets with stops at major cities. While many believe that a market economy will naturally lead to the establishment of Internet Exchange Points due to the economic efficiencies involved, there are indications in some highly developed countries that this is not the case. In New Zealand, for example, major ISPs are choosing to de-peer from exchange points (Bertram 2006). In Lao PDR, as Phissamay describes in this volume, the Lao National Internet Committee (a government agency) is investing in an exchange point to link traffic between the five ISPs and academic networks internally to help alleviate the current situation where national data will often be routed via Thailand or Singapore.


Security is an increasingly important concept covering a range of diverse areas with different political and social consequences. Security, dependability and trust are critical factors in stimulating the take-up of new ICT services. From the computer owned by the individual user which must be protected from hackers, to phishing scams, through to the use of ICTs for border control, the breadth of security threats is enormous. Tarimo (2006) characterizes approaches to ICT security as increasingly focused on the concepts of availability, confidentiality and integrity:

• Availability—The prevention of the unauthorized withholding or unscheduled inaccessibility of information or resources.

• Confidentiality—The prevention of the unauthorized disclosure of information.

• Integrity—The protection of information from unauthorized modification.

What makes security so challenging is that these concepts are often in tension with each other. For example, the desire to make information always available entails the potential for compromise at the level of confidentiality. The existence of a potential threat does not always mean that it can be eliminated. As Tarimo (2006, p. 46) notes, 'The way one defines ICT security will influence how one models the same and ultimately the design of the corresponding solution—approach and model. Many security designs are poor because they are based on unrealistic threat models.' Highlighting unlikely but easily fixable security issues is certainly more lucrative for security solution-providers than attending to more likely and difficult-to-solve security problems.

ISO/IEC 17799, the Code of Practice for Information Security Management, is an internationally recognized standard that provides a framework for security in the private and public sectors covering small to medium enterprises as well as large corporations. The 2005 version of the standard (International Organization for Standardization 2005) contains the following 12 main sections which constitute a useful outline of the issues that need to be considered in the area of information security:

1. Risk assessment and treatment

2. Security policy

3. Organization of information security

4. Asset management

5. Human resources security

6. Physical and environmental security

7. Communications and operations management

8. Access control

9. Information systems acquisition, development and maintenance

10. Information security incident management

11. Business continuity management

12. Compliance

Internet governance

The questions of peering and neutrality are currently addressed in forums associated with Internet Governance. The topic of Internet Governance, discussed by Adam Peake in the 2005–2006 edition of DirAP, has lost some of its momentum after the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) failed to come to any agreement on the issues in 2005. WSIS has developed the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) to discuss the ongoing coordination of the Internet, but it has no authority to implement changes in the Internet's governance bodies. There can be broad or narrow definitions of Internet Governance. Increasingly, many actors favour a broader definition comprising the traditions, institutions and processes that determine how power is exercised, how stakeholders are given a voice and how decisions are made with respect to the Internet. The UN Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG) differentiated clusters of issues related to Internet Governance that can be summarized as (a) access issues; (b) issues related to use of the Internet; and (c) issues around coordination of Internet resources.

One of the common myths about the Internet is that it is not governed (Ang 2005). Technically, the Internet is coordinated rather than governed and it is true that there is no single place where the Internet and a coordinating agency can be identified. But in reality, there are a number of different areas where self or state regulation is in place and these are areas where the analysis of governance is useful.

An Internet Governance issue which does seem to be ongoing is that of Internationalized Domain Names or IDNs, and it has particular relevance to the Asia Pacific region (Butt 2006b). As the number of non-English speakers on the Internet grows exponentially, the Domain Name System (DNS) overseen by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which works on a subset of Roman script, has proven to be incapable of effectively providing Internet navigation services in other languages and scripts. ICANN recently announced a new focus on the issue and it is deploying testbeds for new IDN systems. For Asia Pacific, however, many feel that this is too little, too late, and alternate systems are needed to allow people to use their own languages online. IDN testbeds were established by the Asia Pacific Network Group in 1998. There are also a number of IDNs already established by particular ISPs.1 Organizations such as the Multilingual Internet Names Consortium (MINC) are attempting to develop a coordination framework to ensure that fragmentation of the Internet does not occur through 'leakage' of these IDNs into different zones.

The debate on IDNs remains polarized: there are those supporting universality, standardization, stability and control, on the one hand; versus those advocating for multiplicity, diversity, loose coordination and accountability to local language groups, on the other. From the perspective of bodies such as ICANN and the IETF, a single system for IDNs should be established which can serve the interests of all stakeholders and multiple systems should be avoided. However, this 'universal' approach to IDNs raises much more complex technical, political and economic issues than developing a viable system for a particular language group. This complexity partially accounts for the slow progress on IDN development within the ICANN system. The major challenge will be to create viable mechanisms for mediating between these philosophies. While all agree that the goal is to ensure that the Internet remains a single, interoperable public facility, many increasingly believe that the right of all people to communicate in their own language must be maintained and expanded within this new medium.

Culture and local content issues

The ready availability of relevant local language content is critical for the development of productive capacity in new media. One of the challenges in the early years of Internet diffusion lay in the dominance of the English language and US-centric content, with little relevance to many Asia Pacific Internet users. Without locally relevant content in local languages, immediate uses of ICT for day-to-day activities may not be apparent.

As Sarmad Hussain and Ram Mohan point out in their chapter on 'Localization' in this edition, there are many aspects to the technical issues in localization, including encoding, keyboard and input method, fonts and rendering, locale and local language interfaces. They state, 'Localization is conventionally defined or understood in a narrow sense—that is, it is usually limited to interface translation and other basic changes in the computing platform. We suggest that localization has a broader scope that includes the entire range of script, speech and language technology to enable access to information for the end-user.' Different language groups have very uneven capacities to deliver all of the components necessary for a fully localized experience, and therefore the priorities for Chinese language initiatives, for example, differ from those for Khmer.

There are a number of notable projects working to build local language computing capacity in Asia Pacific. In Nepal, the Dobhase project is currently building an engine for English-to-Nepali machine translation on the Web. Critically, they are also incorporating Nepali-to-English functionality to ensure that the Nepalese become Web producers and not just consumers of online content. Other projects are happening at the platform level: in Bhutan there has been successful development of Dzongkha Linux, a localized operating system.

Increasingly, regional ICT plans are focusing on content and cultural issues. For example, Lorraine Carlos Salazar and Shelah Lardizabal-Vallarino note in the ASEAN chapter in this volume that the ASEAN ICT Fund has endorsed the Brunei Action Plan which will (a) empower home workers in ASEAN countries, (b) conduct workshops on public domain and content development, (c) conduct e-learning, e-culture and e-heritage training for youth, and (d) develop an ASEAN Skills Standard.

In the area of IPRs and patents, countries are increasingly aware of the ability of overseas companies to patent technologies and materials based on traditional products. ICTs play an important role in allowing this commercialization and publication. However, ICTs can also potentially provide a mechanism to mitigate against such exploitation. The government of India's Traditional Knowledge Digital Library initiative has built a database of over 36,000 Ayurvedic formulations and other traditional medicines (see Noronha and Venniyoor, this volume). It is hoped that this can work as a defensive mechanism against inappropriate patents that may be taken out on such materials, which might otherwise result in their becoming inaccessible for India's citizens.

The question of viable financial models for local content companies remains troublesome in the Asia Pacific region, whether in the public or private sector. It is easier for nations with a high number of cultural producers using common languages, such as English or Chinese, to engage in cultural exports. But for smaller nations, export audiences may not be as easy to reach, and local audiences are at risk from increased competition from global sources, which contribute to difficulties in language maintenance.

Because media policies are based on control of national borders, the global nature of Internet media poses many questions. Overall, these can be seen in the shift in national interest content policies from control and quotas to growing effective new content producers who are able to thrive in an international market. Such initiatives are increasingly undertaken by economic development agencies pursuing the 'creative industries' rather than by cultural development agencies. This reflects the forum shifting that has occurred in the intergovernmental sphere, where media and entertainment are now more commonly discussed in the WTO as part of intellectual property agreements rather than in agencies such as UNESCO that have traditionally been the agency for the discussion of cultural issues. As Braithwaite and Drahos (2000) point out, Europe and the US have led these moves, more so than countries in the Asia Pacific region.

Even in nations managing to achieve significant control over content, such as China's 'national firewall', the controls are a partial measure. New social media such as blogs and wikis provide a challenge to holistic media policy, as much of this cultural activity takes place informally, outside of organizations easily subject to policy initiatives. However, these independent forms also allow an unparalleled opportunity for local content to emerge. Donny B.U. and Rapin Mudiardjo estimate that there are currently around 70,000 to 90,000 blogs within Indonesia alone (see the Indonesia chapter in this volume). Ultimately, there is much for the region to gain by supporting the user-generated content platforms that reflect the diversity of all countries in the region.

E-government and regulatory issues

Range of regulatory and policy focus in Asia Pacific

Perhaps the most important point about ICT regulation in Asia Pacific is this: Each country needs to develop its own set of culturally sensitive and consistent national priority policies. There is no 'best' approach to policy formulation and neither are there 'best' types of policies for dealing with specific aspects of ICT. Indeed, most developing Asia Pacific countries are striving to evolve their own set of policies and implementation methods, each using their own discernibly unique methods of consultation, policy formulation and execution/implementation. The differences in regulatory approaches in Asia Pacific are based largely on cultural as well as economic issues, such as the level of development of a country's ICT infrastructure, the penetration rates of different forms of ICTs, the emphasis people place on culturally unique content, the willingness to invest, and of course, two factors that greatly influences all of the above—per capita income and the level of education.

In terms of ICT market maturity, countries in the region can be classified as either 'Developed ICT Market Countries' or 'Developing ICT Market Countries'. 'Developed ICT Market Countries' refers to countries such as Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan, where ICT markets are relatively mature, where current generation infrastructure is in place and there are definite plans (some already in the execution phase) to install next generation infrastructure, where there are multiple competitors in a market and where the market demand for services and products is healthy enough to encourage innovation. 'Developing ICT Market Countries' refers to two types of countries: (a) countries where ICT markets are rapidly growing due to economic prosperity and large populations capable of sustaining such growth, but where this has been a recent phenomenon (for example, China and India) and (b) countries whose economies and ICT take-up is not expanding at a rapid pace, either due to their small population and market sizes, geographic locations or economic size.

In economically developed countries with relatively mature ICT markets, such as Singapore, South Korea and Japan, infrastructure is a given and the build-out of future-proofed cutting-edge infrastructure and upgrading also tends to be a given. This is because the relatively high per capita income and critical mass of educated population able to use and fully benefit from ICTs tend to make new build-outs and massive capital commitments viable over a medium term for private operators. In such countries, market forces and dynamics make it viable for private operators to consider build-outs without too much assistance from government, although public–private partnerships (PPPs) are being seen as a mutually advantageous option for infrastructure build-outs.2 Here, monopolies in mainstream broadcasting, telecommunications and Web access have ceased and the regulators and policymakers have accepted the technology neutrality argument and have enacted (mostly) technology-neutral laws and regulations to regulate and enable convergence-driven technologies. The focus of policy and regulators in these countries tends to be less on the penetration rates of basic technology or technology accessibility and more on ensuring that the country is 'future-proofed' and that growth and sustainability of a competitive market are assured. This is evident in Singapore, where the IT and telecoms regulator, the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore, has a number of infrastructure and training programmes already running under an 'Intelligent Nation 2015' masterplan.3

In contrast, in many developing countries such as Mongolia, Vietnam, Bhutan and Nepal, regulators and policymakers are tasked with creating the conditions that would enable an active ICT market to come about. That said, developing countries in the nascent stages of ICT adoption, with less mature markets but with access to current technologies, may actually be at an advantage compared to developed countries. This is because they may be able to 'leapfrog' some of the issues faced by the developed countries that can often distort or skew the ICT development process. For instance, developed markets may have had to make a tough political and economic choice when faced with the prospect of having to impose prohibitively high termination payments (using taxpayers' money) as a cost of dismantling tightly controlled or nationalized monopolies or oligopolies. Faced with such a prospect, a government might delay liberalization to ensure that the monopoly period granted runs out first.

Another perhaps more important issue is an outdated regulatory and legal framework. Developing countries may be at a relative advantage in so far as they can start from a 'fresh page' when it comes to developing regulatory and legal frameworks for ICT, especially since they can draw on the collective regulatory experience of developed countries to bolster and build their own expertise. Some developing countries have been able to use World Bank aid to consult professionals from countries with maturing regulatory regimes, such as Singapore, to get advice on structuring ICT regulation. This allows them to gain insight into the issues and challenges involved in successfully regulating for growth—ensuring end-user protection without stifling industry growth by over-regulating—and to put in place a market-conducive legal and regulatory framework. For example, through World Bank funding, both Mongolia and Lesotho in Africa have tapped professionals from developed ICT markets to assist in the formulation of enabling and technology-neutral ICT regulation and legislation designed with the above goals in mind.

The policy and regulation focus in developing countries tends more toward increasing ICT penetration rates especially in rural and semi-urban areas. In nearly all developing countries, there are direct or indirect policies aimed at increasing the usage of ICT. So for instance, Bangladesh did away with import taxes and duties on computers in 1998 (see Raihan and Habib, this volume), while Nepal is constructing a national optical fibre backbone for telecommunications partly with aid from the Indian government (see Pandey and Shrestha, this edition).

Some developing countries are devising novel ways to grow their nascent ICT industries via indirect policies encouraging growth in technology, content and software development, especially to encourage innovation. This allows policy to have an influence in a space that is rarely regulated because it usually does not need to be—the space between infrastructure and end-user. In Pakistan, as described by Jamshed Masood and Salman Malik in this volume, the government is engaged in a study to consider the viability of a government-backed venture capital fund that can provide subsidized funding for Pakistani ICT ventures. A further impetus is tax holidays granted to the income of ICT-focused venture capital funds.

Leading by example—e-government and e-governance

The continuing diffusion of ICTs and the emergence of the Internet as the communications medium of choice among many businesses and citizens has increased the pressure on government departments to provide information and services through electronic means. This year, for example, Australia published Responsive Government: A New Service Agenda which recognizes the need to deliver a more coordinated and citizen-focused programme of activities and ensure that the capabilities to support this are present. This reflects many other similar initiatives in the region such as South Korea's u-Korea Master Plan (2006–2010), described by Jong Sung Hwang and Jihyun Jun in this volume.

There is a large variety of e-government projects and obviously, many of these require substantial expertise and experience that may not be available in governments with low IT capacity. Thomas Parks (2005) points out that very few government decision-makers have direct experience with IT. Even if they see the opportunity, they often lack experience in planning and implementation, which leaves them at the mercy of vendors and/or individual consultants. One common problem is the lack of time and budget for software acquisition and implementation, systems integration and training. Training in particular is vital and should thus be given as much budgetary allocation as the computer hardware itself.

Examples of laudable ongoing e-government initiatives can be found even in the remotest Asia Pacific countries like Bhutan (see Wangchuk and Pradhan, this volume) and the Maldives (see Ibrahim and Ahmed, this volume). Bhutan is working on implementing initiatives in border management, passport control and civil registration, while the Maldives is in the process of interlinking government offices via a WAN network as a precursor to e-government services. These initiatives show how policymakers can lead by example to encourage the uptake and penetration of ICT.

Open source

Nearly all of the Asia Pacific countries surveyed in this edition of DirAP encourage the development of open source software. Localized versions of the Linux OS are popular in a number of countries such as Vietnam, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Mongolia. This is not surprising, given the relatively high cost of licensed software. Perhaps the most visible examples of policy favouring open source are in China and India: since 2002 governments in both countries have taken policy stances advocating open source over proprietary solutions.4 This has been followed more recently by a number of institutions in Southern India successfully deploying Linux-based solutions and state governments advocating their adoption.5

From an economic perspective, this makes absolute sense: one should use something that can do the job for $0. The chink in Linux's armour, however, is usability. Especially in countries with a relatively low literacy rate, it is much harder to learn on Linux than on any other platform. Policymakers should encourage the development of easy-to-use localized user interfaces in open source platforms.

Open content

Regulators and policymakers in Asia Pacific need to grapple with the issue of how best to get local content online and make it accessible to the widest audience. This can have a direct bearing on penetration rates for ICT as more and more people may choose to come online or take up ICTs if the services are available in local languages and a range of local content is accessible.

As for a licensing model for open content, there is a discernible interest in Asia Pacific in the more flexible licensing models offered by the likes of the Creative Commons6 and the Free Software Foundation (FSF). For example, India has been involved in the updating of the FSF's General Public License (GPL) from version 2 to 3 (see Noronha and Venniyoor, this volume.

General IPR and ICT laws

Legislation on IT and digital signatures is now in place in a number of countries in the region. When enacting such laws, attention must be given to the principle of technology neutrality: the laws should be applicable regardless of the technology.

With respect to approaches to applying and enforcing laws, the trend in developing ICT countries has been to follow the lead of the developed countries, which is to use a 'light touch' in ICT regulation—that is, regulators step in only when needed to correct imbalances in the market which the market cannot correct by itself (for example, monopolistic or cartelized competition).

Building and implementing sound policy and regulation

We have found that most of countries in the region that have enjoyed productive and sustained ICT growth share certain features in terms of regulatory approaches. These are:

• Regular and effective cooperation and coordination among ICT regulators and industry;

• A holistic view of the national and regional landscape when seeking to determine and implement ICT policy; and

• Focused and coordinated implementation.

The regulatory and policy environment of some countries has all of these features, while others have only some of the features and they may be present in varying degrees. The point is that their presence appears to encourage holistic and forward-looking policy that is capable of being both visionary and realistic in terms of implementation resource requirements. A regulatory tool set containing some or all of these features (depending on national circumstances) can help to realistically address two key considerations facing the majority of Asia Pacific countries, namely:

1. Managing the digital divide: 'Digital divide' refers to the gap that in many cases has opened up between citizens who are versed in ICTs and able to derive maximal benefit from using them and those not versed in ICTs due to lack of opportunity or inadequate infrastructure.

2. Managing the convergence process: 'Convergence' in this sense denotes the convergence of content from disparate analogue formats provided over separate analogue infrastructure, to a single digital format (digital broadcast, digital sound, digital data) capable of delivery to multiple I/O, interactive devices via a single fibre optic 'fatpipe' infrastructure.

These tasks require regulators and policymakers to engage with ICT industry and users when formulating policy and laws. Coordination and consultation among the responsible government ministries and regulators, including those not directly responsible for ICT, are likewise essential. Singapore provides a good illustration of this model in practice. For nearly all major policy decisions, the Singapore IDA ( holds a public and industry consultation, and makes a decision only after considering the responses given.7 Thus, for example, the new IDA-administered Code of Practice for Competition in the Provision of Telecommunication Services 2005 was released with significant revisions most of which were partly or wholly attributable to concerns raised via consultations. Such coordination can inform the industry and users of the directions policymakers intend for ICT to take and it can give them a chance to adapt to it or, even better, to constructively influence it. Used properly, this collective decision-making process can make it easier to implement and get results from policies, as users feel the policies are cognizant of their interests.

A holistic view of the national and regional landscape

Policymakers need to think through the objectives of a policy, law or regulation and assess whether its expectations are realistic in a national and regional context. If it is unclear how the expectations and goals can be reached, then steps to make those clear should be identified and implemented.

This may seem simple, but there are ICT policies drafted as vision statements, without guidelines as to who needs to do what to achieve certain goals. For example, a government might come up with a 10-point plan for putting a country on the ICT growth path but does not provide clear instructions to the concerned ministries and governmental bodies on what coordination is expected or should take place.

The regional angle can also come into play, especially if it can enhance a country's position on ICT issues, such as open source software development and content licensing. With respect to open source software, given the marked encouragement it has received in Asia Pacific, it is conceivable to imagine policy encouraging cross-border collaborations (whether between governments/regulators or commercial entities or both) on open source development, especially between countries with the same languages. This can accelerate the development process for both locally developed software and/or the localization process for all software.

As for content licensing, as countries consider more flexible licensing models for open content, they may at the same time hesitate to have stringent standards thrust upon them, complete with obligations to adhere to digital rights management. An example is Australia, where a number of critics have cried foul over the government's decision to bring its copyright legislation in line with that of the United States, as part of its obligations under a free trade agreement which came into force in 2005. Australia's modification of its copyright and intellectual property laws included adopting provisions rendering illegal any measure to circumvent technology protection measures (TPMs), which in turn could put Australian copyright law at odds with the hitherto unassailable fair use access rights available to users of copyright materials (see Green and Bruns, this volume).

In such cases, it may be possible for developing country regulators to collaborate across borders to agree on principles for flexible licensing and copyright protection and to then use this common ground to seek better terms when negotiating with countries with traditional licensing terms (see Cardoza and Liang, this volume). This common stance could be used collectively when negotiating as a trade bloc or it could be used to strengthen an individual country's bargaining position when negotiating individually. Such a policy stance could also be used to advantage by private entities negotiating content licensing terms even in the absence of a free trade or IPR-specific agreement.

Forming a regional position also involves determining all of the governmental and non-governmental agencies that need to be co-opted to work together to bring high-level ICT policy to practical fruition. First, the practical goals of the policy must be worked out. Second, who is empowered to do what is necessary to bring it to fruition should be identified. And third, the responsibilities towards achieving the policy goals should be delegated and a clear review process and schedule to monitor progress should be agreed upon. In short, political will is necessary to achieve ICT growth. That said, it must be clear that the process of guiding and implementing focused and coordinated policy implementation is the ICT policy goal that requires perhaps the greatest amount of political will.

Overall impact of ICT on governance and policy

It is frequently assumed that the introduction of more advanced ICT reduces opportunities for corruption. However, as Wescott (2002) notes, the reality is more complex. While ICT sometimes helps in combating corruption, it can also have no effect, or even provide for new corruption opportunities, including fraud. Indeed, unintended consequences are common in e-governance projects, even those that have positive outcomes. Consider the following related but contrasting examples.

The government of Andhra Pradesh developed a land registration system where the land owner enters some details of his/her property, such as location, dimensions and other factors that affect the value of the land, and then calculates the value. Prior to the system, land valuation was performed in an entirely non-transparent system by assessors and agents and often required weeks and some additional payments. According to Subash Bhatnagar of the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, 'Land registration can be completed in a few hours (with the new system), whereas earlier it took 7–15 days' (Parks 2005, p. 6).

However, researcher Solomon Benjamin (2005) has found that new land regimes can have very uneven effects. He notes that in Bangalore, the reduction of complexity in titles and centralization has made land much more open to larger purchasers. 'This has allowed very large real estate companies catering to the IT industry to access land in Bangalore, resulting in dramatic changes in land markets' (Benajmin 2005, p. 8). Gentrification becomes an issue and the rights of the poor are made more tenuous when ICT enables companies and politicians to collaborate on larger 'real estate development projects', which may be good for a region's overall economy but result in the transfer of security away from the poor to the benefit of the wealthy. After all, it is unrealistic to think that the poor will be trading on the ICT-enabled property market.

Education for the information society

While the discussion of ICTs is often posed in relationship to a 'knowledge economy' or an 'information society', the latter is usually taken to mean an advanced industrialized economy where service industries account for a very large proportion of the national economy. While this economic structure is identifiable in some nation states, there are very few roadmaps for how such an economic state can be achieved by developing countries and in this respect Asia Pacific is no different from the rest of the world.

There are five novel processes that characterize the Information Society in published literature. Identifying these processes provides an insight to the kind of policy responses required to prepare a population for this emerging society:

1. Global networks of finance capital are rapidly expanding, with economic advancement often based on the ability to shift informationalized capital between markets. This suggests the need for an international perspective and experience and a certain level of cosmopolitanism and outwardly-focused thinking among business owners.

2. Information itself is increasingly commodified. That is, there has been significant growth in the sales of 'information products' and media as a proportion of economic activity. This intensifies the need for literacy and for a critical capacity to assess information.

3. Lifestyle and consumption choices increasingly define diverse social structures, requiring businesses to have a more sophisticated understanding of cultural issues and empathy with their chosen markets.

4. Services are becoming an increasingly important economic category, suggesting a shift in the traditional policy focus on science and technology and increased emphasis on human disciplines such as the arts, humanities and social sciences.

5. There is the recognized emergence of significant 'informal' economies, which direct the flow of money outside of the formal market mechanisms where more open relationships take place. For example, most areas of the creative industries are heavily dependent on personal relationships. Skills in relationship development are necessary in more informal environments.

As a representative and influential example, Manuel Castells' view is that there is a new mode of development, which he calls informationalism, that is driven by changes in the mode of capitalist production. According to Castells (1996, p. 27), this trend is linked to the rise of the service industry and the informational economy, where the workplace is focused on the generation, manipulation and interpretation of text, images and other symbolic information. The result of these changes is the emergence of a 'skill bias' in changing employment opportunities under information-intensive economies, where jobs requiring manual labour are disappearing and new jobs require higher levels of information literacy and knowledge. Economists have put forward this notion of 'skill-biased technological change' to explain the growing overrepresentation of the least skilled workers in unemployment figures in many countries over the last two decades. Greenan et al. (2002, p. 10) note that this change 'induces an upward drift in the relative efficiency of skilled workers and a downward drift in the cost share of unskilled workers', leading to increased wage inequality without affecting aggregate wage and employment statistics. This is important in ICT4D because regional and national aggregate statistics are usually used as evidence for ICT-induced economic gains but may in fact be coextensive with decreased economic well-being for a majority of people.

While many jobs have been lost through ICT development, many new ones have been created. However, aggregate economic statistics such as job growth, usually used as evidence to support IT-supported economic gains, shed little light on the kinds of jobs that are created and lost in this transformation. Where are the contemporary skills shortages that must be addressed? These are often difficult to map and little is known about changes in on-the-job training. Certification may often be simply for convenience, providing barriers to entry rather than reflecting true business need. For example, the Microsoft Certified Software Engineer (MCSE) qualification became increasingly popular because it provided the type of ICT skills that were/are thought to be relevant in the labour market, but it rapidly produced over-supply (South Africa Human Resource Development Data Warehouse 2004).

There is widespread agreement that education is one of the most important issues in preparing people for the information society and in particular in adapting to technology-enabled networks. European researchers have highlighted three kinds of ICT skills that are important: ICT User Skills, ICT Practitioner Skills and e-Business Skills (European Committee for Standardization 2006):

ICT user skills, such as using the Internet or desktop processing programmes, generally lead to productivity improvements for organizations and allow individual users to get higher paying work.

ICT practitioner skills, such as software development, enable the development of new industries. These generally require a higher level of training and result in an individual who has a career in the ICT sector.

e-Business skills (or what we might call e-organizational skills) are related to an understanding of changes in markets, policy and organizational structures which are occurring due to the rise of the Internet and ICTs. These skills are gained through education but also often by the experience of the user working in a particular field.

Chennells and van Reenen (2002, p. 199) suggest that while there is considerable agreement about skill-biased change, there is little research analyzing the means by which technological change translates into higher demand for skills. Their work points to organizational changes made possible through ICT, such as 'delayering, decentralization and giving greater autonomy to workers' as the link between technology and higher skill requirements or professionalization. While computer interfaces have not changed the knowledge that manufacturers must have about their production process, they do provide far more second-by-second information about the process that needs to be interpreted (Shaw 2002, p. 232). Consequently, firms develop highly skilled job designs that reflect this need for interpretation and cognitive skills.

In ICT4D in Asia Pacific, we can see this reflected most clearly in the changes in the telecentre movement. As Raihan and Habib point out in the Bangladesh chapter, a content-based approach gives a new direction to the global telecentre movement. Previously, a telecentre was essentially a technology learning centre and communication centre (with an Internet connection and telephones) which largely relied on the information processing capabilities of the end users. Now, telecentres are able to provide the core information and knowledge service for things such as market opportunities or information on the visits of aid organizations. These functions are unthinkable without ICT. However, ICT use is not the goal but simply a means for the telecentre to become an effective social and informational hub.


As this overview and the volume as a whole makes clear, the field of ICT4D is extremely diverse and it intersects with a wide range of other issues. There are indications that ultimately, specialization and focus on the non-ICT parts of society remain critical for successful ICT4D projects. Nepal is positioning itself as a communications gateway between China and India, making use of its unique physical location between these two emerging superpowers. In the Maldives, the few software developers who have been successful have been largely focused on the hospitality industry, and they have managed to market point-of-sale and hospitality management software to other countries as well.

Policymakers have to take stock of their true situation and the resources available to them rather than following one-size-fits-all blueprints for ICT-enabled development. In developed ICT market countries, policy and regulation are concerned more with future-proofing. On the other hand, in developing ICT market countries, policy seems to be more concerned with getting up to speed than with future-proofing. It is heartening to see a number of developing ICT market countries in Asia Pacific grappling with how to increase penetration rates and technology access, not just at the infrastructure level but also at the user level via targeted education, while at the same time trying not to over-regulate and maintaining a 'light touch'.

The main challenges ahead are likely to be managing the digital divide and convergence. While we have noted features that effective regulatory and policy frameworks appear to possess, it is still the regulators and the people of a country with ground-level experience who would know best what works there. That said, appropriate policy options and advice on what to do may be available but the political will could be lacking. Malaysia's well known leadership position in ICTs must be partially a function of the high-level support required to transform ideas into action. In 1994, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad chaired the newly established National IT Council. Other countries in the region have prime ministerial-level champions, such as Prime Minister Samdech Hun Sen, Chair of the National Information Communications Technology Development Authority in Cambodia, and President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in the Philippines, who initiated a National ICT Month in 2005. It is clear that many other countries in the region do not have the same levels of leadership in their government administrations.

ICTs are rapidly transforming many fields and their successful implementation requires high-level champions who can influence the strategic direction of governments, business and community organizations in response to the changing environment. However, such advocacy must remain critical, as ICTs are not simply a good, but offer a powerful capacity to disrupt long-standing markets, communities and technologies. Sometimes such disruption is necessary to enable communities to respond adequately to a rapidly changing environment, although as the current consensus on climate change suggests, we may not be able to evaluate the success or failure of our development efforts until many years into the future. For ICT4D decision-makers whose own fortunes rise and fall quickly, the only option in such uncertainty is to evaluate the situation as rigorously as possible and attempt to chart a course for the right side of history.


1. Providers of IDN systems include China Internet Network Information Centre (CNNIC) in China;, a plugin-based architecture; Japan Network Information Centre (JPNIC) which has registered over 60,000 domain names in Japanese; and Korean Network Information Centre (KRNIC), which has registered over 50,000 domain names in Hangul.

2. An example is IDA Singapore's recent Pre-Qualifying RFP for the build-out of Singapore's Next Generation Network on a PPP model basis. For further information see:

3. See:

4. For a more recent update on Linux in India see: The comments appended to this story offer an interesting view on the Indian public's view of Microsoft v Linux in India.

5. See:

6. See:

7. A list of current consultations and results of past consultations can be viewed at:


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Mobile and wireless
technologies for development
in Asia Pacific

Tan Geok Leng and Suranart Tanvejsilp


Development agencies have long recognized the role of telecommunications in the economic and social development of communities and nations. The provision of universal telecommunication services is now built into every nation's development plans. The traditional approach was to construct a wired, copper-based infrastructure and extend that to places where there are pockets of population. Unfortunately, this turned out to be an expensive and lengthy process that has denied large segments of the population access to telecommunications.

Recent developments in mobile and wireless1 technologies have opened up new possibilities to reach the population at a faster rate and at a lower cost than with the traditional copper-based approach. In this chapter, we describe the capabilities of several types of mobile and wireless technologies that have made a big impact on nations developing their communications infrastructure. These technologies include mobile phones, Wi-Fi, WiMAX and meshed wireless networks. We then discuss the barriers to use of mobile and wireless technologies in many parts of Asia Pacific that are caused by language and literacy, as well as some efforts to overcome them. We conclude with a discussion of 'development-friendly' policies that policymakers can adopt to expedite the rollout of communication infrastructure and spur greater take-up of services and applications.

There are many different forms of mobile and wireless technologies in use today. These include Near Field Communications (NFC), Bluetooth, DECT, mobile phones, Wi-Fi, WiMAX, High Altitude Platforms and satellite telephone networks. Each of these have been designed and optimized to serve a certain market segment. There is no one single technology that is able to meet all of the needs of all of the people, all the time. The greatest development impact is obtained by deploying the most appropriate technology for the situation at hand. For example, Bluetooth is designed as a cable-replacement and it is very inexpensive, but it is capable of supporting only very short range communications of moderate data rates. In contrast, a satellite system is very expensive to set up but it is perfectly suited to cover vast terrains; on the other hand, it works only when there is a direct line of sight between the end-user unit and the satellite.

In this chapter, we focus only on those technologies capable of delivering voice and Internet services to a large population spread across a vast geographical area. Two very important and widely-deployed wireless technologies that meet these criteria are the mobile phone and Wi-Fi LAN systems. We cover these in detail and show how they serve different segments of the community. We also discuss the technological evolutions of these systems and show that the differences between them may diminish in the future.

Mobile phones

Mobile phones2 have become the most common mode of communication in the world. In 2005, there were over 2.20 billion mobile phone users compared to only 1.26 billion fixed-line telephone users globally (ITU 2005a). Even more interesting are their rates of growth: the Compound Annual Growth Rates (CAGR) for mobile phones and fixed-line phones were 24 per cent and 5.2 per cent, respectively, from 2000 to 2005. If this trend continues, mobile phone penetration will far exceed fixed line phone penetration in the next decade. Mobile phones are not just for developed countries. With over 690 mobile phone network operators operating in 213 countries, virtually every country around the world has access to the technology. And with mobile phone penetration in many developed and developing countries reaching saturation levels, mobile phone providers are developing more cost effective solutions that are targeted at less developed countries. More than half of the world's population resides in these countries and this is where future growth of mobile phones is expected to come from.

A lot of thought has gone into the design of mobile phone systems. It can seamlessly provide voice communications to a large population spread across large geographical areas. Each user is identified with a unique subscriber identification number for authentication and billing purposes. The system is capable of supporting roaming across national boundaries. It is these features that make the mobile phone personal to the user, enabling him or her to be contacted at any time and any place where there is radio coverage. Mobile phone systems are very reliable and communication across the system is secure against eavesdropping. Spam, or unsolicited calls or messages of an advertising nature, is almost non-existent in the mobile phone system. Because of these attributes, users have made the mobile phone their trusted personal device, which has contributed to the dramatic growth in mobile phone use around the world.

While a mobile phone may seem to be very easy and convenient to use, it only works because it is supported by an extensive network of base stations and a complex layer of management software working in the background. A mobile phone system consists of a cellular arrangement of base stations spread across the entire area of coverage. Each base station can provide cover to an area several kilometres in radius. A mobile phone needs only to communicate with the base station closest to it and through it reach any other mobile or landline telephone it wants to connect to. The cellular arrangement of base stations enables the technique of frequency reuse to be exploited, thus enabling a very large increase in the traffic carrying capacity of the system. It would not have been possible for policymakers to allocate sufficient radio spectrum for the general population if the technique of frequency reuse had not been invented.

When mobile phones were first introduced, only businesses and the very rich could afford them. Today they have become much more affordable and they have penetrated all segments of society. Furthermore, we are starting to see a trend of mobile phones displacing fixed-line telephones. In developed countries, it is the convenience of being reachable anytime and anywhere that drives the trend. The phone number is tied to the person and not to a specific location. Whereas residents of a household are likely to share one fixed-line telephone, it is highly likely that each individual within a household will have his or her own personal mobile phone. In the case of developing countries, it is the speed of deployment and lower investment costs that drive the take-up of mobile phones. A strategically placed radio base station can almost immediately bring communications to everyone within a 5–10 km radius compared to the months it may take to plan, obtain all the necessary permits and deploy a copper infrastructure to cover the same area.

The first generation mobile phone system was introduced by AT&T Bell Labs in Chicago in 1978 and it achieved success with the business community. The second generation mobile phone used digital technology to improve its capabilities. In this way, mobile phones began to make an impact on the general population. Besides voice, the second generation mobile phone system also has some basic data capability, such as the General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) and the Short Message Service (SMS). While GPRS saw only limited success, SMS turned out to be a big hit. GPRS provides a data connection capability between the handset and the phone network and from there onto the Internet. The lukewarm reception towards GPRS may be due to the fact that it could only support a relatively low data rate of about 20 to 40 kbps and users have found it to be an expensive service. SMS allows the user to send short alphanumeric messages of up to 160 characters to other mobile phone users. SMS is extremely popular with youngsters and even businesses have found innovative ways of using SMS to take advantage of its low cost and the ubiquity of handsets. Last year, over one trillion SMSs were sent globally and it now accounts for a significant portion of an operator's revenue. For example, 16 per cent of China Mobile's 2004 revenue came from data, and SMS sent in China grew from a mere 0.44 million in 2000 to 300 million in 2005 (ITU 2006).

The third generation mobile phone exploits wideband digital communications to further improve on the second generation phone system. One key improvement is the capability to support multimedia applications. Another key benefit is the fact that third generation mobile phone systems can deliver voice services at a fraction of the cost of second generation systems, potentially making mobile phone service even more affordable than before.

The success of mobile phones is due to the work of many players. These include the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI), the body which created the technical standards for GSM, the dominant mobile phone system in use today, and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), an intergovernmental organization of public and private entities. The ITU, working together with National Administrations, endorses standards and regulations and harmonizes the radio frequency spectrum to be used by mobile phone operators around the world. Standardization of equipment enables production volumes to be efficiently scaled up, thus bringing down per unit costs. Through market competition, these savings can then be passed on to the consumer. A harmonized radio spectrum makes international roaming possible with just one handset. An extensive network of inter-country, inter-operator relationships have sprung up to enable seamless service across countries around the world. This is made possible by the fact that each mobile phone subscriber has a direct billing relationship with his or her home operator and can be uniquely identified through the personal subscriber identification module (SIM) associated with his or her phone subscription.

A country's telecommunications regulator has a strong influence on whether there will be a high take-up of mobile phone services in that country. The regulator influences the degree of competition and vibrancy of the market by the number of players it permits to play in that market. If there is insufficient competition, subscribers may end up paying more because operators need not fight too hard for the market share. However, it has also been argued that too much competition will create a market where the operators may not make enough money for re-investment to keep the infrastructure up to date.

Regulators also control the quantum and pricing of the radio frequency spectrum. It can be shown that there is an inverse relationship between the quanta of spectrum allocated and the intensity of infrastructure (related to capital expenditure) needed to service a particular distribution of subscribers. The cost of the radio spectrum can vary dramatically; some governments see it as a means to raise as much revenue as possible, while others may see it as a tool for telecommunications development and thus charge only a nominal fee. However, the trend is for regulators to use the auction mechanism and let the market establish a price for the radio spectrum.

Regulators must also play the role of referee to ensure a level playing field for the market mechanism to work effectively. The regulator needs to establish clear rules for interconnection between mobile operators and between the mobile and landline operators, and ensure access to critical infrastructure such as telecommunications ducts and pipes and access to telecommunications towers and exchanges. The regulator must also ensure that operators do not adopt anti-competitive practices such as locking of handsets and imposition of excessively long service contract periods. The regulator should also ensure that there is a mechanism for mobile number portability so that users can freely switch operators without worrying about losing the telephone number that has become personal to them.

Another very important player is the GSM Association (GSMA), a global trade association representing more than 690 mobile phone operators and more than 180 equipment manufacturers and suppliers. Their primary goal is to ensure that mobile phones and services work globally, creating business opportunities for their members. Ground-breaking initiatives launched by the GSMA include the 'Emerging Market Handset Programme' (EMH) designed to bridge the digital divide by catalyzing the development of affordable handsets. The programme seeks to achieve an ex-factory price of below USD 30 per handset. This is much lower than the price of handsets in the market today. EMH handsets have been supplied through 10 participating operators in countries such as India, South Africa, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia, Bangladesh, Turkey, Thailand, Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Pakistan, Yemen, Sri Lanka and Kenya. Other important programmes launched by GSMA include the GSMA Development Fund and studies on the impact of government taxes on the affordability of mobile phone services.

Mobile phone operators play a very important role in the mobile phone ecosystem. A savvy operator can extract maximum revenues from businesses and yet still provide affordable services to the masses with a well structured service offering. Some of the most important tools for developing the mass market include the availability of handset subsidies, prepaid service plans, Caller-Party-Pays (CPP) plans and discounted or free buddy call plans.

Studies by GSMA have shown that handset cost is one of the major impediments to mobile phone penetration in developing countries. This problem can be mitigated by an operator bundling a subsidized handset with a service plan and amortizing the cost of the handset over a service period of 24 or more months. Another very successful tactic is for the authorities to encourage the development of an orderly and active market for secondhand handsets. In many developed markets, handsets have become fashion items and they may be traded in for new models after only one or two years of use. These used handsets can be purchased at a fraction of their original price and they can be redeployed in the price-sensitive market segment.

The availability of prepaid or pay-as-you-go price plans is particularly important to stimulate growth of the price-sensitive market segment. This type of plan appeals to people with a limited or uncertain income stream and who may not be able to commit to any fixed monthly subscription plan. Prepaid plans also permit users to moderate their usage based on what they can currently afford. Prepaid plans have been so successful that in Africa, prepaid subscribers accounted for 87.4 per cent of all subscribers in the year 2004 and the global average for that year was 46.3 per cent (ITU 2005b).

Another very important tool for growing the price-sensitive market segment is a CPP plan. Under this settlement regime, it is the originating party that pays for the call while the terminating party is not charged at all. Operators have found that CPP appeals to the price-sensitive market segment, especially students, teenagers and blue-collar workers even though it may cost more on a per-minute basis compared to the Receiving-Party-Pays plan. This is because CPP subscribers can manage their telephone bills by controlling the amount of calls they make while freely accepting calls to their mobile number. A good example of how the introduction of CPP boosted user uptake is the case of Mexico: the number of mobile subscribers in the country grew by over 100 per cent to more than four million within a year from the introduction of CPP plans in 1998 (Petrazzini 2000).

Wireless local area networks

The wireless local area network (WLAN) is a relatively new technology. Work to develop the WLAN standard (IEEE 802.11) was started in 1990 by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc., a US-based professional engineering society, to exploit the Industrial, Scientific and Medical (ISM) frequency band for high-speed networking. Unlike most other radio frequencies which are tightly controlled and accessible only to specific licensed personnel, anyone with the appropriate equipment can use the ISM band. The IEEE completed the initial 802.11 standard in 1997 and this was followed in quick succession by an upgrade (IEEE 802.11b) which exploits new technology innovations to improve performance from two to 11 Mbps. Another upgrade (IEEE 802.11a) exploits the newly open ISM bands in the 5.3 to 5.8 GHz bands. To be released in 2007 is yet another variant (IEEE 802.11n) that exploits advanced digital signal processing technologies such as Multiple Input Multiple Output (MIMO) algorithms to bring WLAN data rates up from 54 Mbps to 110 Mbps and beyond. Fortunately, when developing these upgrades, the IEEE standards workgroups have ensured that there is backward compatibility between the new and old. This means that infrastructure installed before the release of these new standards can still work with equipment made to the newer WLAN standards.

Unlike mobile phones where the equipment supplier base is relatively small, the number of manufacturers supplying WLAN equipment is much larger. Many of these manufacturers originate from the Far East and they have a reputation for bringing out very cost competitive products. Competition to supply WLAN equipment is very intense and prices have come down to a point where they have become quite affordable to the masses. For example, currently it is possible to purchase a WLAN PC card for under USD 25 and the price is still dropping. One of the main reasons why WLAN has taken off is that Intel, the US-based computer chip giant, strongly endorsed the technology with its Centrino campaign to put WLAN capability into every notebook computer that is manufactured. The trend to WLAN-enable portable devices is spreading to Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) and mobile phones. This trend points to a situation where sometime in the not too distant future, almost everyone will carry a WLAN-enabled end-user device everywhere he or she goes.

Recognizing the need to ensure that WLAN equipment from various WLAN manufacturers can work with each other, the leading players from the WLAN community set up a global non-profit organization called the Wi-Fi Alliance to drive the adoption of a single worldwide accepted standard for high-speed wireless local area networking. They created a logo Image which is affixed to products that have successfully gone through a rigorous certification programme designed to ensure inter-operability between products from different Wi-Fi manufacturers. Users have come to see the logo as a mark of quality and assurance that the product can work with Wi-Fi devices from other manufacturers that may be found in the home, at the office or in public hotspots.

The simplest Wi-Fi system is just a Wi-Fi card plugged or pre-built into a computer, establishing radio contact with a nearby Access Point (AP), which then provides onward connectivity to the global Internet. Because Wi-Fi operates in the unlicensed ISM band, regulators have imposed strict limits on the maximum permissible transmitter power3 for the Wi-Fi card and AP. This is so that the ISM band can be shared by as many people as possible and it is not monopolized by any one single user. The transmit power limitation in turn causes the maximum communication range between a Wi-Fi card and AP to be limited to about 100 metre. If there is no direct line of sight, say if there is a wall between the Wi-Fi card and the AP, the range may drop to below 10 metre. By default, all Wi-Fi cards and APs use omni-directional antennas because a user may approach an AP from any direction. In some special cases where it is desired to link two known fixed points together using Wi-Fi, it is possible to replace the omni-directional antennas with highly directional antennas and extend the range to tens of kilometres. In such situations care must be taken to align the two antennas for maximum effect and the user should note that the mobility capability of Wi-Fi is lost.

Wi-Fi has made major in-roads into the Office, Home and Public Hotspot markets. In the Office market, some technology-savvy companies have Wi-Fi enabled their offices so that their employees can be more productive. Their employees can access corporate resources such as databases, e-mail and the Internet and conduct business transactions even when they are away from their desks. Wi-Fi is also taking root in the Home market. In places where broadband penetration is high, it has become quite widespread to use Wi-Fi to create a wireless home network so that members of a household can share one cable or DSL connection to the Internet. The third market segment is the Public Hotspot market. Public Hotspots are places where Wi-Fi APs have been put up and made available to the general public, sometimes for a fee, or for free, or in exchange for patronizing a business. These Hotspots can typically be found at coffee outlets, fast food chains, shopping malls, libraries and community centres. The public can use their personal Wi-Fi devices to access the Internet at these Public Hotspots.

Because Public Hotspots are relatively cheap and easy to set up, many community leaders see the potential of using Public Hotspots to bridge the digital divide. The city of Philadelphia, working with Earthlink Inc., a commercial Internet Service Provider (ISP), is one noteworthy example of such an effort. Philadelphia is deploying over 4,000 APs on lamp posts all over the city. The capital costs of the infrastructure will be shouldered by Earthlink while the city contributes access to its lamp posts and takes responsibility for obtaining approvals from relevant city departments for the service. Through this public-private collaboration, Philadelphia will be able to offer Wi-Fi Internet access to its needy residents for half the cost of normal commercial Internet access using cable or DSL technologies. The service is also putting pressure on the traditional ISPs to either improve their service offerings or drop their prices to compete. Alarmed by this impending threat to their business, incumbent broadband providers in Philadelphia have responded by pushing for State legislation to prevent City administrations from using public funds to deploy such networks because they supposedly represent unfair competition. We can expect a repeat of this legal battle in many of the cities trying to deploy cheap and affordable community Wi-Fi systems in the United States and elsewhere around the world. Regulators should monitor the case closely for clues on how they may handle a similar situation within their jurisdiction.

Following on the heels of Philadelphia is the city of San Francisco where they approved a joint bid by Google and Earthlink to offer free and paid Wi-Fi Internet access to city residents. The service will be funded through location-aware advertisements based on the context of the users. In Asia Pacific, Singapore announced its Wireless@Sg programme in December 2006, which will see the number of Public Hotspots in Singapore climb from 600 to 5,000 within one year. Through this service, residents and visitors will get to enjoy free basic rate Internet access for a period of three years.

Wi-Fi Public Hotspots are not just meant for cities in developed countries. First Mile Solutions (2003), a Cambridge-based company with close links to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has developed and launched several innovative mobile Wi-Fi Hotspot solutions for developing countries. One solution uses a store-and-forward technique for emails to be dropped and picked up by Wi-Fi equipped motorcycles (called 'Motomen') or trucks as they move in a circuit around a central hub that has an external Internet connection. Villages along the circuit can send and receive e-mail through these roving Wi-Fi carriers, albeit with some delay. Villagers can also access the Internet through content that has been previously downloaded and stored locally. This technology has brought some form of basic communications to rural towns and villages in Cambodia and India for a fraction of what a traditional communication system would have cost. Recently, Goswami and Purbo (2006) published a paper reviewing the uses of Wi-Fi in less developed nations and they highlighted certain 'innovative' uses of Wi-Fi to overcome the hostile market and regulatory environment in Indonesia. These innovations included the use of Wi-Fi to provide last mile access and as a low capacity backhaul technique to overcome infrastructure limitations in Indonesia. Many users also resorted to becoming unlicensed re-seller ISPs to recover their own costs.

Although Wi-Fi came into existence some 20 years after the mobile phone and it does not yet enjoy the widespread adoption of mobile phones, it is nevertheless a technology with tremendous potential for development. As mentioned earlier, a mobile phone requires a complex supporting infrastructure in the background for it to work. Creating that infrastructure requires government licensing, extensive capital expenditure, and detailed radio and network planning. Only large companies with significant capital resources are able to undertake these tasks. In contrast, a Wi-Fi system is much easier to set up. Many countries have created regulations to permit systems to operate in a relatively unconstrained manner in the ISM band. Such ISM systems, which include Wi-Fi, can operate without a specific radio frequency allocation or an operating license.4 Wi-Fi would never have taken off if each and every user had to apply for a license from their home regulator! It is also much easier to set up a Wi-Fi radio network because Wi-Fi uses a much simpler though admittedly less efficient radio channel access method to manage multiple users attempting to access the base station. This makes radio planning for Wi-Fi systems much simpler at the expense of certain performance parameters. Because of these features, Wi-Fi systems can be set up in a much shorter time using relatively less skilled human resources compared to mobile phone systems.

Mobile phone base stations can cost up to USD 100,000 per unit, whereas a high-grade Wi-Fi AP can be purchased for only about USD 5,000 per unit. This is because the technology used in Wi-Fi is less complex and there is much greater competition in the Wi-Fi market. The severe competition has resulted in price wars and breakthrough innovations that bring better value to Wi-Fi users. In the 10 years since its introduction, Wi-Fi's data rate improved from 1 Mbps to 54 Mbps. During that same period, the mobile phone's data rate improved only from 40 Kbps to 384 Kbps.

Possibly because of these factors and the fact that there is much more competition for the supply of Wi-Fi services, Wi-Fi tends to offer much better value than mobile phones. With Wi-Fi, data rates tend to be much higher and prices much lower. For example, under Singapore's Wireless@Sg Wi-Fi service, users can connect at 512 Kbps for free, whereas a mobile phone call would cost SGD 0.20 per minute and a 40 Kbps GPRS data connection would cost SGD 0.0037 per kilobyte transferred. While it has become quite common for Wi-Fi operators to offer unlimited data plans, mobile phone operators tend to charge for the amount of data carried or by connection time. Both of these charging methods can expose the user to a very large bill at the end of the month.

On top of the endorsement by Intel and the emergence of Public Hotspots, several new developments have given Wi-Fi a further boost. These include the launch of Skype, a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology for making phone calls over the Internet. Skype managed to attract over 130 million registered users since its launch in 2003 because it offers free on-net telephone calls and very affordable off-net calls. On-net calls are calls between two people connected via the Internet using their Skype IDs. Off-net calls are calls between a Skype user and someone with a normal fixed-line or mobile telephone number. Equipment manufacturers are rushing to put Wi-Fi capabilities into devices such as notebook computers, tablet personal computers, game machines, cordless phones, PDAs and even mobile phones, to exploit use of Hotspots and services such as Skype. With the number of Public Hotspots growing, interesting new Wi-Fi devices being introduced and with the availability of services such as Skype, more and more people are acquiring Wi-Fi-enabled devices to take advantage of this trend. In time, Wi-Fi may come to challenge mobile phones as the dominant means of communication in the world.

However, some of the weaknesses of Wi-Fi systems should be noted. First, Wi-Fi is primarily a short-range system. Thus, building an infrastructure that can provide seamless coverage similar to that of a mobile phone system in a reasonably-sized city would require the deployment of tens, if not hundreds of thousands, of Wi-Fi Hotspots. The backhaul connectivity costs and maintenance requirements of such a system are not trivial and may come to dominate the operating expenses of the Wi-Fi service provider.

Second, Wi-Fi is not able to provide the seamless connectivity that mobile phones seem to do so well; it is able to provide only nomadic access capability. Once a Wi-Fi end-user device moves out of range of the AP it is associated with, connectivity is lost and the link is broken. It has to search for and establish a new connection with another AP whose signals it can detect. There is no automatic handover or mobility capability.

Third, unlike with mobile phones where there are only a limited number of operators per geographical region, there are usually many more smaller and independent Wi-Fi operators in a geographical region. Each of these may have a different sign-on mechanism and they are likely to issue a log-in identity that is unique to their system. Unlike with mobile phones where a single identity suffices for travel around the world, a traveller using Wi-Fi may pass through several of these Wi-Fi operators and thus end up with a whole bunch of different log-in identities and an assortment of bills at the end of his or her journey.

Fourth, many Wi-Fi operators have adopted simplified log-in processes that may have security weaknesses. In these implementations, data exchanges between the end-user device and the AP are unencrypted and unscrupulous people could eavesdrop on the data conversation and extract information that is private to the user.

Future evolutions of Wi-Fi and mobile phone systems

The proponents of Wi-Fi are well aware of its limitations and have been taking steps to address them. One such effort led by Intel with the support of many leading players from the Wi-Fi space is the Wireless Interoperability for Microwave Access (WiMAX) Forum. The technical standards being developed by the WiMAX Forum include the ability to cover large distances of up to 30 miles, provide seamless handover from one base station to another and assure end-to-end security. In short, they are trying to eliminate the shortcomings of Wi-Fi by replicating many of the features of mobile phone systems while trying to deliver them at a much lower cost. In August 2006, the WiMAX camp got a big boost when one of the leading cellular phone operators in the US, Sprint Nextel, announced that it will be using the WiMAX platform to construct a fourth generation nationwide broadband network.

Wi-Fi equipment vendors are starting to build mesh networking capabilities into their products. Mesh networking connects several individual APs into an interconnected network that can share a backhaul link into the Internet. The sharing of a backhaul connection can reduce the operating costs of large Wi-Fi systems very significantly and make a big difference to the business case of city-wide Wi-Fi systems. Mesh networking also gives the system the ability to respond to isolated equipment failures by re-routing traffic to other paths unaffected by the failure. The WiMAX Forum is also looking into building mesh networking technologies to its standards.

The players in the mobile phone ecosystem are not taking the challenge from Wi-Fi and WiMAX lightly. Where previously they were able to introduce new improvements at their own pace, which is about one refresh cycle per decade, they are now deploying improvements at a much faster rate. These improvements include the launch of mini and micro-sized mobile phone base stations which are much cheaper, lower cost handsets that are more suited for developing markets and the expedited deployment of new technologies such as HSDPA (High-Speed Download Packet Access), the mobile phone's response to criticism that its data rates cannot compete with Wi-Fi.

Services and applications—The next frontier

Historically, development efforts have concentrated on providing basic voice communications to as many of the population as possible. However, given the state of communications technology today, one may be able to build a communication infrastructure that is capable of supporting both voice and data for the same cost as for a voice-only infrastructure. Data capability provides access to the world of the Internet and multimedia, making for a much richer experience for users. Technologies such as Wi-Fi are inherently data communications channels that can also support voice, whereas mobile phones are primarily voice communication channels with some limited data capabilities.

Beyond the realm of voice communications, the issue of language and literacy needs to be addressed. Over half of the world's population resides in the Asia Pacific region where over 2,000 languages are being used and English is understood by only about 20 per cent of the population. A related issue is the fact that most electronic devices are designed to support Romanized characters only, which means that it is not possible to input or display without modification pictographic languages such as Japanese, Chinese, Indian and Thai. Yet another difficulty is the fact that a large number of people in underdeveloped countries are illiterate. They not only lack the capability to understand a foreign language such as English, they also cannot read even in their own language, which means they cannot communicate using text-based applications such as email and SMS.

Several countries have shown that it is not necessary to use English to achieve success in getting their population to enjoy and benefit from advanced communication services. Countries like Japan, Korea, China and Thailand have shown that it is possible to develop comprehensive and innovative communications services using their native languages. For example, China Mobile, the world's largest mobile phone operator with about 300 million subscribers, uses the Chinese language, and Japan and Korea have built two of the world's most sophisticated mobile phone services using the Japanese and Korean languages, respectively. These facts point to the need to develop communications services and devices that support languages native to the target population.

Some noteworthy attempts to develop native language capabilities in Asia Pacific include Malaysia's Murasu Communications (M) Sdn. Bhd., which is developing software to enable sending and receiving text messages in the Tamil language. In Cambodia, a private company, iWOW Communications Pte. Ltd., has developed a system for keying in and reading Khmer characters for sending and receiving SMS. There are cross-country efforts, such as some Chinese companies developing Korean language (Hangul) capabilities for sending text messages from China to Korea. Similarly, Pock Translate ( runs a service for translating English SMS text into the Thai language to help visitors to Thailand communicate with the local people. Finally, Microimage, a Sri Lankan company, won the prestigious GSMA Asia Mobile Innovation Award 2006 for their multilingual (Sinhala, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Thaana) SMS software for mobile phones.

The Internet is a treasure trove of information that can be very useful for development efforts in Asia Pacific. Unfortunately, most of the information is in English and beyond the reach of the majority of people in the region. To bridge the language barrier, research organizations are developing automatic machine language translators to convert the information into a form that the local population can understand.

NECTEC (the National Electronics and Computer Technology Center) in Thailand has developed such a suite of software applications called Parsit, an English-to-Thai language translation engine that has an accuracy of over 90 per cent. Parsit automatically translates Internet content in English into the Thai language, making it comprehensible to most people in Thailand. Parsit can work in conjunction with Vaja, a text-to-speech conversion software that takes in Thai-language characters and generates human voice of that text. Using Vaja, one can overcome the literacy barrier because the information from the website can be 'read out' to interested parties who may not be able to read but who can comprehend the spoken word. The third component of the software suite is iSpeech, a speech recognition program using an isolated word recognition technique. It is designed to convert speech inputs into text—that is, the user can just talk into a microphone connected to his or her personal computer and iSpeech will convert the voice data into text. Parsit, Vaja and iSpeech can be combined to create a 'speech-to-speech' translation application with wide ranging potential for development, especially in the tourism industry. First, a spoken English sentence is fed through iSpeech which then generates text in English. The English text is then passed on to Parsit for translation into Thai language text. Finally, the Thai text is input into Vaja for conversion into audio sounds in the Thai language.

While NECTEC's efforts are focused on Thailand, the PAN Localization Project, which is supported by IDRC's Pan Asia Networking Program, the National University of Computer and Emerging Science, Pakistan and its Centre for Research in Urdu Language Processing, is a multi-agency, multi-country effort to solve language localization issues across countries in Asia Pacific, including Afghanistan (Pashto, Dari), Bangladesh (Bangla), Bhutan (Dzongkha), Cambodia (Khmer), Laos (Lao), Nepal (Nepali) and Sri Lanka (Sinhala, Tamil). It aims to develop character sets, fonts, lexica, spelling and grammar checkers, search and replace utilities, speech recognition systems, text-to-speech synthesis and machine translation for these languages. Different aspects of localization technology that will be addressed include linguistic standardization, computing applications, development platforms, content publishing and access, effective marketing and dissemination and intellectual property right strategies for the output products.

Other regional language translation activities include the English-to-Malay translator being developed by the University Sains Malaysia and the collaboration between NECTEC, Thailand and a private Japanese company on machine language translation. Globally, there are also Internet-based language translation tools such as Yahoo's Babel Fish ( and Google's language translation service ( that can be brought into service.

The Asia Pacific region is the home of some really innovative mobile applications that have captured the attention of the world. The Philippines is recognized as one of the heaviest and most innovative users of SMS in the world. Paul Budde, an Australian telecommunications analyst, noted that in 2006, some 250 million SMSs were sent in the Philippines every day accounting for about 10 per cent of the world's SMS. One reason for the popularity of the text service is the fact that it is much more affordable than the voice service. It costs only 1 peso per SMS while a normal voice call can cost up to 20 pesos per minute. One of the most innovative uses of SMS in the Philippines is for small-value financial transactions. It is possible to pay for goods and services, transfer money from person to person and even donate money using SMS. For example, many Filipinos working overseas use SMS to transfer money to loved ones at home. The SMS channel is also being used as an information network by fishermen and flower farmers in outlying areas to get the latest prices in the city so that they can match supply to demand and obtain the best prices for their products. The Philippine government is another heavy user of SMS: it uses the channel to broadcast information to certain targeted groups and to obtain feedback from citizens. Specific channels for people to lodge complaints on air pollution and corruption, for example, and to give feedback to key decision-makers, including the President of the country, have been created.

In Indonesia and Malaysia, an innovative mobile phone application is called 'Solat Times' or 'Prayer Times' to help the Muslim population get their timing for prayers accurately. To use Solat Times, a person sends an SMS to request the Muslim prayer time and he or she will be informed by a return SMS the officially sanctioned prayer times appropriate for his or her particular location. This unique application which makes use of SMS and location information has now been exported to the United Kingdom and South Africa.

Development-friendly regulatory policies

The stance taken by a nation's telecommunications regulator has a big impact on the vibrancy of the communications ecosystem of the country. The policies the regulator adopts will have a strong bearing on the types of systems deployed, their affordability, and the take-up rate of services in that country. Some policymakers are more concerned with protecting the incumbent telecom provider, perhaps because the incumbent is a sister organization and is part of the government. Another reason could be that the incumbent is providing jobs to a large number of people and there could be political unrest if competition causes a large number of people to lose their jobs. In such cases, the policymaker might adopt policies that limit competition to the incumbent such as restricting the number of players and imposing terms that disadvantage other players with respect to the incumbent. With globalization, such practices have come under increasing scrutiny by world bodies such as the World Trade Organization (WTO). But irrespective of WTO, policymakers should have seen by now enough examples of how nations moving away from a 'pro-incumbent approach' and taking the path of market competition, have met with tremendous success.

The telecommunications regulator is in a position to determine the degree of competition in the market through the number of licenses issued and the license conditions, such as the minimum quality of service for coverage, network up-time, fault response times, and any Universal Service Provision (USP) that may be imposed. All of these conditions affect the quantum of investment needed by the operator and ultimately the profitability of the service. However, given that mobile operators are among the most profitable companies around the world, there seems to be little danger that regulators are being too strict with their licensing requirements today even though mobile operators have been required to come out with very large sums of up-front money to roll out their networks.

For market competition to work there must be mechanisms to limit the market power of the incumbent. These include clear rules for local loop unbundling, establishing and enforcing Reference Interconnect Offers (RIO), transparent rules for radio spectrum allocation, and vigilance against practices that can unfairly lock in consumers such as leveraging on handset subsidies to lock down handsets or impose an unreasonably long contractual period. Other measures include introducing rules to permit number portability when a subscriber moves from one provider to another. In certain markets taxes can be a drag on development. By removing handset taxes and subscriber registration taxes, India and China, for example, have made the service much more affordable, which has given their markets a tremendous boost.

Besides creating an environment for market forces to work, policymakers need to consider issues that affect society in general. Asian societies tend to be more conservative than Western societies, which means that applications such as adult content, chat line services and gambling, which are very popular in the West, cannot be so readily deployed in Asia Pacific. If these applications were permitted, they could give rise to certain social ills and there could be vigorous objections from certain segments of society. Many regulators in Asian countries have chosen to prohibit such services.

The telecommunications regulator should also ensure that subscriber privacy is protected at all times through strict rules against unlawful tapping of phone conversations and disclosure of a subscriber's location information and personal information such as his or her home address, calling habits and circle of contacts.

Some forward-looking policymakers see their role to be larger than simply regulating for market competition: they take it upon themselves to stimulate the development of the telecommunications industry in their country. Some of the actions they have taken include the development of human resources through education and training, nurturing indigenous equipment and service providers, encouraging research and development of communication technologies to reduce dependency on external providers, and facilitating infrastructure-based competition in their country.


The last decade has been a period of rapid technological developments in the wireless and mobile space. Unlike the networks built a decade ago, these technologies are now sufficiently advanced and versatile that they are capable of supporting multiple applications such as voice, data and broadcasting simultaneously on one single network. Less developed nations have the opportunity to use these modern technologies to leapfrog and not be bogged down by legacy equipment installed earlier. Equipment standardization has also helped create a critical mass of users and providers, which in turn drives down the cost of equipment, making communications much more affordable than before.

While the provision of basic voice services was the initial driver, future communication systems should also support access to the Internet to maximize their development potential. In such cases, care must be taken to overcome any language and literacy challenges so that the people who most need the tools can exploit them meaningfully.

Finally, telecommunications policymakers have a very important role to play. They should not expect the rules that served them well in the past decade to be still appropriate for the new era. New technologies call for new rules, in particular forward-looking rules that permit rather than hinder these new technologies and services to flourish for the betterment of their people.


1. Taken literally, the terms 'mobile' and 'wireless' apply to products that are capable of functioning without a tethered connection. This definition would include MP3 music players, digital cameras, as well as communication devices such as mobile phones, Wi-Fi-enabled notebook computers and personal digital assistants (PDAs) with a built-in mobile and/or Wi-Fi connectivity. In this chapter, we shall take mobile and wireless to mean only those products designed for voice and/or data communications and which use radio frequency to connect back to a base station or network.

2. Mobile phones are also known as cellular phones.

3. The maximum transmit powers (EIRP) for WLAN at 2.4 GHz for point to multi-point applications are +30 dBm and +23 dBm for the US and Singapore, respectively.

4. Unfortunately, not all developing countries have opened up the ISM frequency band for general use.


Budde, P. (2006). Philippines—mobile communications—market overview. Retrieved from

First Mile Solutions. (2003). Internet village motoman project in Ratanakiri, Cambodia. Retrieved 2 June 2007 from

Goswami, D. and Purbo, O. (2006). Wi-Fi 'innovation' in Indonesia: Working around hostile regulatory and market conditions. WDR discussion paper 0611. Available online:

ITU. (2005a). Global main line telephone and mobile cellular subscriber data. Retrieved 2 June 2007 from

ITU. (2005b). ITU world telecommunication indicators database. 9th Edition.

ITU. (2006). World information society report 2006. Retrieved 2 June 2007 from

Petrazzini, B. (2000). Fixed-mobile interconnection case studies, slide 18/29 (Impact of CPP on cellphone subscribers). ITU Workshop, 20–22 September 2000.

The role of ICTs in risk
communication in Asia Pacific

Krishnamurthy Sriramesh, Chanuka Wattegama and Frederick John Abo1


In recent years, the Asia Pacific region has experienced a spate of crises that have brought untold misery to large sections of the populace. Two types of crises have received the most attention in the region in the past few years because of their adverse impact—natural disasters (the Asian Tsunami and earthquake in Kashmir) and public health emergencies (SARS and Avian Flu).2

Although natural disasters cannot be prevented, their adverse impact can be mitigated through effective risk communication. Likewise, effective risk communication can help avert or mitigate the adverse impact of public health crises. This chapter focuses on the use of ICTs in risk communication to help avert or mitigate the adverse impact of natural disasters and public health emergencies in the Asia Pacific region.

Risk communication

Lerbinger (1997) referred to risk as the 'probability that death, injury, illness, property damage… will stem from a hazard' (p. 267). In this chapter, the term crisis is used as a synonym for hazard. Seymour and Moore (2000) defined risk as 'the sensitive task of dealing with a latent or slowly advancing crisis before it breaks in full force' (p. 17). Fearn-Banks (1996) saw risk communication as 'an ongoing program of informing and educating various publics about issues that can affect… [them]' (p. 13).

Simply put, risks often are precursors to crises. A lack of, or inadequate, risk management may lead to a crisis with grave consequences. It is wiser to avoid a crisis, which requires that we pay attention to risk management. Effective risk communication underpins robust risk management. In essence, effective risk communication is often the best way to avert a crisis.

The importance of risk communication has received international recognition at the highest levels. Coordinating risk communication was one of three 'key policy areas for immediate attention' identified by the international meeting of health ministers held in Ottawa in October 2005 (Ottawa 2005). The ministers' communiqué was reinforced a couple of months later at the East Asia Summit when the Heads of State of ASEAN, Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand included in their declaration a statement (East Asia Summit 2005) calling for '[E]nhancing capacity building in coping with pandemic influenza, including establishing information sharing protocols among countries and multilateral organizations to ensure effective, timely and meaningful communication before or during a pandemic influenza outbreak.' The World Health Organization (WHO) recently published its third complementary strategy for Avian Flu aimed at 'rapidly detecting, and potentially stopping—or containing—an emerging pandemic virus near the start of the pandemic' (WHO 2006a).

Different types of media have been used for communicating risks to small and large audiences. However, there is a paucity of published literature on the use of new media for risk communication. In this chapter, we discuss the use of ICTs for effective risk communication vis-à-vis natural disasters and public health emergencies. We discuss risk communication vis-à-vis long-term planning before a crisis strikes, shorter term planning much closer to a predicted crisis, and during and in the immediate aftermath of a crisis. We then conclude by offering some recommendations on how ICTs can be better harnessed for more effective risk communication in the Asia Pacific region.

Long-term programmes for ICT use in risk management

Long-term planning is crucial to effective management of public health and natural disaster mitigation efforts. In the preparedness phase, emergency managers develop plans of action to be carried out when the disaster strikes. Common preparedness measures include proper maintenance and training of emergency services, development and exercise of emergency population warning methods combined with emergency shelters and evacuation plans, stockpiling of supplies and equipment, and development and practice of multi-agency coordination. Traditional media such as television and radio, as well as modern ICTs like Internet and e-mail, can be used in these disaster preparedness activities.

Mathew (2005) highlighted the strategic role of ICT in managing disasters and public health emergencies, suggesting that effective health response to disasters will depend on three important prongs of action: (a) long-term disaster preparedness, (b) emergency relief and (c) management of disasters. He proposed that work in these three critical areas may be facilitated by communication and space technologies, especially the Internet and remote sensing satellites. Matthew presented a model that manages disasters through the Health and Disaster Information Network that operates in coordination with Internet community centres. 'The Model for Public Health Management of Disasters for South Asia' deploys ICT in a strategic manner to meet the unique and urgent requirements of personnel involved in disaster management. The infrastructure proposed is intended to serve governments, non-governmental organizations and institutions working in the areas of disaster and emergency medicine. The creation of such an infrastructure is intended to provide connectivity to support the rapid transfer of data, information and knowledge from senior government officials to grassroots organizations, as well as across national borders to other concerned organizations in the South Asian countries.

Mathew (2005) also presented a case study of the statewide ICT network for disaster management established by the Government of Maharashtra in April 2000, as part of the Maharashtra Emergency Earthquake Rehabilitation Programme following the Latur earthquake that left more than 10,000 people dead and 200,000 homes destroyed. The main role of the network is to facilitate and provide a rapid flow of information, online connectivity, response planning, and control and monitoring of the situation in disaster areas. The network comprises an emergency operations centre, a central control room, an alternative central control room, control rooms at each of the six divisional headquarters of the state and district control rooms at each of the 32 districts. The network is connected via VSAT telecommunication links. It is designed to provide data, voice and video teleconferencing facilities. All sub-districts in the state are linked through a VHF wireless network with nodes located at the district control rooms. The case shows that ICT has an important role in disaster preparedness, response, and coordination and control.

SOPAC: Another example of ICT use in long-term risk management is the South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission (SOPAC) project which seeks to ensure vulnerability reduction in the Pacific Island Countries through the development of an integrated planning and management system. A key component of the project is GeoCMS, a Content Management System which facilitates the collection and sharing of geographical data among the stakeholders in the project. This was developed using two existing Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) based applications, MapServer and Tikiwiki. This system has made it possible for the Pacific Island states to publish their geographical data on the Internet and to receive contributions from all over the world. Countries involved in this project include Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu (Nah 2005).

AlertNet: Reuter's AlertNet is another example of the use of ICTs for long-term disaster preparedness. It was started in 1997 by the Reuters Foundation, an educational and humanitarian trust, as a humanitarian news network based around a popular website. It aims to keep relief professionals and the wider public up-to-date on humanitarian crises around the globe. Emergencies are categorized into four types: health-related, sudden onset, food-related and conflict. Some emergencies do not fit neatly into these categories, frequently overlapping in a complex manner that makes it difficult to separate cause and effect. AlertNet's presentation of emergency material aims to make clear these areas of overlap. Reuters is the main, though not the sole, source of information for AlertNet. It operates with a surprisingly limited full-time staff (Gidley 2005).

AlertNet tracks all emergencies for which it is possible to find reliable information, including those that receive only sporadic coverage elsewhere in the media, or the so-called 'forgotten' or 'hidden' emergencies. For example, the north-eastern Indian state of Assam has had massive floods several times, with thousands of people displaced and made homeless, but good warning and evacuation procedures have kept the death toll low. AlertNet highlights these types of disasters and attracts upwards of three million users a year. It has a network of 400 contributing humanitarian organizations and its weekly e-mail digest is received by more than 17,000 readers (AlertNet 2006).

ASEAN-Disease-Surveillance.Net: The ASEANSurveillance Net (ADSNet) is an Internet-based network established to improve ASEAN's long-term capability in detecting and responding to infectious disease outbreaks. It is sponsored by the Indonesian Ministry of Health and the ASEAN Secretariat and operated by the ASEAN Disease Surveillance Secretariat. The US Naval Medical Research Unit No. 2 (US NAMRU-2) and the South East Asia Foundation for Outbreak Regional Cooperation jointly support ADSNet. The network was established on the basis of a framework approved at the Regional Action Conference for Surveillance and Response: Infectious Disease Outbreaks in Southeast Asia held in Bali, Indonesia in September 2000. Consensus was reached at the conference, which was attended by 150 participants with Ministerial representation from 17 countries, to build systems to facilitate the exchange of outbreak information within Southeast Asia and the WHO-SEARO Grouping.

ADSNet was established to achieve several objectives: rapid dissemination of outbreak information within the region, establishment of a mechanism for sharing important information on epidemic disease transmission without compromising national sensitivity and confidentiality concerns, and provision of directory assistance in identifying regional expertise, including laboratory diagnostic capabilities that can support outbreak investigative activities. It also seeks to provide directory assistance in identifying outbreak causation, as well as training and educational opportunities within the region. ADSNet aims to accomplish its goals by undertaking the following activities which can be classified as examples of risk aversion and risk communication:

• Conducting outbreak response training workshops

• Developing laboratory diagnostic capabilities in identifying causative outbreak etiologies

• Facilitating outbreak investigations or interventions

• Establishing early warning outbreak recognition systems

ADSNet is a part of the Early Warning Outbreak Recognition System (EWORS) that currently maintains 18 surveillance sites in Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Nepal and South Korea are expected to join EWORS in the near future. Local clinics in the participating countries make use of simple EWORS technology to upload syndromic data on disease outbreaks to hubs located at hospital computers. Algorithms running on these hub computers assess whether the uploaded data indicate any disease outbreaks. The system alerts local public health personnel if it determines that an outbreak has occurred. EWORS applications are designed to run on desktop computers, laptops and PDAs. The network's website is hosted in Singapore and jointly maintained by the Singapore Ministry of Environment and NAMRU-2. Plans are underway to link ADSNet with the Pacific Disease Surveillance Network (PACNET), so as to effectively cover 16 time zones, and eventually to integrate it into WHO's global network of networks.

In epidemic intelligence and systematic case detection, WHO Global Alert gathers information from formal sources as well as rumours of suspected outbreaks in order to get a clear picture of the epidemic threat to global health. With the advent of modern communication technologies, many initial outbreak reports now originate from informal sources in the form of electronic media and electronic discussion groups. More than 60 per cent of the initial outbreak reports come from unofficial informal sources, including sources other than the electronic media, which require verification. The information thus gathered is categorized and disseminated to public health professionals. Regular updates are issued to a network of electronically-interconnected WHO member countries (192), disease experts, institutions, agencies and laboratories through an Outbreak Verification List. WHO also reports verified outbreaks on its website, Disease Outbreak News.

Some private schools in Singapore are teaming up with Apple Macintosh Asia to develop ways of delivering education over the Internet to provide continuity of education during a pandemic. A technology is being tested by which both video and audio content as well as Powerpoint presentations can be broadcast through the Internet using Apple's iTunes.

Various capacity building efforts have been implemented at both international and national levels to help prepare countries to respond to and manage a pandemic incident such as Avian Flu. To support member states in their efforts to build the capacity of health care facilities to manage communicable disease emergencies of different orders of magnitude from a small number of patients to a widespread pandemic, the WHO worked with the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center (ADPC) to conceptualize the Health Care Facility Emergency Preparedness and Response to Epidemics and Pandemics (HCF-EPREP) Programme. The first phase of this programme culminated in the first training workshop in September 2006 in Bangkok attracting 39 participants from Bhutan, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam with facilitators from WHO, ADPC, Infection Control Plus (Australia) and the University of Texas School of Public Health. Associates from Brazil, India, Indonesia, Nepal, the Philippines, Syria, Thailand and the USA also participated. Most of the participants were directors of health care facilities; senior level specialists in infectious diseases, emergency medicine and infection control; and public health officials from national Ministries of Health and sub-national health authorities. The workshop paid special attention to using ICTs to disseminate information to both the public and health care professionals during the inter-pandemic phase (when the disease is spreading but has not yet become widespread) and the pandemic alert phase.3 Participants were also taught how to use official websites to educate the public about the pandemic.

Strategic Health Operations Centre: In the global arena, the WHO Department of Epidemic and Pandemic Alert and Response (EPR) is continuously monitoring and tracking evolving infectious disease situations, sharing expertise, sounding the alarm and initiating an appropriate response to protect the population from the effects of a communicable disease emergency. To provide a well-coordinated and systematic response, which is crucial in any public health emergency, the Strategic Health Operations Centre (SHOC) was established. It utilizes the latest ICT to support member states in managing health emergencies.

The SHOC was used effectively during the SARS epidemic when the WHO responded rapidly and effectively in collaboration with many key partners. The response was widely praised by the public health and infectious disease research community, especially the role of ICT in early detection and in fostering global collaboration and information exchange during the SARS epidemic. On 17 March 2003, the WHO called upon 11 laboratories in nine countries to join a collaborative multi-centre research project on SARS diagnosis. The network took advantage of e-mail and a secure WHO website to share outcomes of investigations of clinical samples, electron-microscope pictures of viruses, sequences of genetic material for virus identification and characterization, and post mortem tissues from SARS cases. Individual departments of affected hospitals also used websites and e-mail to rapidly disseminate clinical findings to health professionals. However, a review of the system revealed that it was not used to its full potential. This assessment led to the formation of the Global Public Health Intelligence Network (GPHIN)4 by Health Canada and the revised International Health Regulation or IHR (2005)5 that requires governments to report public health threats—in particular, public health emergencies of international concern (PHEIC) or disease outbreaks and natural disasters that could have an international dimension.

Animal Health Management and Biosecurity: Since August 2004, Australia has been working with ASEAN on a project aimed at Strengthening Animal Health Management and Biosecurity in ASEAN (SAHMBA). Funded through the ASEAN Australia Development Cooperation Program (AADCP), the project seeks to enhance the capability of ASEAN member countries to manage risks to the biosecurity of livestock industries particularly those related to trade and impacting on the poor. The project focuses on strengthening capabilities in risk analysis, disease surveillance and animal health information management at the ASEAN regional level. It has four components. Component 1 aims to develop a consistent approach to risk analysis based on international best practices. Component 2 seeks to develop a consistent approach to wide-area disease surveys including the collection and analysis of information to substantiate reduction of disease in livestock populations. Component 3 expects to facilitate the development of a regional animal health information database that will (a) promote the trade of animals and animal products throughout the region by clearly establishing a country's disease status, (b) facilitate the sharing of animal health information within the region and (c) streamline production of disease reports required to meet international obligations such as those of the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). Finally, Component 4 responds to project management and monitoring requirements for successfully implementing the technical components and keeping stakeholders advised of the project's progress and performance (AADCP 2005).

In public health, measures to control and prevent disease often rely upon timely and accurate information transfer. Thus, the Internet is increasingly becoming the preferred platform for agencies designing systems to protect public health. The WHO's Communicable Disease Cluster is spearheading a global partnership called the Global Atlas of Infectious Diseases (WHO 2006b), a Web-based system that brings together an interactive information system, surveillance data, reports and documents on the major diseases affecting developing countries, including malaria, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, as well as diseases that are close to being eradicated, such as guinea worm, leprosy and lymphatic filariasis. The global atlas also covers epidemic-prone and emerging infections like meningitis, cholera and yellow fever. It also provides information on essential support services such as the network of collaborating centres and the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network.

Use of ICTs in risk communication about impending disasters

We next focus on the use of ICTs for shorter term risk communication—early warnings in the face of an impending disaster. In the last few decades, national level early warning systems have been used with varying degrees of efficacy during many natural disasters that have affected the Asia Pacific region. The powerful tropical cyclone that hit the Chittagong district of Bangladesh in 1991 is an example. Though not as devastating as the infamous 1970 cyclone that killed an estimated 300,000 in that country, the cyclone of 1991 recorded a death toll of 140,000 and left more than 10 million homeless. Although early warnings about the impending storm had been issued to some extent, the number of casualties was high because of a lack of adequate cyclone shelter facilities (ADRC 2005). The Kobe earthquake of January 1995 (7.2 on the Richter Scale) caused 5,000 casualties and displaced over 300,000. The damage caused to roads, houses, factories and infrastructure was estimated at about USD 120 billion (Geo Resources 2002). Apparently, there had been little or no warning, causing many Japanese citizens to lose faith in the technology behind forecasting. Forecasting crises is a key ingredient of risk communication.

Undoubtedly, it was the fateful Asia Tsunami in 2004 that caused a spurt in interest in early warning systems for natural disasters. The death toll was as high as 200,000 while a disaster of comparable magnitude the following year—Hurricane Katrina—recorded less than 2,000 casualties. The high death rate in the Tsunami was attributed to the absence of timely and effective warning systems. At the 2005 World Conference on Disaster Reduction in Kobe, Japan, it was found that most national early warning systems were rather simple alert systems with limited capacities to collect, analyze and distribute information. This prompted UNESCO to coordinate the activities to launch an early warning system for the Indian Ocean (UN/ISDR 2005). The Ministerial Meeting on Regional Cooperation on Tsunami Early Warning Arrangements held in January 2005 in Phuket, recognized the ADPC's readiness to serve as a regional centre or focal point for a multi-nodal Tsunami early warning arrangement in the region (ADPC 2006).

Tsunami warning systems

The Indian Ocean Tsunami warning system coordinated by UNESCO is currently being implemented. The Intergovernmental Coordination Group for the Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning and Mitigation System (ICG/IOTWS) serves as the regional body to plan and coordinate its design and implementation. For the interim period, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre (PTWC) and Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) are expected to provide Tsunami warnings to Asian nations. Australia, Bangladesh, Timor Leste, India, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Maldives, Myanmar, Pakistan, Singapore, Sri Lanka and Thailand are among the 26 countries that have established official Tsunami Warning Focal Points (TWFP) to receive interim advisory information based on seismological and sea-level information from the operational centres serving the Pacific in Hawaii and Tokyo (UNESCO 2006).

Meanwhile, the regional Tsunami and multi-hazard observation and monitoring network for Southeast Asia is also being implemented by ADPC as a joint venture with the national governments of Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, China, the Philippines, Singapore, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the Maldives. This system will be implemented in two phases. The first phase, covering the most vulnerable areas of Southeast Asia, involves the installation of five sea-level gauges and five seismic stations across Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. Phase 2 will see the proliferation of these technical components, in addition to several deep-sea buoys, across the region in order to provide a comprehensive network (ADPC 2005).

An earthquake near Indonesia in July 2006 tested the interim measure of early warning systems. Unfortunately the technology failed on that occasion too. More than 5,000 casualties were reported when two-metre high waves triggered by an undersea earthquake hit the island of Java. The 20 minutes scientists had to analyze data from 30 seismological stations and send out a warning were not sufficient. Furthermore, even if they were in a position to issue a warning, the scientists did not have the media needed to disseminate it to the isolated communities in the islands (BBC 2006).

The communication subsystem is an essential part of any early warning programme. In its most basic form, an early warning system is a communication channel between those who monitor the prospective disaster and the community for whom the messages collected from monitoring are intended. The disaster warning message should be reliable, authoritative, timely and clear to the target communities especially about what is expected of them. The anticipated response of a community differs according to the nature of the possible disaster. Incorrect responses can create additional problems.

'Last mile' communication in disaster warning

In the Asia Pacific context, crossing the 'last mile' in the communication chain is a major challenge because ICT penetration in most countries in the region is still far below satisfactory levels. For example, the teledensities of Cambodia, Laos and Bangladesh are 38, 32 and 15 per 1,000 of the population (UNDP 2005). In rural areas, many households are not connected to any medium. Multimedia communication is sometimes needed for Early Warning Systems to be effective in this situation.

Of the available media channels, radio and television are most likely to be used for warning about impending disasters. However, television penetration is not high in many Asian societies, especially in rural areas. Radio is the preferred medium for the dissemination of disaster warnings. Bangladesh, for example, relies heavily on radio to issue warnings about impending disasters, effectively using it in several flood and cyclone related incidents since the early 1970s (UNEP 2001). However, neither radio nor television is interactive and they are of limited use if a warning is to be disseminated late at night when most stations in the region are not in operation.

Telephones, both fixed and mobile, overcome lack of interactivity and limited use at night, but they have their own limitations. One obvious disadvantage is potential congestion in the period immediately prior to a crisis. This limitation is applicable for both voice and SMS messages. To overcome this, mobile phone manufacturers have introduced a feature called 'cellular broadcasting' which helps disseminate a warning message to a selected group in a short period of time using a different band to avoid congestion. There are no additional costs as this feature is already available in most network infrastructures and phones. This combined geo-scalability and geo-specificity of mobile phones helps disaster managers to avoid panic and traffic jamming ( 2005).

There are many examples of how simple phone warnings helped save many lives in South Asian countries during the Tsunami in 2004. Perhaps the most famous example occurred in the small coastal village of Nallavadu in Pondicherry (India) where a timely telephone call about the impending Tsunami is said to have saved the village's 3,600 inhabitants as well as the people of three neighbouring villages. Nallavadu was part of the very successful M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation's Information Village Research Project. A former project volunteer who was working in Singapore heard the Tsunami alert issued there and immediately phoned the research centre in Nallavadu and asked that its early warning alert system be used to warn the villagers. His quick thinking and the swift and coordinated action in Nallavadu led to the evacuation of the four villages before the Tsunami hit the coast (Subramanian 2005).

First conceptualized in 1992, the Information Village Research Project under the aegis of the M.S. Swaminathan Foundation, is now being implemented in seven villages in Pondicherry. The objective is to test whether information technology can become an ally in poverty alleviation and whether it can be used as a tool in empowering the rural poor. Seven Village Knowledge Centres have been set up, each with a computer, a modem and a wireless system, backed by solar power since there is irregular power supply. The services provided by these centres include gathering and transmission of information such as commodity prices, weather, government announcements and the daily news. The centres also help in the generation of data (for example, surveys, library references, discussions, bulletins) and assist in the creation and maintenance of locality-specific databases on local hospitals/doctors, training programmes, high school/college course guidance, government welfare programmes/entitlements and soil agronomy/weather/cropping patterns (M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation 2006).

Amateur radio and community radio are two channels that can be used effectively for disaster management purposes. However, there is little evidence so far that these media have been used effectively except in rare instances. The Indian NGO, National Institute of Amateur Radio (NIAR) that promotes amateur radio or ham radio in the country as a scientific and socially useful activity used amateur radio for communicating with its team in Port Blair, the capital of the Andaman Islands, in the aftermath of the Asian Tsunami. Though this channel had not been used prior to the disaster, it served as a key communication

Bridging the 'last mile' in warning about natural disasters

When the Tsunami struck the costal areas and took nearly 40,000 lives, or one in every 500 Sri Lankans, the obvious question was why it was not forewarned. Arthur C. Clarke, author and long-time resident of Sri Lanka, remarked: 'The Asian Tsunami's death toll could have been drastically reduced if the warning was disseminated quickly and effectively to millions of coastal dwellers on the Indian Ocean rim. It is appalling that our sophisticated global communications systems simply failed us that fateful day' (IDRC 2006).

Indeed there had been a warning. Scientists at the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre (PTWC) in Hawaii who had detected the extraordinary seismic activity issued a local Tsunami warning one hour after the undersea quake. It was received in Sri Lanka but unfortunately not effectively communicated to the communities. History repeated itself on 17 July 2006 when a Tsunami caught Java island by surprise, in spite of PTWC disseminating a warning 17 minutes after the 7.7 magnitude undersea earthquake. A timely public warning could have saved many of the nearly 600 people who died.

The 'weakest link' on both these occasions was the so called 'last mile'. The warning did not cross the last mile. And even if it had done so, there is no guarantee that the communities would have taken the correct action because they had not been given any training on how they should behave during such events.

The Last Mile Hazard Information Dissemination Project is an attempt to address this critical issue. It is multi-stakeholder initiative to complement other actions being taken at national and regional levels. It involves four Sri Lanka-based entities that value the role of ICTs and community mobilization in disaster preparedness: Sarvodaya, an NGO with a presence in all Sri Lankan villages; LIRNEasia, a regional ICT research and capacity building organization; TVE Asia Pacific, a media organization specializing in communicating development; and Dialog Telekom, a leading telecommunications service provider. Financial support comes from the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) of Canada.

The action research project aims to study which ICTs and community mobilization methods will work most effectively in disseminating information on hazards faced by Sri Lanka's coastal communities. The research is not confined to Tsunamis alone; coastal erosion, cyclones, drought and floods are among the other hazards covered (LIRNEasia 2006). Focusing on the crucial 'last mile' dissemination, the project will test different ICTs in delivering timely warnings to the local people immediately at risk and build community capacity to respond to such warnings rapidly and systematically.

In the first phase, the project involves 32 villages from the eastern, western, northern and southern coastal areas of Sri Lanka. The project will evaluate several factors that contribute to the design of an effective last mile hazard information dissemination system, such as the reliability and effectiveness of various ICTs as warning technologies, how community training influences effective warning responses, how the level of organizational development of a village contributes to an effective warning response, and gender-specific response to hazard mitigating action. Among the first and most important activities was training 30 youth leaders attached to Sarvodaya. The training, delivered by TVE Asia Pacific, covered such topics as understanding vulnerability and hazards, community-based hazard identification using Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) techniques, communicating risks and hazards, understanding and responding to early warnings and community response planning (TVE AP 2006).

Different combinations of ICTs and community mobilization will be tested in the participating villages. These include fixed telephones, Sinhala/Tamil SMS (text messaging) with alarm for Java-compatible mobile phones, Very Small Aperture Terminals (VSATs), Disaster Warning Response and Recovery (DWRR) units based on addressable satellite radio developed by the WorldSpace Corporation under the WHO, and an Early Warning Network Remote Alarm Device developed by Dialog Telekom with the assistance of the University of Moratuwa, Sri Lanka. While some ICTs have been in public use for years or decades, others are recent innovations whose utility in disaster warning communication is being tested for the first time through this initiative. The plan is to identify the optimum combinations of training, community mobilization, and technology tools that could help Sri Lankan communities to receive hazard warnings and disseminate them locally.

Sources: IDRC. (2006). Bridging the 'Last Mile': Building grassroots capacity for disaster warning and preparedness in Sri Lanka. Retrieved 10 November 2006 from

LIRNEasia. (2006). Evaluating last-mile hazard information dissemination: A research proposal project document. Retrieved 10 November 2006 from

TVE Asia Pacific. (2006). Taking hazard warnings to the grassroots: New project to mix technologies and training. Retrieved 10 November 2006 from

channel between the mainland and the islands in managing aid for the displaced (i4d 2005).

Electronic health initiatives

Noting the potential impact that advances in ICT could have on health care and health-related activities, Resolution WHA58.28 urges WHO Member States to plan for appropriate eHealth services in their countries. eHealth activities at the global level fall into two broad categories:

1. access to reliable, high quality health information for professionals and for the general public; and

2. use of ICTs to strengthen various aspects of country health systems, such as eLearning for human resources development and support for delivery of care services.

The WHO launched the Health Inter Network Access to Research Initiative (HINARI) in 2002, in partnership with leading biomedical publishers, academic institutions and organizations of the United Nations system to provide free or very low-cost online access to 2,900 major journals in biomedical and related social sciences to local, non-profit institutions in developing countries. It is one of the world's largest collections of biomedical and health literature. At present, 1,400 institutions in 104 countries are participating in the network. In 2004, users downloaded over 1.7 million articles.

To cater to the needs of the general public, the WHO began the Health Academy in December 2003. This innovative approach to improving public health provides the general public with health knowledge through eLearning packages designed to help people make the right decisions for preventing disease and leading healthier lives. The initiative draws on the WHO's information resources and expertise in health and its access to health information worldwide.

Use of ICTs in risk communication during crises

Whereas risks are often precursors to crises and risk communication is important in averting or mitigating the effects of crises, different types of risks arise even after a crisis strikes especially in the aftermath a natural disaster. The most difficult period of a disaster is the immediate aftermath, when prompt and swift action is essential. Disasters cause significant numbers of deaths and injuries and displace even larger numbers of survivors. There are physical as well as emotional injuries such as witnessing the loss of loved ones. Essential items such as food and other supplies need to be delivered, temporary shelters need to be put up and medical attention needs to be provided. All these need to be simultaneously addressed and ICTs can play a critical role in connecting the diverse groups needed to manage effective resource collection and distribution during these critical situations.

Think positive: The Asian face of HIV/AIDS

ICTs are being used to create HIV/AIDS awareness in many Asia Pacific countries. Recently, the UNDP Regional HIV and Development Programme for Asia, UNDP Asia-Pacific Development Information Programme (UNDP-APDIP), UNAIDS-Asia Pacific Leadership Forum, UNICEF, Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union (ABU), MTV International and the Kaiser Family Foundation joined hands for one such initiative—the production of a series of 'made for television' programmes to raise awareness of the global HIV/AIDS pandemic. Think Positive: The Asian Face of HIV/AIDS, as the programme is called, focuses on the impact of HIV/AIDS on the contributing producer's home country, with emphasis on the human or social dimension. Completed productions are available for exchange between the participating broadcasters and are made available rights-free to all ABU member broadcasters.

Participating television producers from Bangladesh Television; China Central Television; PT Surya Citra Televisi, Indonesia; PT Indosiar Visual Mandiri Tbk, Indonesia; Sistem Televisyen Malaysia Berhad (TV3); Nepal Television; Media Niugini, Papua New Guinea; ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corporation, the Philippines; MediaCorp News, Singapore; National Broadcasting Services of Thailand (Channel 11); and Vietnam Television, each created segments for use by all participating broadcasters as individual short-form programmes. 'This was a first co-production initiative arranged by the ABU for its member broadcasters and in association with the Global Media AIDS Initiative', said Craig Hobbs of the ABU. 'It has resulted in strong interest and participation by our broadcasters, who moved very quickly to complete this project in time for World AIDS Day, and is one that is already stimulating many additional broadcast activities relating to the increasing awareness and changing behaviour for fewer HIV infections.'

MTV International supported the co-production project with the contribution of an executive producer who provided technical and creative direction to the participating producers while drawing on the achievement of MTV's long-running Staying Alive campaign. The Kaiser Family Foundation, UNDP, UNAIDS and UNICEF lent substantive expertise based on their work in HIV/AIDS communication, while the ABU played a coordinating role in the production of the content by soliciting applications from its member broadcasters.

Source: Asia Pacific Development Information Programme. (2006). Launch of HIV/AIDS TV programme—'Think Positive: The Asian Face of HIV/AIDS'. Retrieved from on 10 November 2006.

Role of the Internet

In spite of its relatively low penetration in some societies, the Internet is an ideal tool for risk communication in the post-disaster period for many reasons: the interactivity of the medium, its ability to reach a large group of people within a short period of time, its multimedia character (making it possible to present information in different formats—text, image, audio, video) and its universality.

Perhaps one of the first instances where the Internet was fully utilized for post-disaster response, was the 1999 earthquake that devastated western Turkey. The earthquake caused extensive damage to the telecommunication infrastructure, rendering fixed-line telephones useless. Although some of the mobile phone networks were still working, they were operating with reduced bandwidth. Many of the microwave repeaters mounted on apartment buildings had been damaged. The Internet was the only medium connecting the affected areas to the outside world. The Internet was used primarily for collecting aid and finding information about missing people in order to link them with families and relatives. Many organizations formed 'Message Lines', which acted as a database of people found, their condition, or the degree of damage to the region in which relatives lived (Zincir-Heywood and Heywood 2000). In addition, NGOs used discussion lists to coordinate donations so that donors could identify where help was needed the most as well as the nature of help needed.

Kalemoglu et al. (2005) studied the consequence of the absence of an effective communication and information system in the aftermath of the Turkey earthquake. They found that hospitals were overwhelmed during the critical six hours immediately after the earthquake, due to the exceptionally large number of injured requiring medical care and 'failure of communication with the disaster area'. The communication problem was eventually solved through the deployment of 'wireless and military communication systems'. Kalemoglu et al. (2005) also identified lack of forward planning and preparedness as a contributing factor to the failure of emergency services immediately after the earthquake. They concluded that lessons learned from the earthquake suggest that emergency response teams should be established as part of a larger contingency plan. These teams should then make advance preparations 'that include general precautions, work schedule, hospital care, equipment, transport, registration [of patients admitted to hospitals for treatment], communication and security'.

The ICT deployed need not be sophisticated to make a difference in managing an emergency, according to Ochi et al. (1999) who studied the aftermath of the Cambodian flood of 1997. E-mail, a basic ICT service, helped the WHO Cambodian field office to respond to a medical emergency that occurred after extensive flooding in Cambodia in August 1997. Unusually large numbers of people were being bitten by venomous snakes that had been washed into populated areas by the rising floodwaters. The Cambodian health authorities made an urgent request to the national field office of the WHO for 100 doses of polyvalent type snake antiserum. The WHO had only a few types of monovalent antiserum on stock; in addition, the WHO field office lacked essential taxonomic information about the snakes in Cambodia which the organizations that could provide the required antiserum needed. The coordinator at the WHO field office subsequently sent an e-mail to a member of the Global Health Disaster Network (GHDNet) to seek help in obtaining the required taxonomic information. The GHDNet member in turn forwarded the email to three mailing lists at the network. Members of the mailing lists recommended that the WHO contact several specialists and institutes in the region, including the Japan Snake Institute and the Serum Institute of India. This information-sharing led to the speedy procurement of the required snake antiserum that was then airlifted to Cambodia, saving hundreds of lives.

Alternative communication channels in the aftermath

In the immediate aftermath of a disaster, the traditional communication system is often overloaded, if not destroyed. This makes coordination of emergency response difficult especially in remote areas. To address the need for communication support in times of disaster especially in the Asia Pacific Region, Télécoms Sans Frontières (TSF), which specializes in emergency telecommunications, has established an Asian base at the ADPC. As soon as a catastrophe or conflict occurs, joint teams from ADPC and TSF are able to arrive anywhere in the world in less than 48 hours and install within minutes an operational telecommunications centre to provide communication support to enable NGOs, UN agencies and the affected population to connect with the outside world.

State-of-the-art satellite mobile telecommunication equipment, the miniaturization of components and the development of satellite networks make possible the rapid assembly of the telecommunication centre whatever the type of terrain. The group uses a network of four geostationary satellites whose 'spot beams' cover 98 per cent of the Earth's land surface. TSF has a number of Mini-M devices (Capsat Phone TT-3060A) which, in addition to digital phone facilities at 4,800 bps, allow fax, data transfer and e-mail at 2,400 bps. The main advantage of these devices is that they are small and light. The emergency telecommunications centres enable live reports, pictures and videos to be transmitted via broadband Internet connections.

Setting up a fixed centre with a permanent satellite Internet connection can prove to be a particularly effective tool for the organization of humanitarian work. Recently, TSF formalized an agreement with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) to provide telecommunications support for the UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) teams. The team worked with the UNDAC team in operating the Disaster Operations Centre coordinating both local and international response during the landslide in the province of Leyte in the Philippines in February 2006. The team also operated in Thailand, Indonesia and Sri Lanka in response to the Asian Tsunami of 2004.

During the SARS outbreak in 2003, Singapore relied on ICTs as monitoring devices to enforce the quarantine law. For example, RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) was used to trace individuals who may have come into contact with SARS victims. Hospital workers, visitors and other patients with the potential of coming into contact with SARS victims were given a card containing an RFID transponder that tracked their movements between different zones in the hospital, making it easy to detect who may have come into contact with a patient later confirmed to have contacted the disease, which had different incubation periods extending to a maximum of 10 days. The government also passed a law permitting the installation of surveillance equipment such as electronic picture (ePIC) cameras in the homes of quarantined individuals (the ePIC cameras were monitored by a private company contracted for the purpose). In addition, video facilities were often the only tools available to families to communicate with family members who were gravely ill with SARS in the hospital.

Use of new media such as blogging

Blogging, although still a novelty in most areas of the Asia Pacific region, helped in many ways in the critical period following recent disasters. Sarvodaya, Sri Lanka's largest and most broadly embedded people's organization with a network of 15,000 villages, used blogs successfully in the immediate aftermath of the Asian Tsunami for fund-raising purposes. Two young volunteers started a blog on behalf of Sarvodaya that was later referred to by portals such as Google, Nortel and Apple, which helped to raise USD 1 million in a few weeks from donors around the world. The NGO used this money to provide much needed relief to the victims long before government agencies could react.

Hundreds of blogs emerged in the Asia Pacific region in the first few days following the Tsunami. These were used for information-sharing, locating missing persons, fund-raising and making donations to the needy. Some of these blogs are: (regional), (focusing on Malaysia and Thailand), (Indonesia), (a journalists' blog hosted by the BBC), (Sri Lanka), (post-tsunami rehabilitation), (Thailand), (regional) and (India). Many of these sites have remained active, helping in subsequent disasters. There were also many discussions about post-disaster help among e-groups, such as Bytes-for-all.

Long-term recovery

Indonesia effectively used radio to help reduce the trauma of the Tsunami victims. A weekly one-hour programme assisted by UNDP was launched after the Tsunami struck for the 13,000 internally displaced victims in Meulaboh, Aceh. The radio programme covered topics derived from interactions with the community, such as how to control emotions, family relations, worries about employment and income, housing conditions and establishing a community support network. A counsellor and a psychologist provided advice on how to cope with various forms of stress (UNDP 2006).

Wireless LAN technology is another ICT tool that has proven useful in post disaster periods. Ericsson implemented a WLAN solution in Pakistan during the recovery stage of the Kashmiri earthquake at the request of UNOCHA. The Ericsson response team was hosted in the Swedish Rescue Services Agency's camp in Muzaffarabad, Pakistan. As the affected population was scattered in remote and inaccessible locations, the major concern was to ensure that help reached those in need. Relief personnel were connected to an intranet through which information transfer, both within and across the relief organizations' own networks, could take place. The camp was connected via a VSAT connection to the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) in New York, where a connection to the Internet was provided. The benefit of this system is that all relief workers have access to a common network and can share the same local information (Ericsson 2006).

Recommendations and conclusion

The importance of risk communication in averting many public health crises and natural disasters cannot be overstated. Yet risk communication has received attention only in recent years. Moreover, ICTs have not been harnessed to their full potential to mitigate risks from natural disasters and public health emergencies. For example, a review of risk communication case studies in the Asia Pacific region on issues such as earthquakes, flood, fire threats and disaster mitigation revealed that ICTs were rarely, if ever, used or even considered as a tool.

In order to be effective, risk communication, of which ICT should be an integral component, should be a continuous process that is integrated into the overall developmental scheme of every country. Objectives such as integrating the principles of sustainable development into country policies, building a healthy society and preventing loss of environmental resources cannot be achieved without placing due emphasis on effective risk communication strategies. Current development practices do not necessarily reduce the vulnerability of communities to disasters. Indeed, ill-advised and misdirected development practices may actually increase a society's vulnerability to the risks of disasters. A considerable challenge remains in raising awareness and capacity building so that communities can confidently meet any crisis situation.

We also recommend that national governments promote risk communication in local languages, given that English is spoken by a mere fraction of the close to three billion people who live in the Asia Pacific region. Localization of information about risks will make such content more useful to the population.

Political commitment by governmental and organizational policymakers and community leaders, based on an understanding of risks and disaster reduction concepts as well as the role of ICTs, is fundamental to giving risk communication its rightful place in disaster management. Some national governments fail to implement ICT-friendly policies despite the many benefits of ICTs, particularly in developing countries with poor infrastructures as noted by some cases in this chapter. ICTs can play a significant role in communication of risks arising from natural disasters and public health emergencies. They are not just commercial tools whose sole purpose is to increase corporate profits in the 'emerging economies' of Asia Pacific. ICTs can also contribute to social development.

Telecommunications regulators have a special role in promoting the media that are used in disaster warning systems. Whereas under normal circumstances, mass media such as television, radio, telephones and the Internet may compete with each other as commercial entities, regulation can encourage them to work in harmony during disaster situations for the public good. Thus, making disaster management a part of telecommunication regulation ought to be considered.

Ongoing ICT4D programmes should be made more comprehensive through the inclusion of risk communication. After all, developmental progress is severely curtailed when crises befall a community. Risk communication should be included as one of the dimensions of the activities of telecentres which are found in many rural Asian societies today. The use of an established channel such as telecentres in risk communication may be more economical and more reliable than using a system specially meant for the purpose. Similarly, risk communication can also be made a part of community radio programmes.

Finally, it is essential to give priority to regional efforts since natural disasters and health risks such as pandemics often cross national boundaries. It is prudent for national governments to invest in regional efforts while also focusing on national priorities. Regional and international organizations serve as critical allies in this task by sharing knowledge and creating a common platform that national governments can harness for the benefit of the populace.


1. The authors would like to acknowledge the contributions of Mr Chin Saik Yoon to this chapter.

2. There are many types of crises: natural disasters ('acts of God'), malevolence (product tampering, kidnapping, rumors), technical breakdowns (software failures, industrial accidents, product recalls), human breakdowns (industrial accidents due to human error), activist challenges (boycotts, strikes, lawsuits), accidents (oil spills, radioactive contamination), pandemics (such as AIDS) and terrorism, which is relatively more recent in origin.

3. The WHO has developed different alert phases for pandemics. Each phase provides the status of the pandemic from a circulating strain, possible infection to humans and the full blown epidemic event.

4. The Global Public Health Intelligence Network (GPHIN) developed by Health Canada in collaboration with the WHO is a secure Internet-based multilingual early-warning tool that continuously searches global media sources such as news wires and websites to identify information about disease outbreaks and other events of potential international public health concern.

5. The broadened purpose and scope of the IHR (2005) are to 'prevent, protect against, control and provide a public health response to the international spread of disease and which avoid unnecessary interference with international traffic and trade.'


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Localization in Asia Pacific

Sarmad Hussain and Ram Mohan


The world Internet population crossed one billion users in 2005 (Computer Industry Almanac 2006). However, Asia Pacific continues to lag behind North America and Europe in diffusion of information and communication technologies (ICTs). Compared to 69 per cent of the North American population and 38 per cent of the European population, only about 10 per cent of the Asia Pacific population accesses the Internet (Internet World Stats 2006a), even though China, Japan and South Korea have comparatively high Internet penetration (Internet World Stats 2006b). Low Internet penetration in Asia Pacific's developing nations limits their potential to exploit the benefits of ICT.

Asia Pacific is lagging behind in the use of ICTs not only because of the unavailability of affordable hardware and connectivity, but also because computing is still primarily in non-Asian languages. The Asia Pacific region is home to about half of the world's spoken languages: more than 3,500 languages are spoken in Asia Pacific out of about 6,8001 languages spoken in the entire world (UNESCO 2004). These languages employ a variety of writing systems ( 2006). Twenty-one of the 30 most spoken languages in the world are also from this region (Katsiavriades and Qureshi 2006). Therefore, enabling ICTs in the local languages is necessary for effective access to information in Asia Pacific (Pimienta 2005). To cite one example, a recent study published in Korea Times reports that due to insufficient adaptation to local needs, Google serves only 1.5 per cent of the Korean Internet search market (Wagers 2006). Most Koreans use the Korean search engines which meet their requirements better.

The adaptation of ICT to local needs is called localization. Localization can be defined as the process of developing, tailoring and/or enhancing the capability of hardware and software to input, process and output information in the language, norms and metaphors used by a community. The localization process must also capture the variances in the use of a language. For example, English speakers in the United States spell words differently from English speakers in the United Kingdom, and Punjabi speakers use Gurmukhi script in India and Arabic script in Pakistan to write the same language. Even more challenging is enabling ICT for oral or unwritten languages like Jatapu and Koya in India (Daswani 1998), as it would be completely dependent on a localized speech interface.

The terms internationalization and globalization are also used in the context of local language computing but with subtle differences from localization. Internationalizing ICTs requires designing the technology in a generic fashion so that it has the ability to support multiple languages. However, internationalization does not enable any particular language. Enabling technology for a particular language is called localization. Globalization of ICTs in this context refers to first internationalizing and then localizing technology to support multiple languages.2

Localization is conventionally defined or understood in a narrow sense—that is, it is usually limited to interface translation and other basic changes in the computing platform. We suggest that localization has a broader scope that includes the entire range of script, speech and language technology to enable access to information for the end-user.

This chapter provides a brief overview of localization and the process required for enabling it. In addition, the role of regional and international organizations in localization is discussed and the level of localization achieved across different countries within the region is summarized. The chapter concludes with a discussion of policy and planning considerations to achieve wider localization in Asia Pacific, highlighting some of the issues and choices in making localization policy decisions.

The process of localization

Localization requires three steps: linguistic analysis, basic localization and advanced application development. Linguistic analysis is required to unambiguously define the language conventions and norms that are to be modelled by technology. As implied, basic localization caters only to the rudimentary needs of end-users, including input and output of text in a local language. However, to give comprehensive access to novice users and illiterate populations, or to assist in content development in a local language, more advanced applications need to be developed. Further details are given in this section.

Linguistic analysis

Successful language computing is largely dependent on good linguistic analysis based on cultural conventions. Very precise definitions are required for all relevant linguistic phenomena. However, for many languages in Asia Pacific, linguistic details are either incomplete or unavailable. Moreover, relevant cultural conventions are rarely documented. This poses a significant obstacle to localization and requires the involvement of indigenous expertise.

The initial linguistic details, which have to be agreed and standardized for basic localization, include (but are not limited to) the following: the writing system3 and character set used by the language for its publishing needs; the ordering of these characters; cultural conventions for representing numbers, time and the calendar; and translation of common terms used in the software interface. This has to be done by the appropriate language or cultural authorities at the national level. Experience shows that debate4 is inevitable in this process of standardization. It is important that the discussions and solutions be based on linguistic merit and not be driven by technology constraints, although all discussions must involve both linguists and technologists, the latter to challenge any ambiguities in the proposals from a technical perspective.

In addition, a detailed linguistic analysis of the script, speech and grammar of the language is required for advanced application development. The analysis encompasses the sound system of the language and its acoustic details, word and phrase structures, and the representation of meaning in the language. These details need to be clearly documented for eventual implementation, as further explained in this section.

Standardization and basic localization support

Once the discussions on the writing system and basic language details are finalized at the national level, the next step is to derive the relevant standards for computing and subsequently develop computer software and hardware to enable local language input and output based on these standards. At the minimum, encoding, keyboards (and input methods), fonts (and rendering engines), definition of cultural conventions (for time, calendar and numbers) and interface translation must to be enabled. Once defined, the keyboard, font and locale support must be incorporated in the operating systems (for example, Linux, Sun Unix, Microsoft Windows, IBM AIX, Apple Mac OS and others) and at least the basic applications, including word processors (for example, Emacs, GEdit, KEdit, Open Office, Word), e-mail clients (for example, Thunderbird, Outlook), Web browsers (for example, Firefox, Internet Explorer), chatting software, and the like, according to end-user requirements. These steps are briefly discussed below.


As computers can only manipulate numbers and not characters, to process a language each character in it has to be assigned a unique number.5 This process is called encoding. The process can be done in a non-standard way by arbitrarily assigning numbers to different letters in the language.6 However, non-standard encoding inhibits data sharing across multi-user applications, including Web access, e-mailing and chatting. Therefore, the encoding should be done through the international standard ISO 10646 or Unicode.7 If the Unicode standard does not support a language, or only partially supports it, this standard should be enhanced by submitting a proposal, channelled through appropriate national bodies, to add new characters.8

Even if standardization is achieved, there still remains a large repository of information based on arbitrary encodings. Thus, in addition to standardization, additional file-mapping applications need to be developed that will allow the legacy or concurrent content in other encodings to be converted to the standardized encoding.

Keyboard and input method

Once the character set is standardized, keyboard mapping—that is, the placement of characters on the keyboard—needs to be defined. This mapping can be facilitated by extending existing keyboard layouts or doing character frequency analysis.9 Some languages require complex input methods. For example, because it is not possible to put the thousands of Chinese symbols on the keyboard, different methods based on strokes, Latin character transliteration, and handwriting recognition are used to input text in Chinese (Wikipedia 2006; Hussain et al. 2005). Input methods must be openly and consistently defined and openly standardized to allow users to type in the same way across all computing systems.

Fonts and rendering

Fonts for languages are required for on-screen display and printing. Simpler writing systems like Latin and Cyrillic scripts (which are used for most languages spoken in the Americas and Europe) have been modelled by earlier font formats, such as the True Type Fonts (TTF). However, most scripts used for languages in Asia Pacific are more complex due to their cursive nature and context-sensitive character shaping and positioning (Hussain 2004) and therefore require the enhanced font formats, such as the Open Type Fonts (OTF).10 Once fonts are created for a language, computer software is used to display the fonts onscreen, in a process called rendering. Complex writing systems, such as the Nastalique writing style for the Urdu language (Hussain 2004), require a sophisticated rendering engine capable of displaying the font.


The locale for a language contains information about the local language and the cultural representation of time, calendar, numbers and other related information normally visible on computer screens—for example, in English the date stamp '4/1/2005' is usually included with e-mail messages. This represents '1st of April 2005' in the USA but '4th of January 2005' in the UK. Thus, to define and to interpret this information, the language and region of the locale must be clearly declared. In addition to time, date and digit conventions, the locale also defines the sequence in which the words in a language are ordered, which is very important for many applications, for example, to develop a voter list or to make a telephone directory.

The locale may be defined by filling in a given template and submitting it to the Common Locale Data Repository (CLDR) managed by the Unicode Consortium. The locale for each language for each country is defined separately to capture cultural variations, such as bn-BG and bn-IN for the Bengali language (bn) spoken in Bangladesh (BG) and India (IN), respectively. Many Asia Pacific countries have not developed or registered their language locales with CLDR.

Local language interface

Imagine giving a Nepali speaker a computer that is configured for use in the Japanese language. Such a computer would be impossible for the Nepali speaker to operate because he or she cannot comprehend the words and phrases displayed on the screen. For majority of users in Asia Pacific who do not understand a foreign language, words and phrases like 'save', 'print', 'edit', 'file' and the like, need to be translated and displayed in the local language on the computer screen. About 5,000 words comprise the basic glossary to represent menu items for operating systems and basic applications. However, to completely localize all help files and error messages, careful translation of more than 300,000 phases may be required.

Translating a glossary is challenging because there are many words that do not have local language equivalents, such as the word 'cursor'. Either such words are transliterated or new senses of the existing local language words need to be formulated. This creative exercise requires language experts who are proficient in the use of computers, a rare combination of skills in the developing Asia Pacific region.

Once translated, the basic glossary should be verified by language authorities and published as a national standard (for example, DzongkaLinux Team 2007) and supplied to vendors and organizations (for example, Debian, Red Hat, Microsoft, IBM Apple) for incorporation within their platforms.

Basic application localization

Once the basic linguistic analysis is completed and localization support is developed, this support will need to be integrated at two levels. First, the support must be included in the basic operating system being used, for example, Linux, Microsoft Windows, Apple MacOS, IBM AIX, Sun Unix. The operating system would enable the encoding, allow the locale of the language to be defined, and allow the input and output methods to be used effectively. Interface translation in the operating system must also be enabled. Second, once the operating system is enabled, basic applications must be localized. These applications include word processors, e-mail clients, Web browsers, chat clients and other general and customized applications. However, this only provides basic access to trained users. For wider, more effective access for general users, advanced local language computing applications will also need to be developed.

Advanced language computing applications

Basic localization should not be the final goal because it does not completely meet the objective of giving end-users meaningful access to computing. Advanced language technology is required to further facilitate access for end-users and enable them to generate local language content. Advanced language computing requires in-depth speech and linguistic analysis as well as complex programming for implementation, drawing from the fields of phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, signal and speech processing, image processing, language processing, artificial intelligence and statistics. Moreover, a significant amount of local language resources is needed to develop these applications, as further explained in the following sections.

Language resources

Language resources are required by advanced applications to create language models. These resources include first, a list of words in the language tagged with minimal linguistic information (for example, part-of-speech [POS],11 gender, number).12 These word lists (or lexicons) are needed to develop applications like spelling checkers. Many applications would also require a large amount of typed text in the language, called the language corpus. This is used to extract word frequencies, word collocations and other grammatical information for statistical language processing. A corpus of 10–100 million words from different text genres is required for different kinds of statistical modelling.

Part of the corpus must also be manually tagged with POS and other linguistic information to infer automatic models for processing text through machine learning13 techniques. For example, a text corpus manually tagged with POS is used to develop an automatic POS tagger. The POS tagger is used in almost all advanced applications, for example, to decide whether to stress the first or second syllable of a word like 'address'14 for a text-to-speech system. The Urdu language shows a similar variation, for example, for the word Image (ulta; 'upside down' vs. 'to turn upside down'). Another such critical system is for word segmentation, since in Asia Pacific, many languages like Chinese, Dzongkha, Khmer, Lao, Thai, Urdu and Burmese do not use spaces between words, which makes it difficult to determine word boundaries in typed text. The word boundaries have to be guessed based on advanced linguistic and statistical techniques. Solving this problem is fundamental for any further processing of these languages through machines, for example, doing line-wrapping in word processing or performing spell checking. In addition to tagging text corpora, the computational grammars of these languages need to be developed and documented.

Speech corpora are required for developing speech applications. These must be recorded for narrative and conventional speech over different channels, including microphone, telephone, mobile phone, and so on, for a variety of speakers and dialects, for the development of the speech applications. Finally, script corpora need to be developed for script processing applications. The corpora must include large samples of different types and handwritings and the corpora must be manually tagged for various linguistic dimensions.

Once the language resources are available, they can lead to the development of advanced applications, which can be broadly categorized into two sets: those which provide access to existing content and others which assist in generating new content in local languages.

Applications to provide access to information

As discussed, basic applications like word processors, e-mail clients, Web browsers and chat clients provide basic access to trained users, once they are localized. However, there are additional applications that can be used to further enrich the computing experience. Most of the population in developing Asia is illiterate and enabling computing in local languages still does not provide this population access to online information that is otherwise available to literate individuals. They need a speech interface, which reads out online text to users (text-to-speech systems or TTS), as well as technology to 'listen' to users (robust automatic speech recognition systems or ASR) and to interpret their requests (language understanding systems). Also needed are search engines and advanced information retrieval (IR) systems that can sift through existing online data and seek out and display requested information. All these must be possible in local languages. While there are generic software programs with open licenses which are already available, these programs have to be trained (and sometimes enhanced) for Asian languages.

Once core technology like TTS, ASR and IR is enabled, it has to be integrated into Interactive Voice Response (IVR) and other dialogue-based systems to 'communicate' with end-users. As the core technologies are developed by a variety of vendors, standardized ways of integrating these technologies will need to be developed. There are ongoing standardization efforts: for example, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is developing Speech Synthesis Mark-up Language (SSML) and Voice Mark-up Language (VoiceML) to allow voice browsing, in addition to the widely used text browsing standard called Hyper Text Mark-up Language (HTML). Voice browsing allows users to interact with a website to access content using speech interface. This can greatly enhance Web use in developing Asia, especially within the illiterate and visually impaired community.

Applications for content generation

Even if access is possible, it is still necessary to have relevant content available in local languages for end-users. At present very limited online content is available in the languages of Asia Pacific. There are three general ways to generate online content: (a) develop original content, (b) copy content from printed sources in local languages and (c) translate existing content in a foreign language. The localized common applications used for access, such as word processors, email clients, Web development tools and chatting software, may be used for content generation as well.

Although online content development is a slow process, script and language technology can accelerate it. And although there is little online content in Asia Pacific languages, there is a lot of printed content. Using Optical Character Recognition (OCR) systems, which scan printed documents and books and automatically convert the images to editable text, this printed material can be quickly transformed into searchable online content.

In addition to content in the local languages, there is also a large amount of universally useful content available in foreign languages, including English (35.2 per cent), Chinese (13.7 per cent) and Japanese (9 per cent) (Global Reach 2004). This content can also be translated to local languages quickly by developing automatic Machine Translation (MT) systems. Automatic translation, although not very accurate, provides access to content that is otherwise completely inaccessible. Automatic translation can be made more accurate with human assistance (where required) at a significantly lower cost compared to a completely manual translation.

TTS, ASR, OCR and MT are advanced applications that require considerable language resources and linguistic and computational analysis. These applications also require dedicated input from specialized human resources over a considerable period. An MT application could take a team of 10 linguists and computational linguists five years to develop.15 Usable TTS, ASR and OCR systems could take a team of 10 linguists, engineers and computational linguists three years each to develop. To mature and perfect these applications would require continuous focus for an even longer period.

Licensing is an additional problem with online content, even where technology may be available for accelerated online publishing. Much of the content available is normally copyright, which makes it difficult to disseminate. Newer regimes that allow much more open use of content, such as Creative Commons, are emerging. Wikipedia, which allows free-for-all information and is available in many languages, is an excellent outcome of these movements towards open content.

Regional and international organizations

Development of local language computing applications and content requires a sustained effort. Many regional and international organizations have been contributing to this development across Asia Pacific. These organizations are involved in: (a) standards development and (b) technology development. Moreover, there are many funding agencies in the region that are supporting local language computing development, notably the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) of Canada, Center of the International Cooperation for Computerization (CICC) of Japan, National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT) of Japan, United Nations (through UNESCO and the UNDP-Asia Pacific Development Information Programme or APDIP) and Asia IT&C Grants by the European Union.

This section lists some of the major regional standards and technology development organizations supporting local language computing in Asia Pacific and explains the role they play in this context. National and regional initiatives need to develop liaisons with these organizations, for example by subscribing to the multiple online discussion forums that they maintain or by attending the regular meetings, conferences and special workshops organized by them. Where funds are required, the funding organizations listed provide such support.

Unicode consortium

The Unicode consortium develops the Unicode standard, which is the standard encoding scheme for the multilingual Internet and is the same as ISO 10646. The consortium aims to provide standard encoding schemes for all characters and symbols used in different scripts for all languages of the world (Unicode 2006). In addition, it provides guidelines for collation, bidirectionality, reordering and line-breaking, which are fundamental to text processing for many Asian languages based on the Unicode standard. Even though conventional national and proprietary encodings are still being used, most nations across Asia Pacific are now switching to Unicode. In addition to encoding, the Unicode consortium has recently collected and is now maintaining locales for all languages through the CLDR project.

World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)

W3C develops guidelines, standards and software to publish multilingual online content. Its Internationalization Working Group is tasked with keeping these specifications multilingual. W3C maintains the HTML standard which is used for creating multilingual Web pages. In addition, it is developing SSML and VoiceML standards which are used for voice browsing, that is, accessing the Internet through speech. This organization is also developing multimodal content publishing standards for more effective Web accessibility, including access by people with disabilities.

Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN)

Currently Web access requires typing a Web address (also called domain name or URL) in English. For populations who do not understand English, this is one of the significant hurdles in accessing online content. Web addresses, which are the key to entering the multilingual World Wide Web, should also be in local languages. ICANN is responsible for the global coordination of Web addresses16 and it recently introduced Internationalized Domain Names (IDNs) through reports RFC 3454, 3490, 3491 and 3492, collectively called the IDN Standards (ICANN 2006). IDN would allow Web addresses in local languages. However, due to the seven-bit ASCII-based domain name system, Unicode cannot be used and multi-lingual IDNs are converted to ASCII Compatible Encoding (ACE) before the address is resolved. Still being debated is how to enable Top-Level Domains (TLDs) in local languages and who will control them (Butt 2006; Huston 2006). Due to this continuing controversy, independent systems have also been developed, for example by the Chinese Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC). ICANN and IDNs are bound to play a critical role in making the multi-lingual Internet accessible.

Development of Internationalized Domain Names (IDNs) for India's .IN domain

India's .IN domain first opened to the public in 1992. It was managed by the National Centre for Software Technology (NCST) until 2004, and then by the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC), both research and development institutions run by the Government of India. Until 2004, about 6,600 names existed in the .IN domain database. In late 2004, the Indian government liberalized policies surrounding the .IN domain. This included making available second level domains ( on an unlimited basis, as well as third level domains <>, <> and <> to all registrants. Furthermore, the .IN ccTLD registry separated Registry and Registrar (retail) functions, resulting in the creation of a domain name industry that had until then been dormant. The results of this opening and liberalization have been quite dramatic—100,000 registrations in the first 100 days and over 250,000 new registrations since 1 January 2005.

However, domain name registrations were in English (ASCII script) only, a significant limitation in a nation with 22 official languages, including 400 million speakers of Hindi, 200 million speakers of Bengali, 60 million speakers of Tamil and 70 million speakers of Telugu. This nation of more than a billion has schools that teach in 58 different languages, newspapers publishing in 87 languages, radio programmes broadcast in 71 languages and movies released in 15 languages. To support this diverse, multilingual population, the .IN registry embarked on a programme to internationalize the .IN domain and support the various scripts that are used to represent the 22 official languages in India.

The task of internationalizing the .IN domain is the most complex domain name internationalization project in the world because the 22 languages may be represented completely by merely 11 scripts, leading to significant overlaps and the presence of visually confusable character sequences that are equally valid in multiple languages but which may be represented on a computer by unique encodings. Such visually confusable characters are called variants, and one of the most important tasks in localization is the creation of variant tables that prescribe which characters are visually confusable between different languages. In addition, some Indian languages support bidirectional text, multiple diacentric positioning and word breaking, and non-empty spaces that are not normally supported in a standard, left-to-right ASCII-based Domain Name System (DNS).

The plan to internationalize .IN may be summarized as follows: build language tables; develop language policies; consider issues brought about by variants; ensure standards compliance and enhance dispute resolution policy to cover IDNs.

To introduce .IN in local languages such as Hindi and Tamil, language and variant tables must first be developed. Homographic variant issues must be determined, which will ensure that characters that look identical are marked clearly and registration of one character in one script automatically reserves the similar looking character in the other script(s). Linguistic experts are needed to ratify the choices of variant and language tables. Finally, steps need to be taken to ensure that the launch of Hindi and Tamil does not disadvantage the later launch of other languages that use similar characters—for example, the Tamil character ImageJ(U+0BB5) is very similar to the Malayalam character ImageJ(U+0D16).

International technical standards exist for IDNs, and .IN has carefully planned to conform to these standards while simultaneously working with the standards community to extend these standards where they are deficient or insufficient. At a minimum, conformance to the IETF RFCs 3490, 3491, 3492 and 3454 are required, as well as general conformance to the ICANN IDN Guidelines (ICANN 2006).

The launch of domain names in local languages requires the development of a robust dispute resolution policy that considers additions for IDNs and has the ability to handle disputes for domain names in either ASCII or the native language representation evenly and equally. Moreover, because variants of one name may conflict with other names, a clear policy has to be developed to resolve such conflicts in a manner that is consistent and conformant to local laws.

In December 2006, the Indian government, in partnership with .IN's technical partner Afilias, completed the first-ever launch of .IN in the Tamil language, implementing the Dravidian script that represents Tamil. Tamil, one of the world's classical languages, will be available for wide use. There are plans to soon thereafter introduce .IN in Malayalam (a related Dravidian script-based language). Language table development for the DevanImagegarImage script, which is the basis for many northern Indian languages including Hindi, is well underway, although this is a large-scale project whose end-date is yet to be determined.

A new development is the interest in the creation of IDN Top Level Domains (IDN TLDs). This allows the entire domain name to be represented in a local language character set. Technical tests are being conducted to study and ensure feasibility of the following practical issues: (a) Will they work everywhere? (b) Are they backwards compatible? (c) Do they not break application software? (d) Do they support languages appropriately? Certain principles apply towards the roll-out of IDN TLDs, including:

1. retaining the global uniqueness of the TLD system—that is, domain names should remain unique and unambiguous;

2. maintaining the interoperability of the TLD system, that is, 'dot Image ('dot Hindi' written in DevanImagegarImage - script) needs to point applications and users to the same place regardless of whether they are accessing the domain from India, the UK or Greece;

3. promoting 'future-proof' solutions that allow seamless introduction of new languages and character sets in the future;

4. avoiding user confusion; and

5. promoting multi-stakeholder involvement.

When implementing IDNs in Asia Pacific, with its large list of languages, character sets and scripts, and relative paucity of experts, important preliminary issues such as language table and variant table development often cannot get off the ground. Government involvement is critical in coordinating and bringing together the right set of individual experts in technology, language and policy to create a model for the implementation of IDNs. The development of IDNs will benefit Internet users who are not literate in English and whose computers do not use ASCII or English character sets by default, provide a good user experience on the Internet and create a multilingual Internet that can be used by all populations worldwide.

International Standards Organization (ISO)

ISO jointly develops the ISO 10646 or Unicode standard with the Unicode Consortium. The technical committee TC37 develops standards for 'Terminology and Other Language and Content Resources', including specifications for lexica, corpora and other language content. The language resource standards are still being discussed and finalized and they are not currently in wide use. Some other related standards include ISO 3166 for country codes and ISO 639 for language codes, which are used for locale definitions by Unicode within CLDR and by other organizations including W3C and ICANN. For example, ur_PK represents the Urdu language locale as used in Pakistan.

Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) initiatives

Notable within software development initiatives for multilingual computing is the FOSS community which provides internationalized software applications that allow rapid localization covered under an open license.17 Most FOSS operating systems are based on Linux, are internationalized, and are being localized by different groups (for example, Debian, Red Hat and Ubuntu). Debian is currently being localized in more than 150 languages. Open Office, which provides a complete suite of document productivity software, is being localized into 70 languages. The Mozilla project distributes Firefox Web browser and Thunderbird email client. There are many more FOSS initiatives available online, including software for chatting, multimedia, Web development and database.

Asian Federation on Natural Language Processing (AFNLP)

Academic research forums in linguistics and language processing have long existed in many countries in Asia. However, there have been limited regional discussions on Asian languages. The American Association of Computational Linguists (AACL) and European Association of Computational Linguistics (EACL) have been providing a common platform for the Americas and Europe. A similar platform in Asia was created recently by bringing existing national organizations and conferences under a single regional umbrella called AFNLP. The federation is helping organize language computing research and development across Asia by providing a collaborative platform to share academic research and exchange innovative solutions for Asian languages. AFNLP holds a regular conference called International Joint Conference on Natural Language Processing (IJCNLP). Two such conferences have been held so far.

Language resources and vendor initiatives

Many organizations collect and distribute language resources that are essential to perform linguistic and computational research and to develop local language computing. The Linguistic Data Consortium (LDC) at the University of Pennsylvania distributes text and speech corpora, lexica and additional data for many languages, including Chinese, Arabic, Japanese, Hindi, Vietnamese, Tamil, Korean and other languages. The European Language Resource Association (ELRA) distributes similar resources for many Asian languages. Similarly, the Global Wordnet Association is developing lexical-semantic resources for many languages and the South Asian Language Resource Center (SALRC) at the University of Chicago is developing a repository of lexical resources for South Asian languages. No formal centre for the collection and distribution of the language resources of Asia Pacific has been established. However, discussions for establishing an Asian Language Resource Network, similar to LDC and ELRA, are underway. Another language resource organization is the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL), an organization of volunteers that has been documenting languages and populations for more than 50 years (see

The University of California at Berkeley has started the Script Encoding Initiative which is assisting individuals and groups to identify the missing characters, for example from lesser known languages, and helping them get these characters encoded in the Unicode standard.

Some corporations have also been involved in localization. IBM has developed a large repository of C++ and Java code which is called IBM International Components for Unicode (ICU). This library of code is available at Microsoft has restructured its localization policy and has started developing local language interfaces, called Language Interface Packs (LIP), which are currently available for seven Asian languages. These efforts will help develop basic localization at least in the languages that have official status in Asian countries or are otherwise commercially viable (for example, languages spoken by large populations).

There is growing interest in localizing the mobile platform, but the effort has mostly been taken up by the manufacturers themselves, for example, Nokia, Samsung, Sony and others. Text-based messaging is now increasingly becoming available through these systems for many Asian languages based on the Unicode standard. However, the localization is driven mostly by commercial interests focused on languages that promise revenues. It is not possible for independent developers to localize these platforms in other languages due to proprietary platforms and lack of open standards.18

Status of language technology

Many of the basic standards and applications have already been developed for most of the national languages in Asia Pacific. Many of these standards have been reviewed over time and now align with international standards. However, language computing has matured to different levels in these countries. This section summarizes the status of localization of national languages in different countries in Asia Pacific. There are five levels of maturity that are at best qualitative as it is difficult to make a quantitative assessment (because each country is confronted with its own unique socio-economic, political and linguistic challenges, for example). The comparison is based on the level of work on the national language and research and development capacity in the areas of script, speech and language processing. A checklist of these applications for many national languages from the region is also provided in Table 1. For more

Table 1
Extent of localization for the national language of each listed country of Asia Pacific*











































































































































































































































Sri Lanka







































Note: The table lists a comparison for some of the applications. The comparison is qualitative, not quantitative, and is based on the current information available to the authors through the Internet and other sources (for example, Sonlertlamvanich 2002; Tsujii 2005; Hussain et al. 2005). The information has not been independently verified and therefore has some margin of error. (blank—minimal work; x—initial work started; xx—some work completed; xxx—much work completed; for Year 2006)

information, see Sonlertlamvanich (2002), Tsujii (2005) and Hussain et al. (2005).

Highly localized languages

Leading the development and implementation of local language computing are the more developed countries in the region, including China, Japan and Korea. These countries are very active in international standardization efforts and participate in relevant platforms and discussions. Most software is already localized in Mandarin Chinese, Japanese and Korean. Current research and development is focused on cutting-edge technology, including speech-to-speech translation, as basic localization and advanced applications, including TTS, ASR, OCR and MT, are already developed and available through the commercial sector. These countries have active academic bodies collaborating with the commercial sector, backed by governmental policy and support. Some of the organizations involved are the University of Peking, City University of Hong Kong, Academia Sinica in Taiwan, NICT and Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International (ATR) in Japan, and Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) and Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute (ETRI) of Korea. Significant research and development is being performed by the commercial sector as well, including Sony, NEC, IBM, Nokia, Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, Systrans and so on.

Very localized languages

Thailand and India are also very active in local language computing. The National Electronics and Computer Technology Center (NECTEC) of the National Science Technology Development Agency (NSTDA), along with Thai industry and academia, is leading the full localization of the Thai language. A Thai OCR, text-to-speech system, and English-Thai MT are now available. The Thai Language Environment (TLE) project develops and maintains the Open Source Thai Linux distribution.

India also has a thriving and vibrant language computing development sector. The Ministry of Science and Technology has created the Technology Development for Indian Languages (TDIL) department which supports and coordinates active research on Hindi and many other constitutionally recognized languages through research centres at Indian universities and the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (CDAC). In addition, the IndLinux group localizes Linux distributions in many languages (MIT 2006) and has released the Hindi version. However, commercial-grade applications for end-users are not fully developed and not in wide use due to the complexity and language diversity (currently 22 official languages). Nevertheless, working models of TTS, MT, ASR and OCR for a few languages, including Hindi, Tamil and Marathi, are available. Other language resources, including lexica and corpora, are also available. Government focus and a dynamic language policy are providing the correct impetus and India is seeing an emerging localization and language computing industry.

Moderately localized languages

Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Vietnam have fairly active academic research and development programmes and fairly mature standards and basic language applications, with reasonable work in advanced applications.

Research and development in Indonesia is being carried out by both the public and academic sectors. Basic resources and advanced applications are all being developed with advanced prototypes already released. Badan Pengkajian dan Penerapan Teknologi (BPPT) and the University of Indonesia are two organizations actively involved in this process. Most of the work is on Bahasa Indonesia.

Research in Malaysia started in 1987 through the KANTA project by CICC which developed an MT system for Japanese, Malay, Chinese, Thai and Bahasa Indonesia. Universities, including Universiti Teknologi Malaysia and Universiti Sains Malaysia, are actively involved in research and development.

Localization in Sri Lanka is being led by the University of Colombo School of Computing for Sinhala and Tamil, with support and guidance from the ICT Agency of Sri Lanka. The open source community is also reasonably active through Sri Lanka's Linux User Group (LkLUG), which has made some progress on the development of a Sinhala Linux distribution.

In Vietnam, localization is being led by the Ministry of IT and is also being carried out in some universities. VietKey is an open source office productivity software available in Vietnamese. Work is also underway on advanced applications, like ASR.

Pakistan has shown a promising focus on language computing (see the boxed case study below).

However, very limited development work is being carried out by the commercial sector in these countries, especially for advanced applications.

Language computing development in Pakistan

Pakistan is home to more than 160 million people who speak more than 60 languages. Urdu is the national language and the lingua franca. The official language is English, a legacy of the country's colonial past and a language understood by less than 10 per cent of the population. Punjabi, Seraiki, Sindhi, Pashto, Balochi and Kashmiri are the most spoken languages. Many of the other languages, with small populations, are found in northern Pakistan, where these linguistic communities live in valley 'islands' surrounded by tall Himalayan peaks. Pakistan is a country that has recently reawakened to the need for local language software and where all stakeholders are coming together in a synergized approach to language computing development. However, Pakistan is still struggling to balance policy, human resource and technology challenges and it is only starting to look at the social challenges and solutions for dissemination of this technology.

Pakistan experienced a boom in language computing in the early 1980s, when the indigenous software industry started developing word processors and fonts for Urdu. Multiple word processing products and fonts were made available. Although the Nastalique script used to write Urdu is very challenging to model, especially with the technology available in the 1980s, numerous solutions were developed, including Inpage, PagePro, Shahkar, Raakim, and the like. Unfortunately, by the late 1980s and early 1990s, most of this industry had vanished because copyright violations made such ventures totally unprofitable.

Language computing has emerged after a decade of stagnation, with the revived interest coming from academia and the public sector. The Center for Research in Urdu Language Processing (CRULP) at the National University of Computer and Emerging Sciences and smaller informal groups led by individual faculty members at various universities in the private and public sectors are at the forefront of this effort. Work has been ongoing in all aspects of localization technology, including MT, TTS, ASR, OCR and handwriting recognition. Universities are also offering specialized courses at master and doctorate level in these areas, thereby developing the essential human resource for this work. Most of the current efforts are focused on technology. However, significant investment also needs to be made in developing specialized linguistic and computational linguistics programmes.

With the emergence of e-governance, the public sector has realized the need for local language computing and incorporated it in the IT policy for the first time in early 2000. Since then, the government has been contributing in multiple ways. The e-government initiatives taken up by federal and state governments now require local language interfaces for many of the software services being developed. The major initiative has been that of the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) which is now issuing National ID cards in Urdu to all Pakistanis. NADRA's national database is in Unicode. Other large initiatives, including work on land revenue records and software for recording proceedings of the National Assembly and Senate, all require Urdu components, making localization a viable commercial option again. There are also plans for telecentre projects which will have a significant local language component. The increased demand created by the public sector is now drawing the software industry to invest in local language computing.

However, the industry remains focused on basic localization and is still not developing advanced applications due to the significant level of financial investment required by the latter. The Ministry of IT (MoIT) realizes the requirement for advanced applications and has been funding research and development in this area since early 2000. The first national encoding standard was approved by the President of Pakistan in 2002, through the efforts of a specialized committee (called Urdu and Regional Languages Software Development Forum, URLSDF) formed by MoIT in collaboration with the National Language Authority. This was soon followed by a proposal to update the Unicode standard for complete support of the Urdu language. Since then MoIT has funded a major development project to create Urdu lexical resources, Urdu TTS and English-to-Urdu MT at CRULP. The first phase of this three-year project was completed in 2007 and the content and software is to be released with open licensing to trigger further research and development in the academic and commercial sectors. The project has helped create the necessary linguistic resources, trained a team of more than 50 personnel in speech and languages processing and is bound to have far-reaching effects on language computing in Pakistan. Smaller projects have also been funded by the PTCL R&D fund (now the National ICT R&D fund), including work on developing Web guidelines for local language content publishing, localization of open source software and developing other language processing applications.

Growing awareness in the government sector, along with significant funding allocation for local language computing programmes and requiring local language computing for e-government projects, is creating excitement in the academic and commercial sectors. However, the work is currently limited to Urdu, the national language. It is hoped that other languages will receive the same attention. A more proactive approach by public organizations, civil society and academia to the localization of the languages of smaller populations, is required.

Somewhat localized languages

The national languages of countries like Bangladesh, Myanmar and Nepal belong to this category. In these countries there is an emerging realization of the importance of local language computing and focused public policy is starting to develop, integrate and align existing private initiatives. However, there is only limited work on advanced language computing applications.

Countries like Afghanistan, Lao PDR, Cambodia, Mongolia and Bhutan are also starting to develop basic localization standards and applications in their national languages.

Non-localized languages

Of the approximately 3,500 languages spoken in Asia Pacific, only about 30–40 languages are being localized. Small and developing language communities are left out due to very limited capacity to perform indigenous localization and lack of commercial incentives. This problem is especially severe for countries with exceptionally high linguistic diversity, such as Papua New Guinea (820 languages) and Indonesia (737 languages). Localizing these languages will only be possible through long-term policy initiatives and collaborative effort between national, regional and international organizations.

Policy considerations for localization in Asia Pacific

The goal of localization is to enable communities to share and exchange information through ICTs. Achieving this goal would require planning and executing a strategy that can address the entire spectrum of associated issues. This section presents the considerations and recommendations for national, regional and international organizations to plan the development of language technology, especially in the context of Asia Pacific.

Majority vs. minority languages

National localization planning must strike a balance between the requirements of the majority and the minority. If the policy prioritizes localization based on the speaking population alone, minority languages may not be addressed. More rigorous criteria based on additional demographic and social factors need to be evolved to include minority languages in localization, as these languages present little incentive for commercial interests. Effective planning might even help preserve the linguistic diversity of the region and help protect endangered languages.

Breadth vs. depth of localization

Due to multiple languages spoken in most Asia Pacific countries, resource allocation is a tricky task. Should multiple languages be taken up for basic localization or should fewer languages be taken up for more in-depth advanced application development? If focus remains only on basic localization due to the numerous languages, advanced applications might never be addressed even though it is necessary to provide access to information to a large part of the population in the region. On the other hand, if only advanced applications are considered, only a limited number of languages may be localized because advanced applications take a much longer time to develop.

Again, a complex socio-economic balance must be struck to determine the right formula for each national context.

Human resource training

In most Asia Pacific countries, there is very limited linguistic and technical capacity to develop standards, perform linguistic analysis and create language technology. Training and human resource planning is critical. Depending on the choice of applications and languages, expertise may be required in various branches of linguistics (phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics and pragmatics), signal and speech processing, image processing, statistics, computational linguistics and advanced computing. Training for basic localization work could take about six months. To develop advanced applications, experienced linguists and computational linguists are required and dedicated training over many years is necessary. To address national needs and to keep the training process sustainable, diploma and degree programmes in speech, script and language processing should be developed at the universities, through collaboration of the linguistics, computer science and engineering departments. Scholarships dedicated to these areas for study abroad can also help accelerate the process. Regional and international cooperation can play a significant role in these efforts.

The best way to build capacity is to involve the technical development staff in actual hands-on localization work. This can be achieved by national and regional organizations funding language computing projects (see the case study on the PAN Localization Project below). Momentum for localization can also be triggered by governments if they create awareness of local language computing and generate market demand by requiring public information to be localized through e-governance initiatives. Regional organizations can organize national and regional training and seminars. Two recent initiatives are the Summer School in Asian Language Processing in 2006 organized by the PAN Localization project and Asian Applied Natural Language Processing for Linguistics Diversity and Language Resource Development (ADD) organized by the Thai Computational Laboratory.

PAN Localization: A regional initiative to develop local language computing capacity in Asia

The PAN Localization Project is a concrete example of a cohesive regional cooperative project to develop and disseminate local language computing technology in Asia Pacific. In the first phase, from 2004 to 2007, the project focused on developing (a) human resource, (b) technology and (c) policy related to language computing across Asia Pacific. In the second phase, from 2007 to 2010, the project will look into social models for enabling local language content access and generation by training rural communities to use local language computing technology. Thus, the project addresses the immediate need for localization in developing Asia.

The project is a collaboration among 11 countries: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, Laos, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines and Sri Lanka. It is coordinated by the Center for Research in Urdu Language Processing (CRULP, at the National University of Computer and Emerging Sciences (NUCES, in Pakistan and funded by the Pan Asia Networking (PAN) programme of the International Development Research Centre (IDRC, The project has also developed formal and informal collaboration with other countries, including India, Iran, Japan, Korea, Myanmar, Indonesia and Thailand.

The project supports a development team of about 100 people across the participating countries who are being trained and who are actively developing local language computing solutions in 15 different Asian languages. The project maintains a team at each collaborating country. The country teams decide the scope of work and the platform to localize based on level of localization and the capacity of the available human resources. Development targets help the teams focus their capacity building efforts. In most cases, the country components are hosted at universities and public sector organizations to ensure sustainability. Sustainability is also addressed by contributing towards the development of formal research groups on localization. The project has already helped establish the Center for Reseach in Bangla Language Computing at BRAC University in Bangladesh, the Research Division at the Department of IT in Bhutan, the Language Technology Research Lab at the University of Colombo School of Computing in Sri Lanka, the Nepali Language Technology Group at the Madan Puraskar Pustakalaya and the Language Technology Lab at the University of Kathmandu in Nepal, the Speech Lab at the Institute of Technology of Cambodia and language and speech technology labs at the National University of Mongolia and Mongolian University of Science and Technology, respectively.

The project has arranged short and long-term national and regional training for its staff. For example, a mentor placement programme has allowed experienced personnel from Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka to be placed in Bhutan, Cambodia and Laos for two to six months. This has been noted as one of the most significant capacity building methods by the partner countries. A two-and-a-half month long Summer School in Asian Language Processing at NUCES, in 2006, addressed training in advanced language computing and helped build capacity in script, speech and language processing for 40 participants from 12 countries. Other training and workshops organized by the project are listed at the project website (see Activities link at The project has also been training end-users in local language computing applications, for example in Bhutan, Cambodia, Laos, Nepal, the Philippines and Sri Lanka. These have been on multiple platforms—for example, on Open Source platforms in Bhutan, Cambodia, Nepal and Sri Lanka, and on proprietary platforms in Laos, Cambodia and Sri Lanka. These efforts are being extended to all participating countries in the second phase of the project.

In its first phase, the project also developed a variety of local language computing solutions, including Pashto script, keyboard and collation standards; Bangla collation, lexicon, morphological analyzer and OCR; DzongkhaLinux distribution, including Dzongkha fonts, collation, keyboard and localized applications for word processing, e-mailing, Web browsing, chatting and multimedia; Khmer collation, lexicon, word segmentation, spell checker and tagged corpus; Lao fonts, collation, keyboard, lexicon and corpus; Nepali Linux distribution including Nepali collation, keyboard, spell checker and localized applications for word processing, e-mailing, Web browsing, chatting, accounting and multimedia; and Sinhala TTS and OCR, lexicon, collation and corpus (see the project website for a detailed list of current outputs). The project has also developed training materials for these and other applications in the local languages. Open licensing allows these outputs to be shared between the partner countries. For example, the OCR software developed for Sinhala by Sri Lanka has been used by the Laos team to retrain it for Lao.

Equally significant is the development of a network of researchers in the region through the project. Experts, practitioners and policymakers have been brought together to interact and guide development teams in the participating countries. The project has also developed a repository of training materials and links to local language resources. It disseminates research outputs with open software and content licenses. Aside from local language software for nine languages, the outputs include research reports specific to the target languages and general guides, such as the Survey of Local Language Computing in Asia 2005 (Hussain et al. 2005) and A Guide to Linux Localization.

The project is helping research the challenges and solutions for creating localization awareness in the region; building sustainable human resource capacity; developing standards and basic and advanced localization technology; and forming a regional network of researchers. It has institutionalized localization in many of its partner countries and is directly and indirectly influencing relevant ICT policy. Thus, the project is addressing local language computing in a holistic fashion across Asia Pacific.

Partnerships and resource sharing

It is redundant and usually expensive to localize independently for all languages. A better model is to reuse the same basic technology for different languages. Most open source software work on this principle. Innovative mechanisms must be put in place to share content, training and other localization work. Regional and international organizations must play a significant role in this context, funding avenues through which research, training, resources and best practices may be shared across nations. Many such initiatives are developing in the region, such as the AFNLP, International Open Source Network (IOSN), Asia Open Source Software (AOSS) and Asia Commons, which are nongovernmental organizations. Many other technology frameworks are also available and being developed in universities and other organizations across the world.

Licensing regimes

As discussed, many different licensing regimes are possible both for the software and content being produced. As much as possible, open licensing must be adopted to propagate the work in local language computing. Liberal licenses, such as GPL, MIT and BSD, can allow open source distribution of software for non-profit as well as commercial purposes (cf. Chen 2006). Content must also be made available with liberal licensing for convenient access (for example, Creative Commons). In addition, effective channels are needed to share content and training curricula, perhaps using models similar to the Wikipedia and Sourceforge initiatives.

Because effective coordination cannot be achieved only through virtual communities, there is also a need for face-to-face networking. Regional and international organizations dedicated to social development through ICTs need to play an active leadership role in this regard. For example, the Free and Open Source Software in Asia Pacific (FOSSAP) forum by IOSN has been discussing software licensing and Asia Commons has started addressing content licensing.

Computing platforms

A very important aspect of localization is the choice of computing platform. Both proprietary and open source platforms exist and are currently being used. For end-users in Asia Pacific, the prevalent platforms include Microsoft Windows, Java Virtual Machine (JVM or Java) and varieties of Linux (for example, Red Hat and Debian). Windows is a proprietary software platform which is not free and has some security concerns.19 Java is a virtual platform and requires a physical platform like Microsoft Windows or Linux on which it can be installed. Linux is open source and free of cost.20

However, the choice is not as apparent as it seems. Though Windows is proprietary, closed and vulnerable to security threats, it is still the most widely used software with convenient plug-and-play hardware installation features, making it very convenient for end-users. The Linux platform requires more expertise to use and is more difficult to manage and maintain given the limited administrative and management capacity currently available. Deciding which platform to target for localization is a complex issue. For some languages which are already supported by Microsoft products, Windows may present a more viable short-term solution. For these languages, Linux may present a solution in the longer term, as there is a need to train more human resources to maintain Linux-based systems. For other languages that are not currently supported by Windows, open source platforms may be the only solution, as the localization plans of Microsoft may not align with national priorities.

Participatory standardization

With the growing need and demand for multilingual computing, there is increased standardization activity. Owing to the urgency and multiplicity of the tasks, there are very frequent meetings among the participating organizations across the world, as well as public requests for comments on the developing standards. However, due to lack of expertise and resources, it is difficult for many developing countries in Asia Pacific to participate in these discussions. Unfortunately, lack of participation is always considered to be tacit approval by these standards organizations.

From an academic point of view, assuming approval when there is lack of comment is not always the best strategy for the development of standards despite the operational ease of this process. When multilingual standards are finalized without indigenous feedback, there are bound to be problems (for example, as reported for the Khmer Unicode page) especially once many of these languages catch up to the newer standards. The process of standardization must be proactive from both ends. National bodies must try to actively participate in the process and the standards development organizations should have programmes to train participants from different countries and to proactively seek their feedback before proceeding to finalize multilingual standards. This requires significant financial investment which has to be raised in a sustainable way. For example, the Asian Forum for Standardization of Information Technology (AFSIT) and associated programmes by CICC have contributed significantly in the areas of multilingual computing and related standardization training. Such efforts must continue in the future.

Translation of policy into projects

National policy alone will not ensure the development of local language computing. The policy must be translated into action plans, which in turn must be realized into projects with explicit funding allocation. The first step would be to develop a national committee of experts to discuss and finalize basic standards. Once standards are developed, basic localization for a language is possible for as little as USD 200,000 within one to two years. Developing a complete set of advanced applications would require considerably more effort and time—about three to five years to develop functional models and about a decade to mature—even when using existing software toolkits.21 Building a complete suite of language technology for a single language could cost more than USD 5 million.22 Basic localization may be undertaken by the private sector. However, because there are few commercial incentives for advanced applications in developing countries, these would only be developed with explicit support and funding by the government and other organizations.

Concluding remarks

The great linguistic diversity in the Asia Pacific region presents a significant social barrier to widespread use of ICTs. If communities in the region are to cross over into the information age, ICTs must be enabled in their languages. Localization is necessary to give these communities the opportunity to use and benefit from the ICT revolution. However, most of these communities neither have capacity nor currently present the financial incentives for private investment in localization. There is no easy or short-term solution to this problem and a considerable and coordinated national, regional and international effort is required. The initial focus must be on sustainable human resource and technology development within these countries. In addition, a two-tier policy must be adopted—first to support localization through public funding and second to concurrently create enough demand for local language computing, for example through e-government initiatives, to trigger private sector interest.

In conclusion, localization should not be looked at as an obstacle, but as an opening for Asia Pacific to revitalize its IT industry and to develop its knowledge economy. Proper national and regional policy planning and execution can turn the challenges into opportunities.


1. The Summer Institute of Linguistics reports a total count of 6,912 languages at

2. These terms are normally abbreviated by their first and last letter, infixed by the count of the remaining letters, as I18n, L10n and G11n.

3. For example, the Mongolian government recently decided to adopt Cyrillic script for writing the Mongolian language, abolishing the traditional Mongolian script.

4. The debate is normally between at least two groups: those who would like the language to remain 'pure' and those who would want to adapt the language to 'simplify' its use.

5. For example, 'A' is assigned a code of 65, 'B' 66, and so on, in ASCII and Unicode encoding.

6. Arbitrary assignment has been the traditional way of encoding languages across Asia. Multiple encodings exist for languages across Asia Pacific because each vendor has developed its own assignment (see Hussain et al. 2005).

7. The Unicode Standard is the same as the ISO 10646 standard and is co-managed by the Unicode Consortium and a dedicated Working Group of a Sub-Committee of the Joint Technical Committee of the International Standards Organization (ISO JTC1/SC2/WG2).

8. This process can take more than a year. It would normally take about six months for relevant ISO and Unicode committees to evaluate a proposal and another six months for vendors to provide support for these characters within technology, if the characters are approved and included in the standard.

9. Most operating systems allow users to define their own variation of the keyboard layout. 'Phonetic Keyboard Layouts', which map the [p] sounding character on the key with 'P' etc. on the regular QWERTY keyboard layout, are also popular among regular computer users.

10. OTF is an open standard jointly developed by Adobe and Microsoft. There are also other formalisms, including Apple's Advanced Typography (AAT), Postscript, etc. OTF is still an evolving standard, although it can now support the variety in Asian scripts fairly well.

11. POS indicates whether the word is a noun, verb, adjective, adverb, etc.

12. Advanced applications may require as many as 10 of such tags for each word. The following illustrates a sample entry: 'Boy: Common_Noun, Singular, Masculine, Human, Animate.'

13. Machine Learning is a branch of Artificial Intelligence in which a large amount of data is used to automatically train models to predict certain properties of unseen/new data.

14. The first syllable is stressed if it is a noun and the second syllable is stressed if it is a verb.

15. The estimates vary depending on the source and target language pair, the expertise of available linguists and computational linguists, and the techniques used. This estimate assumes availability of trained linguists and computational linguists. Systems may be developed within a shorter duration using statistical techniques.

16. Administered through the support of IANA and Regional Registries (RIRs), for example, APNIC for Asia Pacific.

17. Usage depends on the licensing schemes. Most software is available through a standard or limited version of the GNU Public License (GPL).

18. Further discussion of mobile applications is available in the chapter on Mobile and Wireless Technologies in this volume.

19. There is a backdoor to security of Microsoft Windows through _NSAKey. Refer to, and for related discussions.

20. Although the Linux platform is freely available, there is a cost for installation and maintenance.

21. Toolkits like Festival and MBROLA for TTS, HTK and Sphinx for ASR and XLE for MT are being developed and made available by academic and other organizations across the world, especially for non-commercial use.

22. These estimates are based on availability of human resources with a reasonable level of experience in localization work. If such a pool of human resources is not available, more time and/or funds may be required.

23. The table lists a comparison for some of the applications. The comparison is qualitative, not quantitative, and is based on the current information available to the authors through the Internet and other sources (e.g. Sonlertlamvanich 2002; Tsujii 2005; Hussain et al. 2005). The information has not been independently verified and therefore has some margin of error.


Butt, D. (2006). Internationalized domain names. Retrieved 15 December 2006 from

Chen, S. (2006). Free/Open source software: Licensing. UNDP-APDIP. New Delhi, India: Elsevier

Computer Industry Almanac. (2006). Worldwide Internet users top 1 billion in 2005. Retrieved 10 October 2006 from

Daswani, C.J. (1998). Language diversity and literacy in India. In Proceedings of the Second Asia Regional Literacy Forum-Innovation and Professionalization in Adult Literacy: A Focus on Diversity. New Delhi, India. Retrieved 10 October 2006 from

DzongkhaLinux Team. (2007). Dzongkha computer terms. Department of IT and Dzongkha Development Authority, Royal Government of Bhutan. Lahore, Pakistan: PAN Localization Project Regional Secretariat.

Global Reach. (2004). Global Internet statistics by language. Retrieved 26 December 2006 from

Hussain, S. (2004). Complexity of Asian scripts: A case study of Nafees Nastalique. In Proceedings of SCALLA. Kathmandu.

Hussain, S., Durrani, D., and Gul, S. (2005). PAN Localization survey of local language computing in Asia 2005. Ottowa, Canada: IDRC.

Huston, G. (2006). Internationalizing the Internet. Retrieved 11 December 2006 from

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Internet World Stats. (2006a). World Internet users and population stats. Retrieved 10 October 2006 from

Internet World Stats. (2006b). Internet world users by language. Retrieved 10 October 2006 from

Katsiavriades, K. and Qureshi, T. (2006). The 30 most spoken languages of the world. Retrieved 10 October 2006 from

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NEC. (2006). NEC develops world's first Japanese<->Chinese automatic speech translation software operable on PDA. Retrieved 10 October 2006 from Homepage. (2006). Available at

Pimienta, D. (2005). Linguistic diversity in cyberspace—Models for development and measurement. In Measuring linguistic diversity on the Internet. Paris: UNESCO.

Sonlertlamvanich, V. (ed.) (2002). Proceedings of the workshop on survey on research and development of machine translation in Asian countries. Thailand: NECTEC.

Tsujii, J. (ed.). (2005). AAMT journal (Special Issue). Thailand: Asia Pacific Association for Machine Translation.

UNESCO. (2004). Retrieved 10 October 2006 from

Unicode. (2006). Unicode 5.0, 5th ed. Addison-Wesley Professional

Wagers, L. (2006). Localization matters: Ask Nokia, Google, Carrefour, Domino's. In Multi-lingual #80, 17(4).

Wikipedia. (2006). Chinese input methods for computers. Retrieved 20 October 2006 from

Key policy issues in intellectual
property and technology
in Asia Pacific

Elizabeth V. Cardoza and Lawrence Liang


Intellectual property (IP) is acknowledged to be a key component of businesses, including those related to or based on information and communication technologies (ICTs) which today constitute a key growth area in Asia Pacific economies. The key forms of IP that impact ICT industries are usually copyright and patents. But increasingly, trademarks, industrial designs and integrated circuit designs are becoming significant focal points. Other key issues are indigenous knowledge, data protection and privacy, and competition policy issues. Thus, when legislating IP laws, policymakers will need to take account of ICT infrastructure, have a basic understanding of the nature of the new technologies, and review consumer protection, licensing and competition policy developments. They need to ensure that IP policies and laws address and reflect national, social and cultural requirements.

IP has had a chequered and contested history in most countries in Asia Pacific. In the early days of the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), a number of developing countries felt that the linking of IP to trade and the standardization of IP laws was an agenda that developed countries in the north were attempting to impose on them (Correa 1997). TRIPS, which was negotiated in 1994 at the end of the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), lays down the minimum global standard that has to be met by national laws on IP rights, such as copyright, patents and trademarks. The obligations under TRIPS apply equally to all WTO member states. However, developing countries were allowed extra time to implement the applicable changes to their national laws. The transition period for developing countries expired in 2005 while the transition period for least developed countries has been extended to 2016.

Many countries in the global south, including Brazil, India and Thailand, resisted many aspects of TRIPS on the grounds that they would benefit developed countries in the north far more than those in the global south as a result of the economic and technological imbalance between them (Drahos and Braithwaite 2002). Because developing countries are net importers of IP rights, there were serious concerns that the new IP regime would impose a heavy cost with respect to transfer of technology and the development of indigenous technological capabilities. Almost every region in Asia Pacific has at some point or other been accused of not providing adequate protection to IP rights. It is also a fact that most countries in Asia Pacific that have developed strong technological capabilities, including Korea, Taiwan, China and India, have built their capabilities on the basis of poor IP rights enforcement (Kumar 2003). As a recent anthology on IP in Asia (Thomas and Servaes 2006, p. 15) points out:

The Asian region is a site of numerous contestations over IP precisely because it is home to a variety of countries at different stages of economic development and levels of openness to IP reform despite pressures from multilateral trading system, and the USTR to standardize and harmonize national IP legislations with global requirements.

However, with most Asian countries having signed on to TRIPS and become members of the WTO, the current situation is slightly different. Although TRIPS has created a disconnect between the IP laws of non-industrial, developing countries and their social and economic conditions, since TRIPS did not emanate from the willingness or determination of these countries for forms of IP protection adequate for their needs (Endeshaw 2005), these countries are now obliged to ensure that their national legislations are in conformity with the minimum standards set by TRIPS. They are also required to enforce IP laws in accordance with global standards.

IP thus looms as a concern that poses serious dilemmas to policymakers in Asia Pacific who are attempting to balance their obligations in international law with their commitment to economic and social development. Economic development in many parts of Asia has been extremely lopsided. While a few countries, particularly in South Asia and East Asia, have been able to transform themselves into significant players in the information economy, there are many others that remain very much in the periphery of the knowledge economy. Even in countries like Malaysia, India and China, the digital revolution has reached only a very small percentage of the population. Thus, Asia Pacific countries cannot be treated as a homogenous set—an often-ignored fact. There are clearly marked differences, as well as inequalities, among these countries in terms of scientific and technical capacities, social and economic structures and distribution of wealth.

Even within the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), there is now recognition of the importance of harmonizing IP laws with national developmental goals. The WIPO General Assembly has established the Agenda for Development, a long overdue and much needed first step toward a new WIPO mission and work programme. The WIPO Agenda for Development declares that the WIPO Convention should formally recognize the need to take into account the 'development needs of its Member States, particularly developing countries and least-developed countries'. According to the Geneva Declaration on the Future of WIPO, WIPO's functions should not only be to promote efficient protection and harmonization of IP laws, but also to formally embrace balance, appropriateness and the stimulation of both competitive and collaborative models of creative activity within national, regional and transnational systems of innovation.1

This chapter maps out some of the key IP-related issues that policymakers in Asia Pacific will have to address in the coming years, namely:

1. Copyright and its impact on access to knowledge and technology

2. Exceptions and limitations within TRIPS

3. Non-proprietary models

4. Stronger enforcement of IP

5. The impact of IP provisions in bilateral agreements

6. Participation in regional forums

Copyright and its impact on access to knowledge and technology

One of the justifications for a strong IP regime emerges from the argument of economic development. Economists argue that IP is needed for economic growth which is needed to reduce poverty. By ensuring innovation, creativity and productivity through IP development, countries can increase their agricultural and industrial production as well as financial investment.

The argument assumes that the system that has worked for developed countries will work similarly for developing countries. A counter-argument is that IP rights do very little to promote economic development in developing countries and in fact may end up hindering it where the necessary economic and technical capabilities are absent. For instance, the Commission on IPR maintains that IP regimes are ineffective at stimulating research that will benefit poor people because they will not be able to afford the products even if these are developed. Moreover, IP rules limit the option of technological learning through imitation and allow foreign firms to drive out domestic competition by obtaining patent protection and to service the market through imports rather than through domestic manufacture (CIPR 2002).

It is estimated that in 1999 nearly 1.2 billion people lived on less than USD 1 a day, and nearly 2.8 billion people lived on less than USD 2 per day. About 65 per cent of these people are in South and East Asia alone (World Bank 2001). Thus a key issue for policymakers is who to focus on when they consider IP and technology policies. Unfortunately, most IP policies focus on IP owners and producers and not the users. It is important to bear in mind that almost all countries in Asia Pacific, with the exception of Japan, remain net importers of IP. Even countries like India that produce a lot of IP rarely own the legal rights to the products developed locally, since these are created for companies in the northern hemisphere.

The asymmetry between developed and developing countries in relation to technology is further illustrated by the fact that low and middle income developing countries account for about 21 per cent of world GDP (World Bank) but less than 10 per cent of worldwide research and development (R&D) expenditure.2 The OECD countries spend far more on R&D than India's total national income.3 Tables 1 and 2 contrast the level of investment and activities with respect to R&D expenditure and patents in developed and developing countries. They provide an insight into the sharp inequalities in the knowledge economy. Table 1 shows that the R&D budgets of developed countries far exceed those of the developing countries. Table 2 shows that the patent share of developing countries is miniscule in comparison to that of the developed countries.

Table 1
Major source countries of technologies in the World, 2000




US patents taken,





R&D expentiture#


fees received#

FDI outflows











ppp $

of total


of total


of total


of total



























































































Subtotal 10


















Source: Kumar (2003).

Note: #Belongs to 1997.

Table 2
Emerging sources of technology in terms of ownership of US patents, 1977–2000




Patents granted during the period and percentage share










Per cent


Per cent


Per cent


Per cent










South Korea


















Hong Kong









South Africa



























China Pub. Rep.













































East and Central













































Source: Kumar (2003).

Note: Based on data presented in US Patents and Trademarks office (2001), TAF Special Report: All Patents, All Types—January 1, 1977–December 31, 2000, Washington, DC.

Given this asymmetry, policymakers in Asia Pacific will have to consider the impact of IP on the following four factors: (a) the costs of acquiring technology, (b) the opportunity costs in terms of developmental funding for key areas such as education, health and infrastructure, (c) the need to consider alternatives to paying high royalty costs and (d) the need to focus on developing indigenous technology instead of relying on importing foreign technology. By shifting focus away from protecting IP producers and owners, towards viewing IP through the prism of human rights and development, policymakers will be able to determine what would constitute the best model of IP laws within their economic and cultural context, keeping in mind their obligations under TRIPS.

The ICT revolution of this era promises a radical shift in the paradigm of how information, knowledge and culture are produced, disseminated and accessed (Rifkin 2000). Yet this promise must overcome the challenges posed by severe restrictions that make access to knowledge and culture more difficult for people, especially the poor and underprivileged. Stricter IP laws that raise information costs constitute grave impediments to a more democratized information environment. This is illustrated in the case of partially sighted and blind people whose already limited access to digital content is further curtailed by traditional as well as new copy protocols (see boxed article).

The case highlights the broader issue of the relationship between copyright and access to knowledge. Copyright was intended as a system of balances to provide incentives to creators while also ensuring free circulation of copyright works in the public domain for all other creators to build on. This balance has shifted aggressively and it has expanded drastically in favour of

ICT, visual disability and copyright

It is estimated that there are about 180 million people in the world who are blind and partially-sighted and who thus are disadvantaged in their ability to access content. Developments in text recognition software have improved their situation somewhat, although proprietary versions of such software, such as Jaws, still cost up to USD 1,000 per licensed copy. In India, many people with visual disabilities have started using what would be illegally obtained versions of Jaws. The only reason there is no enforcement of IP laws in this case would be the very bad press that a copyright infringement claim against an association for the blind would get if it were pursued.

People who are blind or partially-sighted can only access the written word, whether originally displayed on paper or on computer screen, if its presentation is adapted in some way. Adaptations include enlarging, altering features such as colour or font, and transferring to a tactile code or into an audio format. The result may be hard copy Braille, large print, tape or CD or a temporary output from computer peripherals such as synthetic speech or enlarged screen display. Thus, providing access to content for those who are blind or partially-sighted would include granting them the rights of reproduction, adaptation and perhaps communication, which in turn would mean granting this set of users an exception to copyright.

However, even if exceptions are provided, there could be additional restrictions, such as in the form of digital rights management (DRM). Kerscher and Fruchterman (2002) describe the impact of DRM on the ability of people who are blind to access digital content thus:

The personal computer is the information access tool of choice for many persons who are blind. The computer is made accessible through a screen reader program. Screen readers use a text-to-speech synthesizer (TTS) to speak aloud the information that a sighted person would visually read on the computer screen. These screen readers intercept the text being written to the display and keep track of it, so that it can be vocalized in response to the user's control. For example, pressing certain keys will cause the screen reader to read the current word, line or paragraph. Screen readers also permit the use of dynamic Braille displays instead of, or in addition to, the TTS.

The screen readers are external applications to the PC-based eBook reading software. The DRM wrappers are designed to work with reading applications that present the text visually without allowing the text to be copied, to prevent the illegal distribution of the book. Unfortunately, these anti-copying provisions also prevent the screen reader from providing access with TTS or Braille. The secure reading application views these external applications as security threats and blocks their access. As a result, people persons who try to use their screen reader with eBook reading systems find that their screen reader is not allowed to do its job… [which] leaves the person who is blind with no access to the ePublication, unless the reading application builds access directly into the user interface.

content owners such as large publishing houses and media conglomerates. It is imperative for policymakers to consider what kind of exceptions or compulsory license mechanisms can be devised to enable greater access to content and information for all of their citizens. In spite of their relatively weak bargaining power in the new global order, policymakers from developing countries in Asia Pacific must consider the best options available to them under the current paradigm.

Flexibilities under TRIPS

TRIPS provides for exceptions and limitations that may be included in national IP legislation. These exceptions may take two forms: (a) fair use or fair dealing and (b) statutory or compulsory licenses. Fair use refers to use of material without the copyright owner's permission that would not amount to an infringement—for example, using extracts of a book in teaching materials. The statutory or compulsory license approach envisages a specific scenario where a work may be freely reproduced after payment of a fixed royalty—for example, publishing a textbook not otherwise available in a country.

The Berne Convention, TRIPS and WIPO Copyright Treaty (WCT) stipulate that limitations or exceptions to copyright shall be confined to certain special cases; that they shall not come in conflict with normal exploitation of the copyright work and that they shall not unreasonably prejudice the legitimate interests of the copyright holder. This is known as the 'three-step test'. Each step makes it more difficult to grant limitations or exceptions to copyright. Historically, the three-step test was inserted into the Berne Convention only in relation to reproduction rights. However, TRIPS widened it to be applicable to all exclusive rights granted by the Berne Convention and TRIPS (Ryan 1999).

TRIPS provides only general parameters for exceptions. For example, Article 10(2) states:

It shall be a matter for legislation in the countries of the Union, and for special agreements existing or to be concluded between them, to permit the utilization, to the extent justified by the purpose, of literary or artistic works by way of illustration in publications, broadcasts or sound or visual recordings for teaching, provided that such utilization is compatible with fair practice.

Thus, the question of what constitutes 'utilization… [of works] for teaching' is to be determined by national legislation, or by bilateral agreements between Union members. Article 10(2) sets the outer limits without stipulating quantitative limitations for instance. It is up to each country to interpret the provision to enable it to formulate essential exceptions for educational uses of material.

Since Article 9(2) of the Berne Convention and Article 13 of TRIPS allow nation states to determine the extent of the exceptions and limitations to copyright, policymakers must make optimal use of this available flexibility, keeping in mind the wider public policy consideration of making information and technology available to the public. This is particularly useful for educational materials which, with recent and ongoing revolutionary ICT changes, can be produced and accessed in a variety of modes. In many Asia Pacific countries where availability of educational infrastructure and educational materials of a high standard is a problem, distance learning and digital content are useful alternatives. However, as a recent study indicates, 'among the most important obstacles to realizing the potential of digital technology in education are provisions of copyright law concerning the educational use of content, as well as the business and institutional structures shaped by that law' (Fischer 2006). Librarians and educationists argue that governments should use the greatest flexibilities available within the TRIPS agreement to ensure that national copyright laws make adequate provisions for educational use of information (Wong 2004).

In determining optimal use of exceptions and limitations for greater access, policymakers should undertake exhaustive surveys of the best global practices on copyright exceptions and limitations for use as models in the drafting of national copyright policies and laws. With respect to software for example, one good practice is to reserve the right to allow reverse engineering for the purposes of studying the software's functionality and for research and development. Moreover, policymakers should be well versed in the debates surrounding emerging practices in IP protection that have a huge impact on technological development and innovation, such as software patents and digital rights management (DRM) (see boxed article, next page).

Non-proprietary models

Along with the current trend of aggressive expansion of IP4 regimes is a parallel movement rearticulating the importance of the commons of knowledge and cultural production. The idea of a knowledge and cultural commons borrows from the environmental movement and is based on the belief that a vibrant public domain of freely available knowledge and culture is vital for future innovation and creativity (Boyle 2002). Thus, even as copyright, patent and trademark systems are being promoted as the primary mode of understanding the production of knowledge and culture, another paradigm has emerged as a response to this regime of proprietary knowledge—a paradigm that proposes

Copyright, fair use, and digital rights management

DRM refers to technologies that define and enforce parameters of access to digital media or software. There are extensive arguments both for and against the use of software patents and DRM and it is beyond the scope of this article to examine either position in significant detail. However, it makes strategic sense for policymakers to understand the scope and implications of both software patents and DRM.

Even Bill Gates, the most fervent supporter of copyright, has recognized the adverse impact software patents can have on the development of software. In 1991, Gates argued: 'If people had understood how patents would be granted when most of today's ideas were invented and had taken out patents, the industry would be at a complete standstill today. A future start-up with no patents of its own will be forced to pay whatever price the giants choose to impose. That price might be high. Established companies have an interest in excluding future competitors' (qtd. in Stallman 2005).

The ostensible reason for the deployment of DRM is to 'enforce' the copyright of the manufacturer or the copyright holder, as the case may be. It should be noted, however, that DRMs are not envisaged under TRIPS and they are included only in an additional treaty, the WCT. DRM effectively grants to the copyright owner protection that is not available to him or her under traditional copyright law. Take for example a publisher who compiles a database of materials legally in the public domain, such as Supreme Court cases, and then locks the CD under a DRM. Under traditional copyright law, users can access these cases for free. However, with DRM, any attempt to break the technology lock to access the database, even if it does not infringe any copyright, may render users liable under an 'anti-circumvention' provision. Effectively, DRM allows the copyright holder to restrict access to content simply because it is in digital format, even if that same content would be easily accessible under traditional copyright law. Another example is a person wishing to make a copy of a legally purchased media file for personal use or for backup, utilizing the flexibility sanctioned under a fair use provision. This person would not be able to make a copy if anti-circumvention laws under DRM exist. Such laws could also prevent private screenings of digital media, which would otherwise be perfectly legal.

We envisage DRM to have a significant impact on innovation. This is particularly significant for countries where the fruits of innovation need to be accessible to both the innovator and the consumer. An example is the Simputer, a low-cost handheld computer developed in India that would have been more difficult to invent if DRM laws existed in India. With the introduction of DRM and the criminalization of its circumvention, low-cost, locally relevant and contextually appropriate computer hardware and software may never become available to those who can least afford them.

DRM exceeds TRIPS minimum standards and amounts to a TRIPS-plus provision that is neither a necessity nor an obligation. Since TRIPS does not mandate anti-circumvention provisions, there is no legal obligation to enact them as law. As for the WCT, a country that is not a signatory to it is not obliged to enact such provisions into the national law. Nevertheless, it is imperative for developing countries to consider all of the implications of failure to resist pressures from the US and Europe to become signatories to the WCT, to introduce DRM or anti-circumvention laws into their IP law, or to take on equivalent commitments under a bilateral agreement.

For the reasons cited above, it seems premature for developing countries to be required to go beyond TRIPS standards and endorse the WCT. Developing countries should decide for themselves the level of protection their laws should afford to technological locks on copyright work and they should adopt anti-circumvention measures that are sensitive to their domestic situations (Garlick 2004). They should retain the freedom to legislate on the regulation of technological measures, in the interest of safeguarding access to knowledge and information and achieving broad socio-economic development, among others.

Should any Asia Pacific government decide to introduce DRM into its copyright law, it must introduce safeguards to protect users from corporate abuse of the anti-circumvention provision, that is, safeguards to allow users to exercise all of the fair dealing clauses specified within their existing law. This is particularly important given that DRM can affect legitimate research, such as use of copyrighted technical journals, educational materials and software by researchers and students in developing countries. Introducing DRM without adequate safeguards could seriously undermine the developmental goals of a country.

'openness', 'collaboration' and 'freedom' with respect to information goods, cultural production and participation in the information economy. This new paradigm has been enabled to a large extent by the success of the free open source software (FOSS) movement and the GNU Linux operating system that has been hailed as a viable alternative to traditional copyright (Wong and Sayo 2004).


Free and Open Source Software is an alternative to proprietary software. FOSS grants users the right to use, distribute and modify source code freely.

Open access

Open access (OA) literature is digital, online, free of charge and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions.

Open content

Similar to FOSS, but in the domain of non-software content, such as learning materials, literary works, music, film and the like.

The Copysouth Group argues: 'For the purposes of access to computer technology throughout the global south, both open source software and free software can offer substantial advantages over the proprietary model. Furthermore, these movements offer an alternative to the proprietary model that is important in staking out an independent future for countries in the global south' (Story, Darch and Halbert 2006).

For developing countries, using FOSS significantly reduces the costs of acquisition of technology. As Ghosh (2003) points out:

…in developing countries, even after software price discounts, the price tag for proprietary software is enormous in purchasing power terms. The price of a typical, basic proprietary toolset required for any ICT infrastructure, Windows XP together with Office XP, is USD 560 in the US. This is over 2.5 months of GDP/capita in South Africa and over 16 months of GDP/capita in Vietnam. This is the equivalent of charging a single-user license fee in the US of USD 7,541 and USD 48,011 respectively, which is clearly unaffordable. Moreover, no likely discount would significantly reduce this cost, and in any case the simple fact that a single vendor controls any single proprietary software application means that there can never be a guarantee that any discount offered is intended to be sustained for the long term, rather than as a temporary measure used to tempt consumers into a lock-in situation….

Developing countries can customize open source software to suit their needs, and thereby also develop local skills. According to Ghosh (2003) in a 2002 study of FLOSS (Free/Libre/Open Source Software) developers and users, 'the most important reason for developers to participate in open source communities was to learn new skills—'for free'. These skills include programming as well as 'skills rarely taught in formal computer science courses, such as copyright law and licenses', teamwork and team management—skills which 'help developers get jobs and can help create and sustain small businesses'.

Because governments are one of the largest consumers of software, it is critical that they start weighing the costs of using proprietary software for example in comparison with the funding requirements of other developmental priorities. However, most Asia Pacific countries have no official policy with respect to FOSS, open content or open access. One reason is that most of these models work primarily within the domain of private contracts and are completely voluntary. Also, many governments claim vendor neutrality as the reason for not having a policy on FOSS. But given the kind of advantages FOSS can bring to governments, it is time to rethink the idea of vendor neutrality. According to the UK Commission on Intellectual Property Rights,

Given the considerable needs which developing countries have for information and communication technologies and the limited funds which are available, it would seem sensible that governments and donors should certainly consider supporting programmes to raise awareness about low-cost options, including open source software, in developing countries. Developing countries and their donor partners should review policies for procurement of computer software, with a view to ensuring that options for using low-cost and/or open source software products are properly considered and their costs and benefits carefully evaluated.

Besides the FOSS and open knowledge movements, there are also processes like the proposed Access to Knowledge (A2K) Treaty5 which is tied with the WIPO Development Agenda. Policymakers need to evaluate how they can integrate the promotion of open models as part of the larger framework of IP and development (Hahn 2002).

With reference to open content, one challenge that policymakers must address is how to deal with two policy questions within the open content movement, namely (a) existing content under copyright and (b) content that may be produced in the future using or with the support of public funding. On the first question there may be little that can be done within an open content framework and some questions are best addressed through a combined strategy of copyright reform and perhaps the use of national right to information laws, wherever they exist. On the second question, however, there may be some interesting possibilities. The demand that IP created using public money should remain within public control is not novel and it can be combined with the normative goals of the open content movement. Furthermore, the success of the open content movement in particular areas can become the basis for strengthening the claim of a direct linkage between open content and greater access to information and knowledge.

Open content has many synergies with existing campaigns and policy reform efforts, including the open access movement. The demand for open policies that would facilitate greater access could be advanced towards public universities, towards publicly funded research and also partially towards privately-owned content for specific uses, including access for visually disabled people. For example, traditional publications can be required to convert their material to open content after a few months of enjoying exclusive publication rights.

Strong vs. weak IPR

Demands for more stringent enforcement of IPR are coming in from all quarters, particularly the US content industries, as piracy has increasingly come to be associated with Asia Pacific economies. However, while TRIPS signatories must provide adequate enforcement of IP, it should be acknowledged that many Asia Pacific countries that have reached an admirable stage of economic and technological development have done so even with relatively weak levels of IP enforcement and through a judicious use of imitation. For example, Taiwan and Korea, which experienced massive transformations from the 1960s to the 1980s, used imitation and reverse engineering to overcome the technological divide and create a strong national capacity in ICTs. Similarly, the Indian pharmaceutical industries benefited for many years from the absence of a pharmaceutical product patent and India is at present one the most significant exporters of generic low costs drugs to many parts of the world.

In 1947, 80–90 per cent of the pharmaceutical patents in India were held by multinational companies and more than 90 per cent of these drugs were not even being produced in India. India changed its patent laws to allow only for 'process patents' and not patents for the end product itself. This essentially meant that an Indian pharmaceutical company could make an existing drug through the process of reverse engineering. During this period, Indian pharmaceutical companies were able to reproduce existing drugs rapidly and at a low cost, thereby making them competitive in both foreign and domestic markets. By 1991, Indian firms accounted for 70 per cent of the bulk drugs and 80 per cent of formulations produced in the country. In 1996, six of the top 10 firms by pharmaceutical sales were Indian firms rather than the subsidiaries of foreign multinationals. Domestic firms (Indian-owned firms based in India) produce about 350 of the 500 bulk drugs consumed in the country. There are over 250 large pharmaceutical firms and about 9,000 registered small-scale units while the Indian Drug Manufacturers' Association (IDMA) estimates about 7,000 unregistered small-scale units producing drugs. The generic drug industry has been vital in ensuring that drugs are available at an affordable price.

Thus a 'weak' IP regime may actually promote local industries and help develop self-reliance in the field of technology (Thomas 2006). As the Copy South Group argues, lower levels of copyright enforcement enable greater circulation of knowledge, culture and technology throughout the developing world, while 'stronger protection and enforcement of copyright rules may well reduce access to knowledge required by developing [countries] to support education and research, and access to copyrighted products such as software'. This in turn could have potentially negative consequences on their ability to develop their human resources and technological capacity.

Policymakers must rise to the challenge of striking a balance between copyright and the need to facilitate affordable technological transfer to enable the emergence of a sustainable indigenous technological sector. To do otherwise would mean perpetual dependence on imported technology and know-how.

Bilateral agreements and TRIPS-plus standards

Over the last decade, developed countries such as the US and the European Union have hotly pursued bilateral and regional free trade agreements (FTAs). US trade policy has been to promote IP rules that reflect a standard of protection similar to that found in US law. Asia Pacific trade partners considering and committing to these more stringent IP rules allegedly do so in exchange for other concessions, such as preferential access to US markets for manufactured and agricultural products. However, such FTAs go beyond TRIPS in terms of protection of patents and pharmaceutical test data, ICT-related areas, copyright protection and enforcement of IP rights. It is also important to note the manner in which FTAs are used by the US as part of a strategy to push for TRIPS-plus standards at a multilateral level. When the US has a whole range of FTAs with small developing countries, it can then claim that these standards are accepted worldwide and should become a global standard.

What follows is a briefcase study for the Asia Pacific region—the Singapore approach to FTAs. The discussion highlights some key implications of the IP provisions Singapore committed to under its FTA with the US (hereafter USSFTA).

Singapore is a trade-dependent nation with a cumulative trade volume presently accounting for about thrice its Gross Domestic Product (GDP). While maintaining its commitment to the WTO as a route to global trade liberalization, Singapore actively pursues trade liberalization through regional platforms, such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the Asia Pacific Economic Community (APEC). The East Asian crisis of 1997–98 and the consequent slowdown in trade and investment liberalization are allegedly the impetus for Singapore's foray into bilateral FTAs with key and strategic trading partners. This strategy aims to increase economic ties and garner 'first-mover' advantage with key and strategic trading partners, enhancing market access opportunities beyond the region and in emerging market economies similarly committed to trade and investment liberalisation in the goods and services sectors.

The USSFTA is ranked as the most comprehensive that the US has achieved with an ASEAN economy and is considered a 'landmark agreement' for its WTO-plus and NAFTA-plus [North American FTA] commitments' (IES 2007). The provisions on IP are particularly remarkable. As described in Singapore's FTA Network,6 'stronger IPR protection set[s] [the] ground for knowledge-based industries' and is a means for securing and maintaining competitive advantage on innovation and capability development in fields such as the creative industries, information technology (IT), pharmaceuticals, science and other high-technology industries.

In the trademarks arena, the key provisions are Singapore's commitment to enhance its trademarks regime to register 'unconventional' or non-visually perceptible marks, such as sound or scent marks, and to accord stronger protection for well-known marks to prevent dilution.7 On patents, commitments were secured to strengthen existing patent regimes of both countries to protect bio-inventions. Singapore was to accede to the International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) to provide a system for better protection of new plant varieties,8 and both countries agreed to maintain the current regimes that would allow all inventions to be patentable, subject to the condition that they are not contrary to morality or public order. Also crucial was the commitment to limit the use of compulsory licences to safeguard against anti-competitive practices, public non-commercial use, national emergencies and other circumstances of extreme urgency. All commitments relating to trademarks and patents were implemented by Singapore on 1 July 2004.

On copyright, Singapore and the US agreed to align their terms of protection for copyrighted works, performances and phonograms. Thus the term of protection in Singapore, effective 1 July 2004, is the period of the 'life of the author plus seventy years' or, as applicable, 'seventy years after first publication, broadcast or performance'.9 A further commitment was the adoption of additional protection standards in relation to the digital environment and the World Wide Web. Effective 17 January 2005, Singapore acceded to the WCT and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty (WPPT). Singapore incorporated substantive anti-circumvention provisions to prohibit tampering with technological protection measures and to prevent piracy of copyrighted works over the Internet in view of activities such as online distribution of software, music and publications. Thus, these unlawful acts now carry both civil and criminal liability, independent of any liability for copyright infringement. Provision was made for immunity for Internet (Network) service providers that comply with notification and take-down procedures when suspected infringing material is hosted, stored or transmitted on or through their servers or networks.

To complement these commitments on enhanced IP standards, specific obligations on IP enforcement were entrenched, including anti-piracy enforcement aligned with closer industry consultation and collaboration. Effective 1 January 2005, Singapore incorporated enhanced criminal sanctions to penalize any entity (whether a business or an individual) not only for copyright-infringing activities wilfully carried out for profit or in a commercial setting, but also where the impact of the activities are significant. Effectively therefore, certain forms of end-user infringement or piracy now amount to criminal offences. Another provision worth mentioning is that Singapore agreed to stronger rights for copyright owners in providing, for example, that in trademark and copyright infringement actions, the owners could, where they find it difficult to calculate the actual damages suffered, opt instead, as provided to owners under the US regime, for the remedy of statutory damages (compensation based on a preset range).

Both Singapore and the US resolved on measures for prevention of and enforcement against illegal manufacture, import and export of counterfeit and pirated goods, and in regard to optical disc manufacturing activities, Singapore committed to formalize its regime of regulating these activities through the imprint of Source Identification Code on optical discs (unless specifically exempted by the rights' owners) and to criminalize businesses that make pirated copies from legitimately purchased products.10 Overall, the Singapore perspective on the IPR measures incorporated in the USSFTA is that they are relevant and necessary to 'encourage more R&D and knowledge-intensive activities to be located in Singapore' and raise IP 'protection levels to US standards' (Sen 2004).

It is not easy to assess the substantive social and economic implications of these IP commitments. The underlying principle seems to be that a strong IP regime 'provides an incentive for research and development and a ladder on which industry can climb up the value-chain'. Efforts are ongoing to effectively monitor the social and economic effects of the implementation of these provisions through consultations with industry and all relevant stakeholders. According to commentators, the objective of the monitoring efforts is to secure 'a balance between granting exclusivity and allowing for the free flow of ideas and knowledge sharing' (Koh and Lin 2004, p. 133).

Singapore authorities went through public consultation exercises in formulating legislative amendments to its IP laws. One example is obtaining industry feedback11 to determine what copyright material should be excluded or exempted by the Minister for Law from the prohibition against circumvention of technological access control measures.12 This highlights the measures that sophisticated Asia Pacific governments must consider for implementation after committing to far-reaching IP provisions in its FTAs.

There are some general advantages and costs that come hand-in-glove with the new IP standards. Generally, the empirical studies do not indicate that countries that strengthen their IP regimes are likely to 'experience a sudden boost in inflows of foreign investment' although it is generally believed this could stimulate cross-border licensing activity and technology transfers. Policymakers must address the growing concerns that rules relating to copyright term extension, technological protection measures, liability of Internet service providers, end-user criminal liability for copyright piracy and the shift of the burden of proof for copyright infringement cases will endanger the rights of local consumers.

The overarching question has been to what extent these rigorous commitments were imperative to Singapore, the extent to which reviews and benchmark studies had been carried out and/or evaluated on necessity and scope and the extent of local and non-governmental involvement in available reviews during the negotiations. In addition, neighbouring Asia Pacific countries13 have been confronted by the rigour of the Singapore commitments in their own ongoing negotiations with the US (Endeshaw 2005). Thus, it must be acknowledged that the USSFTA could have a disempowering effect on other policymakers in developing countries in Asia Pacific who are dealing with powers such as the US and the EU which are slow to and effectively need not take it on themselves to evaluate the full impact of rigorous IP provisions.

Asia Pacific countries can take away several lessons from the USSFTA TRIPS-plus obligations specifically in relation to ICT-related areas, copyright protection, software protection, indigenous knowledge and enforcement of intellectual property rights. First, in negotiating IP issues in bilateral agreements, each Asia Pacific country should strive to anticipate provisions that their trading partner will propose and be the one to take the bold stance to table novel rules, related incentives and alternative mechanisms on policy areas where there are clear and significant interests. Some important examples are proposals that relate to data protection and cultural heritage or traditional knowledge.

Second, cognizant of the political stakes in these negotiations, policymakers should take measures to secure decisions that are clearly both open and transparent. This will mean that prospective options on policies and negotiating positions should be made accessible to the public to obtain feedback from relevant key local corporations and industry sectors and reconcile differing viewpoints or concerns via transparent processes.

Third, to secure maximum local understanding and participation on issues, policymakers need to foster public awareness. This may require tasking and collaborating with the local media to send clear and consistent messages on these issues to the general public.

Fourth, policymakers of developing countries in Asia Pacific should diligently consider the fact that enhanced enforcement will translate to additional costs in terms of expenses for budget outlays and training of enforcement officers. They should question whether stronger enforcement of IP rights will take away resources from other development priorities and the extent to which this is acceptable.

Finally, policymakers should assess, (a) the need to promote non-proprietary IP, (b) the need to provide a commons to promote innovation and economic development and (c) the need to provide public subsidies for development of free and open source software.

Multilateralism as the way ahead for developing countries

Member countries of APEC agree that the ongoing increase in the number of FTAs14 adds impetus to their efforts to liberalize trade and investment throughout the region. However, the APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC) has rung a warning bell that Asia Pacific countries need to ensure that these agreements do not compromise the regional trading environment for governments and commercial entities. APEC's specific response has been to propose the development of a range of trade and capacity building moves for the region. We see some of these as laudable, such as developing a best practices guide and an FTA/RTA (Regional Trading Agreement) database, and advocating sharing of negotiating approaches and measures. However, these measures must include a review of possibly inconsistent provisions in multiple FTAs that could impact businesses. Some APEC initiatives worthy of mention that policymakers must ensure result in substantive available material are the APEC Intellectual Property Experts Group (IPEG) projects on Public Education and Awareness, the implementation of the APEC Model Guidelines on Anti-counterfeiting and Piracy and the proposal for sharing experiences in negotiation to promote 'High Quality' FTAs and RTAs.

As APEC works on ICT cooperation to increase the capacity of member countries to reap the benefits of the digital era,15 policymakers particularly from developing countries should closely monitor action on these proposals to ensure close collaboration on both the IP and the ICT front, to avert the danger of 'all sound and fury, signifying nothing'. We propose that a clear message be sent to business and governments in the region on the significance of the role and reach of IP intertwined with ICT, by incorporating IPR activities under the APEC IPEG in APEC's ICT agenda. In the same vein, the APEC IPR Service Centres set up or to be set up in each country and the IPR Education and Awareness programmes should be merged or closely affiliated with APEC Digital Opportunity Center activities.16

The ASEAN IPR Action Plan 2004–10 identifies the key objectives of increasing IP asset creation and commercialization in research, science and technology; harmonizing IPR registration, protection and enforcement in the region; promoting public awareness; and empowering national IP offices to collaborate on development of services to business. Progress appears far from swift, one example being that copyright was included for discussion as a specific form of IPR only as recently as 2003. Thus, a review of issues related to the digital environment and ICT and how cultural copyright may better be protected is at an early stage. For a start, policymakers could address a fundamental interplay between IP and ICT by closely reviewing the ICT infrastructure and facilities within each national IP office.17 Taking steps to enhance what is available within local IP registration regimes would boost ongoing promises to the public that the country will work towards harmonization of IP laws, regional IP registration and business development services to allow for genuine benefits for investors within the region.

Over the last few years, ASEAN has taken on the task of negotiating with other countries, including those in Asia Pacific such as India and China. Policymakers should seriously consider the value of throwing in their lot wholeheartedly with regional groups such as ASEAN or APEC, on the premise that the cumulative negotiation process in any trade agreement with giants such as the US and EU is likely to result in commitments that are of general value and impact, unlike the often overly rigorous IP provisions of bilateral FTAs.


This chapter has sought to highlight some of the key issues with respect to IP and ICT that policymakers in Asia Pacific should bear in mind. The primary policy consideration should emanate from a public interest approach to IP. Treating IP merely as a matter of private property or private interest rights can be seriously detrimental to access to knowledge, culture and technology.

Moreover, policymakers in Asia Pacific must take a close and hard look at moves in their direction that seek to bait them into taking on TRIPS-plus commitments under any guise, whether via a bilateral agreement or a regional multilateral agreement. The overall interests of their public and national social, economic and developmental goals must be carefully guarded and decisions made only after detailed reviews and analytical studies that would enable a reasonable assessment of the necessity and scope of any potential commitment in the fields of IP and ICT.


1. For more information on the WIPO Development agenda, see

2. In 1994, China accounted for 4.9 per cent of global R&D expenditure, India and Central Asia for 2.2 per cent, Latin America for 1.9 per cent, the Pacific and Southeast Asia 0.9 per cent (excluding newly industrialised countries) and sub-Saharan Africa 0.5 per cent (UNESCO 1998).

3. OECD R&D Expenditure in 1999 was USD 553 billion (OECD 2001) while India's national income was USD 440 billion (World Bank Data).

4. A number of activists and scholars have argued that we need to avoid using the phrase 'intellectual property' since it conceals more than it reveals. The phrase covers a range of property claims—trademarks, copyright, patents, geographical indications, etc.—all of which belong to distinct domains. We acknowledge this to be a serious question, and use the phrase in reference to its global usage but with a certain degree of agnosticism.

5. The A2K treaty is a multilateral treaty initiated by Consumer Project on Technology (Cptech) and it attempts to carve out global exceptions to copyright for education and other uses. For a full text of the draft treaty, see

6. See the FTA Network website at

7. Section 55(4)(b)(ii), Trade Marks Act, Cap 332, 1999 Rev. Ed. (available at This provision provides a remedy to proprietors of well-known marks against persons who have business identifiers that are either identical or have an essential part that is identical to the well-known mark. The remedy is available where there has been dilution in an unfair manner of the distinctive character of the well-known mark, or where the said business identifier would take unfair advantage of the distinctive character of the well-known mark.

8. Singapore's obligations as a signatory of the UPOV 1991 Convention have been enacted into law as the Plant Variety Protection Act 2004, Act 22 of 2004 (available at

9. For the duration of copyright where the copyright subsists in a literary, dramatic or musical work, or in an artistic work other than a photograph, see Section 28(2), Copyright Act, Cap 63, 1999 Rev. Ed. For the duration of copyright in other works like sound recordings, cinematograph films, television broadcasts and sound broadcasts, cable programmes and published editions of works, see Sections 92 to 96, Copyright Act (available at

10. For provisions on optical disc manufacturing, please see Manufacture of Optical Discs Act 2004, Act 25 of 2004 (available at

11. Feedback was obtained from copyright owners, educational institutions, archives, scholars, researchers and the general public.

12. For example, the Copyright (Excluded Works) Order 2005, which excludes any literary work in eBook format and for which a technological access control measure was applied to all editions including digital text editions made available by an institution assisting handicapped readers.

13. For example, Thailand and Malaysia.

14. APEC trade agreements include those between Singapore and New Zealand, Singapore and Japan, Singapore and the United States, Singapore and Australia, Chile and five other APEC Member Economies, and the European Free Trade Association and China and Hong Kong. Thailand has signed FTAs with Laos and Australia, while ASEAN signed an agreement with India.

15. See the APEC Action Agenda for the New Economy (2000) and the e-APEC Strategy (2001) for the region to have community-based access to the Internet by 2010 and to increase learning and employment opportunities, improve public services and promote universal for ICT and information services.

16. Set up by Chinese Taipei in 2000, it has led camps and workshops on technology.

17. Examples of IP offices that are state-of-art are those of Singapore, Japan, Korea, Chinese Taipei, Thailand and Malaysia. Such an IP office is also being created in Brunei Darussalam.


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State and evolution of ICTs:
A tale of two Asias

George Sciadas

This section provides a quantitative overview of the state and relative progress of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in the Asia Pacific region, and it is intended to complement the work in this volume, including the individual country chapters. It must be borne in mind that the figures on ICT diffusion and use are affected significantly, if not determined outrightly, by the multitude of developments concerning the new technologies or their applications, government policies or their absence, regulation and business initiatives described in this publication. Therefore, the analysis that follows aspires to offer a realistic perspective against which to assess the combined reach and effects of these developments as they are reflected in the figures at any given time.

Following the merger of the work of Orbicom and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) in the area of international benchmarking for the information society,


this quantitative analysis is based on ITU's ICT Opportunity Index (ITU 2007) and it uses Orbicom's Infostate conceptual framework, which is based on the quantifiable notions of Infodensity and Infouse. This framework enables analysis both across and within countries over time, as well as the monitoring of progress with regard to specific ICTs (Orbicom 2003, 2005).

The ICT Opportunity Index is the aggregation of the following components and indicators:

ICT Opportunity Index






Main telephone lines per 100 inhabitants


Mobile cellular subscribers per 100 inhabitants


International Internet bandwidth


(kbs per inhabitant)




Adult literacy rates


Gross enrolment rates








ICT uptake


Internet users per 100 inhabitants


Proportion of households with a TV


Computers per 100 inhabitants


Intensity of use


Total broadband Internet subscribers per


100 inhabitants


International outgoing telephone traffic


(minutes) per capita

The region's aggregate picture

The Foreword to the 2005/06 edition of the Digital Review of Asia Pacific notes that '[w]hile other regions of the world, such as Europe and the Americas, shift progressively towards regional integration, the Asia-Pacific region faces the threat of fragmentation. This challenge is so important that it will continue to be present in the dynamics of development well beyond the Tunis phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS)' (p. ix). Indeed, if the group of Asia Pacific countries featured in this publication is perceived as a region, one manifestation of the fragmentation can be seen immediately in the latest published figures. There continues to be a massive digital divide within the region as shown by the ICT Opportunity Index for 2005 (Figure 1). Economies such as Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, Taiwan, Macau and South Korea are not only at the top of the scale for the region, but also among the top countries worldwide—together with Scandinavian, North American and Western European nations. They help pull the regional average higher than the global. Some countries in Asia Pacific form a second tier, with Brunei and Malaysia above the global average and China, Thailand and the Maldives somewhat behind. At the other extreme, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Nepal, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Laos and Pakistan are at the bottom, both in the region and internationally, together with many African states. Afghanistan has been facing extraordinary circumstances and challenges for some time now, but all the other countries have their own unique stories as well. In any case, the digital gaps in these countries are among the largest in the world.

The magnitude of the gaps among the Asia Pacific economies becomes even more pronounced when we focus on the 'networks' component of the overall ICT Opportunity Index (Figure 2). The divide clearly intensifies, with the top countries achieving higher values and the countries at the bottom assuming lower values. Only minor differences are observed in the composition compared to the overall index, such that Malaysia is now below the global average. This underscores the close relationship between the available ICT infrastructure in the country and the uptake and use of ICTs.

Specific ICTs

Moving beyond the aggregate benchmarks, many additional insights can be gained from the examination of the most recent data for specific ICTs and individual countries.

Even in 2005, several countries, including some in the Asia Pacific region, continue to have precious little fixed-line infrastructure. The penetration of wireline telephones, as measured by the main lines-per-100-inhabitants indicator, barely registers in Afghanistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos. Moreover, it continues to be at very low levels in Bhutan, India, Indonesia, Mongolia, Pakistan, the Philippines and Sri Lanka (Table 1). In all, 17 of the 28 economies examined here have penetration rates below the global average.

Similar findings hold true for PCs and Internet use, which are still at an embryonic stage in most countries of the region. The availability of bandwidth is also quite limited. Thus, it is not surprising that broadband Internet use is a rarity. At the same time, the 10 countries that exceed the global average in PCs and Internet use do so by wide margins. South Korea and Hong Kong, in particular, are among the world leaders in broadband, highlighting once again the huge developmental disparities in the region.

Figure 1
ICT Opportunties Index in Asia Pacific, 2005


Figure 2
Networks Index in Asia Pacific, 2005


In a few countries, even the diffusion of TVs among households is quite low, both by regional and global standards. (On average, about two in three households in the world have a TV set.) Myanmar and Afghanistan have particularly low TV penetrations among households, at 3 per cent and 6.3 per cent, respectively, while Nepal fares only somewhat better at 13.2 per cent. In Bangladesh, fewer than one in four households have a TV, while the corresponding figure in India and Sri Lanka is less than one TV in three households.

The situation is comparatively much better and more promising when it comes to cellphones. It is by now well documented that the cellphone represents the bright spot in the

Table 1
ICTs in Asia Pacific, 2005


Main lines

Cell phones



TVs (% of




(per 100)

(per 100)

(per 100)

(per 100)



(per 100)

























































Hong Kong
































































































New Zealand
































South Korea








Sri Lanka
































Global avg.








Regional avg.








ICTs-for-development scene. It has made the most inroads among poor populations compared to other ICTs and its penetration has surpassed the availability of fixed telephone lines in most countries. Moreover, this is true both among developed and developing economies, as can be observed in the 2005 data contained in Table 1, with the exception of Iran, Myanmar, Nepal and Vietnam. In some developing countries in particular, cellphones are the only significant telephony option (Bangladesh, Cambodia and Laos), while in others they exceed fixed-lines by a sizeable factor.1 This is the case in Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Maldives, Mongolia, Thailand and Sri Lanka, and perhaps nowhere more dramatic than in the Philippines. However, in Myanmar and Nepal, even the cellphone still did not amount to much in 2005 (at a time when in Hong Kong, Macau and Singapore there were more cellphones than people).

The story of progress

The huge gaps in ICT development among countries accentuate other existing gaps. To the extent that ICTs represent powerful tools for development, it is of policy interest to know how their diffusion and use is progressing. The data allow us to examine growth within the region, as well as in a comparative sense vis-à-vis the rest of the world. Aggregate growth, as captured by the ICT Opportunity Index, is shown in Figure 3.

Clearly, much of the progress made in recent years worldwide is due to cellphones and the Internet. In the 2001–05 period, cellphones more than doubled and Internet use nearly doubled. The penetration of PCs increased by 60 per cent, while that of TV increased only marginally, which is not surprising given that in most countries TV reached saturation levels some time ago. On the aggregate, penetration of main lines was stagnant. These trends can be seen in the evolution of the global average (Figure 4). Moreover, bandwidth increased and significant progress was made in the deployment of broadband (virtually non-existent in 2001), as the focus has shifted there for value-added applications.

While similar movements to those encountered globally characterize Asia Pacific economies, the interplay between

Figure 3
Evolution of ICT Opportunity Index, Asia Pacific


Figure 4
Average Evolution, 2001–05


levels and growth of ICTs must always be placed in its proper perspective. As explained in previous studies (Orbicom 2003, 2005), typically developing countries have much higher growth rates than advanced countries. This is largely the result of insignificant initial levels of ICTs and is not necessarily indicative of catching up—and therefore of a closing divide—as the bar is set higher and higher by advanced countries, which also continue to progress.

The gaps among Asia Pacific economies, discussed earlier, are coupled with asymmetries in the progress made. Some countries made significant strides across various ICTs, while progress in other countries was for the most part limited to cellphones. In the ICT Opportunity Index, for instance, we see that the values for Afghanistan, Bhutan and Myanmar increased much more than others, but above-average growth also took place in Australia, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, among others. Cambodia and Nepal had growth approaching the average; Malaysia, Thailand and South Korea grew below average; while the smallest aggregate growth in the region was recorded by the Philippines.

Vietnam made significant advances in main lines, contrary to the general stagnation. Sizeable increases in main lines also occurred in China, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Iran, Myanmar and Pakistan. Cellphones increased everywhere, but growth was more spectacular in some countries. Indonesia's penetration rate for instance jumped from 3.1 per cent to 21.1 per cent between 2001 and 2005, while marked increases were also noted in Laos, India and Pakistan (from around 0.5 per cent to 10.8 per cent, 8.2 per cent and 8.3 per cent, respectively). Cellphones increased the least among countries with very high penetration levels (for example, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea and Singapore). Vietnam experienced impressive growth in Internet use (from 1.3 per cent to 11.7 per cent), while considerable gains were also made by Pakistan, Mongolia and India. Bangladesh and Mongolia led the growth in PCs, whereas Sri Lanka had a noticeable increase in TV penetration.

The detailed data for 2001 are contained in Annex Table 1 and they can facilitate detailed comparisons with the 2005 data shown in Table 1. What follows are individual country charts, where indicators in index form offer visual comparisons of the evolution between 2001 and 2005,2 as well as benchmarking against the 2005 global average.

Pacific Island States

A cursory look at the geography of the Pacific Island States would suggest that any technology that could enhance communications among these island states and with the rest of the world would be critical. The situation, however, is far from rosy. In terms of the ICT Opportunity Index, they all fall behind the Asia Pacific average and only French Polynesia and New Caledonia hover around the global average—the former slightly ahead, the latter slightly behind. All other states fall considerably short of the global average (Figure 5). In Networks (not shown, as it is not fundamentally different), all countries are below the regional and global averages.

Among the island states in this group, New Caledonia leads in main lines, cellphones (with a much higher penetration than

Figure 5
ICT Opportunities Index, Pacific Island States, 2005


the others at 56.7 per cent—up from 31 per cent in 2001) and Internet penetration (Table 2). In terms of levels, main lines are relatively high also in French Polynesia, Tonga and Fiji. Cell-phone penetration is once again the success story as it has taken off more than any other ICT, most dramatically in Tonga, which from near zero in 2001 achieved a penetration rate approaching 30 per cent by 2005. Big increases were also recorded in Samoa and Micronesia from near-zero levels. French Polynesia leads in PCs, albeit with a modest 10.9 per cent penetration—significantly lower than the global average. American Samoa and French Polynesia have very high penetration of TVs. French Polynesia and New Caledonia are also the only countries with some broadband—although bandwidth in the islands is very low compared to the global average.

Table 2
ICTs in Pacific Island States, 2005


Main lines




TVs (% of




(per 100)

(per 100)

(per 100)

(per 100)


(per 100)










French Polynesia
















New Caledonia








Papua New Guinea
















Solomon Islands
























Regional avg.








Global avg.








American Samoa
















Marshall Islands









1. It is not only that main lines generally do not increase much anymore, but also that in many cases they are decreasing in number even in advanced countries, mainly due to substitution of cellphones for fixed-lines.

2. The indicators used are those of the ICT Opportunity Index, with the exception of bandwidth, broadband and international outgoing traffic which, methodologically, are subject to a monotonic transformation and are not conducive to indices.


ITU. (2007). Measuring the information society 2007. ICT Opportunity Index and World Telecommunications/ICT Indicators, Geneva.

Orbicom. (2003). Monitoring the digital divide…and beyond. National Research Council of Canada.

Orbicom. (2005). From the digital divide to digital opportunities: Measuring Infostates for development. National Research Council of Canada.

Saik Yoon, C. (ed.) (2005). Digital review of Asia Pacific 2005/2006.

Annex Table 1
ICTs in Asia Pacific, 2001


Main lines

Cell phones



TVs (% of




(per 100)

(per 100)

(per 100)

(per 100)



(per 100)

























































Hong Kong
































































































New Zealand
































South Korea








Sri Lanka
































Global avg.








Regional avg.













Review of
individual economies










Brunei Darussalam






Hong Kong
























New Zealand


North Korea


Pacific Island Countries








South Korea


Sri Lanka










Muhammad Aimal Marjan

Afghanistan in the past four years has been trying to recover from the trauma of war and instability. A successful presidential election followed by successful parliamentary elections has put the country on the road towards democracy and prosperity. The ICT sector has improved, teledensity grew from 0.08 per cent to 8 per cent and access to information has become easier.

Technology infrastructure

Both the government and the private sector have put together the telecom infrastructure, which has made it possible to achieve a reliable infrastructure in three years based on international best practices. By the end of 2006, 31 out of 34 provincial capitals, 160 major cities, 10 highways and 180 districts had voice and data connectivity contributed by three GSM operators, 14 ISPs and one CDMA operator with roaming service in 124 countries.

As of today, all of the international communications use a satellite connection. However, in 2006, the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT) contracted the installation of 3,600 km of fibre through ZTE Corporation China. The fibre connection will form a ring connecting most of the major cities of the country. The aim is to be able to connect the country's major cities with TAE (Trans/Asia Europe) and SeMeWe (South East Asia Middle East, Western Europe). This will enable the country to enjoy good quality communication at reasonable cost.

Internet penetration has increased from 0.08 per cent to 1 per cent. It is hoped that this will increase with the completion of the District Communications Network (DCN) project and the fibre optic connection.

The Afghanistan National Data Centre (ANDC) will be operational by the end of 2007. It will provide a central location for hosting the government electronic data and will provide collocation space for the private sector. The Centre will also host the e-Afghanistan project of the MCIT.

Key institutions dealing with ICTs

The MCIT is the government entity working for the promotion of telecoms and IT in Afghanistan, in partnership with various international and local organizations. The private sector is importing a lot of ICTs into the country.

Indeed, ICT use in Afghan society is growing. Unfortunately, the government has not yet adopted ICT as a tool for national reconstruction and economic development. This may change with the new mandate of the MCIT. Also, the National ICT Council of Afghanistan (NICTCA) established in 2006 will be fully operational in 2007. This will boost coordination of ICT efforts by the government and the private sector.

In order to contribute to the development of national ICT policies, standards and procedures, the private sector, IT professionals and IT departments in academe are establishing the National ICT Association of Afghanistan (NICTAA). This entity, which will be fully operational in 2007, will have permanent seats in the NICTCA.

The telecom sector is regulated by the Afghanistan Telecom Regulatory Authority (ATRA), an independent regulator established in 2006 as the successor to the Telecom Regulator Board (TRB), which also covers spectrum monitoring in the country.

Legal and regulatory environment for ICT

On 18 December 2005, the new Telecom Law of Afghanistan was put in place. This law governs only telecom services. However, the MCIT has drafted an ICT Law that will address issues such as IP, digital signatures, e-commerce, e-government, IPR and cyber security.

ATRA has started working on different regulations to encourage the sector's competition, growth and new telecom services (for example, WiMAX, VOIP).

Digital content initiatives

There are a number of initiatives underway for developing a platform to meet local computing needs. The MCIT in collaboration with the Afghan Computer Science Association (ACSA) has developed a Pashto language version of MS Office 2003 and MS Windows XP, to be launched by Microsoft in mid-2007. There are plans to localize MS Office 2007 and MS Windows Vista in 2007. This will enable the 64 per cent of the population who are Pashto literate to make use of computers in their daily life. ACSA, in collaboration with the PAN Localization Project, finalized the character set, keyboard layout and collation sequence in 2006. The project will continue with font development, lexicon, spell-check and machine translation in 2007.

All of the newly customized software applications developed for the government is in the official languages of the country, Dari and Pashto.

ACSA is working to put in place a task force for the introduction of open source in Afghanistan.

Online services

Online services are not yet popular in Afghanistan due to the lack of electricity and the lack of local content. But there are a number of websites that provide information about policies, regulations and development projects to the public and to the international community. Some good examples are the website of the Office of the President (, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (, Afghanistan Reconstruction and Development Services (, Afghanistan National Assembly ( and Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (

The government has put together a unified development strategy called the Afghanistan National Development Strategy (ANDS) ( It covers security, governance, rule of law, human rights, and economic and social development. The MCIT has developed a concept called e-Afghanistan, which focuses on the utilization of ICT to achieve the goals set in the ANDS. e-Afghanistan covers the development of e-government, national portals, e-commerce and ICT governance.

ICT and ICT-related industries

The ICT industry is growing very slowly due to the lack of physical security in the country and the lack of electric power. In spite of this, the telecom industry attracted over USD 700 million in the last three years. Some statistics shows that in 2005, the government spent more than USD 70 million on procuring ICT equipment. This shows the potential of the market for investors. Also, the number of SMEs in the country is growing.

The government has established a separate entity called the Afghanistan Investment Support Agency (AISA) to attract foreign direct investment. In addition, the MCIT has plans to set up an ICT Park. This facility will improve the state of the ICT industry in the country.

Education and capacity building

Capacity building has been the primary focus of the government from the day it came into being after the Taliban regime was deposed. There are a number of national projects addressing the issue. The Civil Service Commission (CSC), an independent body, is tasked with implementing programmes such as training civil servants and re-engineering the business process of the government administration.

There are a number of projects focusing on ICT-based training, such as the Cisco academies and the ICT training centres established by the MCIT.

The new educational policy of the government is to open the field to private sector investment, which has increased the number of institutions contributing to human resource development in the country.


The country is on the road to recovery and is making great progress in different areas. The government and the international community have identified three main challenges to development activities in Afghanistan—terrorism, narcotics and corruption. The MCIT believes that adoption of ICT and the e-Afghanistan project will help reduce corruption and bring in administrative reforms and transparency.

Other challenges confronting the ICT sector are the lack of trained human resources, lack of awareness and acceptance of ICT, lack of electricity and political instability. Despite these challenges, different sectors are committed to the development of Afghanistan. The penetration of telecom services in Afghan society is remarkable, compared to its neighbouring countries. However, the penetration of the concept of ICT4D will take some time because of the lack of local content.

The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the international community are determined to strengthen their partnership to improve the lives of the Afghan people and to contribute to national, regional and global peace and security. Thus, they affirm their shared commitment to continue, in the spirit of the Bonn, Tokyo, Berlin and London conferences, to work towards a stable and prosperous Afghanistan, with good governance and human rights protection for all under the rule of law.


Afghan Computer Science Association Website. Available online at

Afghan Telecom Regulatory Authority Website. Available online at

Afghan Wireless Communication Company Website. Available online at

Afghanistan Investment Support Agency Website. Available at

Afghanistan National Development Strategy. (2007). Retrieved from

Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Home Page. (2007). Available online at

Pan Localization Website. Available online at

Roshan Website. Available online at


Lelia Green and Axel Bruns

Total population

20,264,082 (July 2006 estimate)


USD 612.8 billion (2005 estimate)

Key economic sectors by

Agriculture (3.8 per cent), Industry

contribution to GDP

(26.2 per cent), Services (70 per cent)


(2004 estimate)

Computers per 100 inhabitants

72 (2006 estimate)

Fixed-line telephones

57 (2005)

per 100 inhabitants


Mobile phone subscribers

91 (2005)

per 100 inhabitants


Internet users per

72 (2006)

100 inhabitants


Domain names registered

5,351,622 (2005)

under .au


Broadband subscribers

28 (2005)

per 100 inhabitants


Internet domestic bandwidth

up to 24 Mbps (depending on exchange


and telco)

Internet international bandwidth

365 Gbps (actual)/1560 Gbps


(potential) (2006)

Sources: CIA 2006; ABS 2005a; Computer Industry Almanac 2006; TIAC 2006; Braue 2006.

Technology infrastructure

Australians are reluctantly realizing that, unlike South Koreans, they do not have a world-class digital technology infrastructure. This has been spelled out to them in three ways. First, Kim Beazley, then leader of the opposition Labour Party, pledged that a future Labour government would deliver a 'high-speed, fibre-to-node broadband network across the country' (Beazley 2006), which implies that Australians are lagging behind. Second, the recently privatized Australian telecommunications giant Telstra, has just announced that it will not be proceeding with the proposed AUD 4 billion super-fast infrastructure to connect consumers in major cities because of the regulatory conditions associated with the on-selling of access to competitors. Third, Australian media have found that a 650 Mb DivX movie file would take 105 minutes to download in Australia, but only one minute in South Korea, using average broadband speeds (Jenkins and Colley 2006, p. 8). Most Australians still use dial-up access.

On the other hand, Australians in urban environments are generally well-connected, with 91 mobile phone subscribers per 100 inhabitants and 57 per cent of them with domestic access to fixed phone lines. Access to the Internet for most Australians is made possible by a high-speed network to a telephone exchange and then copper cable for the local loop connection from the telephone exchange to their homes. This means that the distance between the home and the exchange can become critical in terms of final Internet speed delivered. While this wire-based infrastructure has many limitations, the costs of using wireless technologies to deliver domestic broadband services in Australia are thought to outweigh the benefits (LeMay 2005). None of the telecommunications players has committed to building fibre-optic networks, and people living in remote, rural and regional areas generally have fewer choices and higher communication costs than city dwellers.

The 2005 Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) report (ABS 2005b) notes that 67 per cent of 15,500 households surveyed had a computer at home while 56 per cent had domestic access to the Internet (69 per cent of those with dial-up Internet access and 28 per cent with broadband connections). The figures suggest that over the period 1998–2005, the rate of take-up has slowed down slightly, which would impact on the adoption of new services such as VoIP. More information on Internet usage in Australia is likely to emerge from the 2006 national census which includes, for the first time, a question about Internet access. The first findings are to be released in 2007.

Key institutions dealing with ICTs

The production and consumption of ICT goods and services are vital functions of Australia's commercial and industrial sector. According to the most recent information available, at the end of June 2003 there were more than 25,500 Australian businesses classified within the ICT industry grouping, with a total income of almost AUD 90 million and employing over 235,000 people (ABS 2004).

Since ICTs are deemed important to Australian productivity and prosperity, all three levels of government—Federal, state and local—are deeply involved in ICT policy and development. Regulation is at a Federal level (Australia-wide) but policies promoting 'Smart States' and aiming to attract ICT investment are enthusiastically enacted at the level of states and territories (of which there are eight). These often compete among themselves to entice digital companies to their capital city or Technology Park.1 Local government—at the level of the Shire, Town or City—is responsible for services such as libraries and community centres, which often provide ICT access to users who may not have domestic-based facilities. The Federal government also funds ICTs for the armed forces and for homeland security initiatives. These expenses are rarely open to scrutiny but constitute an important component of the ICT research and development programme.

While there is no specific government organization tasked with the development and regulation of ICT industries, the Federal Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts (see section on ICT industries) deals with enabling policies. The Australian Competition and Consumer Council (ACCC 2006) and the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA 2006) are given responsibility for regulating ICT industries and for ensuring that competitors are given access to the once-publicly-owned Telstra network fairly and at competitive on-selling rates.

Digital content initiatives

Australia's majority language is English, which means that much of the world's digital content is highly accessible to Australian citizens. However, Australian policymakers and digital content providers worry about the huge impact of US-generated digital content on Australian citizens, particularly on Australian children. The Federal government believes it is important that Australians have access to Australian-produced content that deals with matters that are relevant to Australian audiences. The Australian Film Commission's Policy and Research website carries a range of government and other reports and speeches dealing with the importance of having Australian-developed content for new media (AFC 2006). However, as noted earlier, Australia has not invested sufficiently in its telecommunications infrastructure to enable the majority of its citizens to participate in an online interactive streaming media environment.

Australia's premier arts funding body, the Australia Council for the Arts (Ozco 2006), used to have a New Media Arts Board to encourage innovative Australian content production in new media. This board was disbanded in 2005 following ongoing controversy and friction with the Howard government and its ministers over a AUD 25,000 (2003) grant to artists seeking to develop a video game entitled Escape from Woomera, apparently referring to the immigration detention centre deep in the South Australian desert that has now been closed and relocated to the nearby Baxter detention centre (Google 2006). New media arts applications these days are predominantly assessed by either the Visual Arts or the Music Boards, and there are very few opportunities for funding Australian new media products if developers cannot attract commercial backing.

In addition to being mainly English-speaking, Australia is a nation built on immigration and it prides itself on its cultural and linguistic diversity. But some sections of society have been accused of discrimination (such as surfaced in the 2005 Cronulla riots). Some Australian Muslims feel marginalizsed by the post-9/11 environment and the increasingly intrusive legal and surveillance attempts to prevent the possibility of 'home-grown terrorism'. Australia also attracts regular criticism from overseas about its failure to keep its obligations under the 1951 UN Refugee Convention. Nevertheless, Australian media are comparatively inclusive and there is a digital content regime that enables the nationwide, government-funded Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) to develop expertise in translating over 60 languages, with 68 languages broadcast on SBS radio and available for podcast downloads. Non-English speakers outside Australia might find some SBS (2006) online material interesting and accessible. The broadcaster keeps alive positive views of Australian multiculturalism, such as those contained in the 2006 report Connecting diversity: Paradoxes of multicultural Australia (Ang et al. 2006).

The cultures of Australia's indigenous people are supported through a variety of online initiatives. In addition to the Australian government's Indigenous Portal (, there is the online newspaper National Indigenous Times (, specialist indigenous Web design and cyber services (such as, and online initiatives such as Digital Songlines (, which aims to promote 'the collection, education and sharing of Indigenous cultural heritage knowledge'.

Online services

As with all countries that have a significant land mass and a scattered population outside the major cities, the relative degree of accessibility of websites and other ICT services for remote and rural residents is a highly political issue in Australia. As the government and commercial service providers invest more heavily in online services, access and infrastructure, they also cut back on accessible face-to-face services. Thus, the proportion of the population that finds it difficult to access online information also have increasing difficulty accessing services that were once delivered in a variety of modes. For example, many consumers who are unable to use online banking are charged heavy fees for face-to-face transactions in an environment where many bank branches have been closed and there are fewer cashiers.

Online services are provided by all levels of Australian government. Government websites contain links to other websites with authoritative materials that complement or add to core government services. Communications, education, health and security are specialist Commonwealth government areas with online resources that may be of interest to people in the wider Asia Pacific region. The website of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (, Australia's primary public service broadcaster, is a gateway to a large amount of information on a wide variety of subjects.

The Federal government's education website ( is a gateway to over 5,000 websites concerning education and training in Australia, as well as a range of policy documents and a site for educational policymakers. The educational spectrum is covered—from early childhood education through to higher education—and diverse subjects are included. The portal can also be used to access state-specific education websites.

Educational institutions increasingly expect students to engage fully in multimode flexible delivery models of education. Some universities, for example, require students to submit their essays digitally so that they can be checked for online plagiarism (that is, the use of online resources without crediting the original source of the comment or idea) via software such as Blackboard, which bought out rival WebCT at the start of 2006, provides the online infrastructure and tools for many of Australia's higher education institutions. Whether the subject is Shakespeare or Internet studies, students are expected to use high-level digital tools. Moreover, schools, universities and education departments increasingly deliver information via the Web to their respective communities of interest. Students enrol in courses online, find their exam marks online, and pay fees and fines using secure online websites.

There are many interesting heath-related online services. One is the Australian National University's MoodGYM (, which provides, free of charge, self-paced, self-instructional, online materials teaching cognitive behaviour techniques for the prevention and reduction of anxiety and depression. The Department of Health and Aging website ( offers access to a variety of interesting topics and its search function links to a large range of reliable independent resources about matters of international relevance, such as bird flu and HIV/AIDS.

Australia has a dedicated portal for national security issues—the Australian National Security website ( This keeps interested Australians (and civil liberties and human rights lawyers) up to speed on the government's views about potential threats to national security. Taking a bigger picture, the Australian travel advisory and consular assistance website ( offers guidance on the perceived safety of Australians travelling to other countries and regions. Australians are encouraged to register their travel plans on this site so that they can be contacted quickly in case of a natural disaster, civil disturbance or family emergency (DFAT 2006). The online service has been credited with helping the government organize the evacuation of Australian citizens from Lebanon in mid-2006.

ICT and ICT-related industries

Australia operates a trade deficit in terms of ICT goods and services (ABS 2004). Effectively, Australia does not have a consumer-based ICT hardware manufacturing industry with a global presence. ICT goods and services, while extensive, can sometimes be compromised by a regulatory environment which (arguably) gives too much power to industry players who work to maintain the status quo. For example, the existing commercial television services stated, at the start of digital broadcasting, that they would only invest in the necessary technological infrastructure if they were guaranteed that no new commercial free-to-air (FTA) television licenses would be issued. Although the moratorium on new licenses ended in 2006, it has held back the development of the industry, and discussions around the further development of digital television broadcasting continue (see below).

The Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts (DCITA) has a website dedicated to broadcasting and online regulation ( which details Australia's policy responses to the evolving ICT environment. A recent DCITA report (April 2006) characterizes the Australian software industry as 'globally competitive, domestically undervalued'. The implication is that Australia has decided not to participate in ICT hardware industries but is keen to be recognized for a growing influence in the global software arena. In particular, the Australian computer games industry has been identified as a key focus for future development.2

Enabling policies and programmes

The Connect Australia initiative is driven by DCITA as part of the government's undertakings to provide telecommunications services to remote, regional and rural areas that are of the same quality as services enjoyed in the cities. However, although significant amounts of money (partly from the 1999 sale of 16 per cent of the government-owned telecommunications company, Telstra) have been invested in this project, rural services are generally not as good and are more expensive than those available to city dwellers.

A 2001 government project, Backing Australia's Ability (BAA), started with an 'Innovation action plan'. In 2004 this was extended to include 'Building our future through science and innovation', and funding and timelines were increased so that a total AUD 8.3 billion commitment is extended over the 2001–11 period. The BAA project focuses on three main areas: the generation of new ideas (research and development), the commercial application of ideas, and developing and retaining skills. Although key performance indicators (and progress against these) are not readily accessible, four reviews of government-funded research have been undertaken. The government has provided its response to the key recommendations arising out of three of these reviews (DEST 2006).

The Federal commitment to fostering innovation goes hand in hand with a state-based initiative to promote the creative industries, particularly centred upon 'Queensland—The Smart State'. Queensland's strategy, timeline 2005–15, aims to communicate and develop a vision of Queensland as a place where 'knowledge, creativity and innovation drive economic growth to improve prosperity and quality of life'. Implicitly, the policy uses the income from the current resources boom to fund investment in environmentally and culturally sustainable creative industries that have the potential to drive future wealth creation via the development of a knowledge economy (Queensland 2005). Performance highlights for Queensland's Smart State Strategy focus on investment, economic growth and rising skills levels (Queensland 2006).

Legal and regulatory environment for ICTs

The legal and regulatory environment for ICT and media industries in Australia is undergoing significant change and uncertainty. The Federal government has forecast and implemented a number of policy changes that impact on these industries, including changes to the 'Cross-media ownership laws' which used to restrict the range of media that could be owned by any one media company. According to then Prime Minister Paul Keating, an organization had to decide whether it wanted to be 'a prince of print' or 'a queen of the screen': in those days it could not be both. In July 2006, Senator Helen Coonan, the Communications Minister, announced further ICT and media reforms. In the main, these lift restrictions on cross-media and foreign media ownership, making it easier for foreign companies to enter the Australian market. They also allow an even smaller number of companies to own more of Australia's media.

These changes follow a raft of other reforms. In July 2005, ACMA assumed the combined responsibilities of the Australian Broadcasting Authority (ABA) and the Australian Communications Authority (ACA) as the chief regulatory body for media and communications industries and providers. The ACMA (2006) website covers subjects currently on the communications and media agenda in Australia, and their archives offer access to a range of deliberations and outcomes. Australia tends to operate a 'light touch' regulatory regime in these areas. Industry players set up codes of conduct (self-regulation) which may be discussed and amended prior to lodgement and registration. After that, the regulator is mainly interested in responding to complaints only if the complainant has evidence that an industry player has breached their code of conduct. Critics argue that the imbalance of power between an industry player and a consumer means that legitimate concerns may not get a fair hearing.

Questions remain over the power and effectiveness of ACMA, and its huge area of responsibility. On the infrastructure side, the Australian telecommunications industry is dominated by Telstra, which some have suggested is 'too big to be regulated' (ABC 2004) and which is also subject to regulation via competition legislation (ACCC 2006). On the content side, the long-held policy preference for self-regulation of media industries continues to cast ACMA in a relatively ineffective role.

These changes have not heralded a vibrant marketplace for local digital content. While existing digital television broadcasters are now able to offer more programming variety by the lifting of a requirement to simulcast content on standard definition (SD) and high definition (HD) channels, critics have noted that because all digital TV channels are currently operated by existing analogue TV providers, there is little incentive for the development of innovative and attractive new content offerings. Channels would undermine their own market and fragment their audiences by developing such competition to existing services. This regulatory environment is likely to further delay the switch to digital television broadcasting by Australian audiences (Coonan has already revised the analogue TV switch-off date

The privatization of Telstra: Deregulation, reregulation or a total mess?

Australia's once-monopoly telecommunications provider, Telstra, had a responsibility to provide a minimum standard of telecommunications services to all citizens. Being the only communications carrier made it possible for Telstra to charge more for highly profitable services, such as the provision of communications services to inner city locations, so that they could cross-subsidize very unprofitable services, such as those for remote and outback Australia.

With the 1996 election of a conservative federal government (the Liberal-National Coalition), the scene was set for a radical redrawing of telecommunications policy. There was one problem—the conservative parties in Australia are traditionally well-supported in rural areas and rural voters suspected that a privatized Telstra would give up rural services. In a competitive environment it would be difficult for city profits to balance losses in the rural areas. The government promised that Telstra would be governed by legal obligations to keep providing services to the bush. It also set up a regulation regime to make sure that Telstra was not unfairly charging small competitors to use its networks, which had originally been built with public funding.

This bargaining between the Australian government and rural inhabitants allowed for the sale of one-third of Telstra in 1997—the T1 float—and for the introduction of competition between a range of telecommunications and Internet service providers. Some of the money earned was earmarked for improving regional and remote services. By 1999, the value of Telstra shares had tripled and the government wanted to sell its remaining stake. However, it did not control the Senate which insisted that Telstra remain majority government-owned. A further 16.6 per cent of Telstra—T2—was sold off. In the face of criticism from non-metro consumers, much of the capital from T2 was used to 'future proof' rural telecommunications services.

The Howard government had to wait until it controlled the Senate to get permission to sell all of Telstra. By mid-2005, with Senate control finally achieved, Telstra CEO Ziggy Switkowski had been replaced by Solomon Trujillo. The relationship between the corporation and the government quickly became fraught, with Telstra saying it was over-regulated and would not invest in new networks if the regulator was going to insist on 'unrealistic' rates of return. Meanwhile, the government criticized the company for 'talking down' the share price, as the T2 issue had more than halved in value. Shareholders, on the other hand, accused the government of withholding market-sensitive information that would have informed buy/sell decisions had it been widely available. The Australian government clearly had a conflict of interest in its various roles of legislator, shareholder and regulator. Prime Minister John Howard said Telstra's 'half-privatized' status made no more sense than the concept of being 'half-pregnant'.

While Telstra board members continue to complain that the regulatory regime prevents them from maximizing shareholder equity, the government suggests that these problems were solved in late 2006 when the Telstra T3 float saw over 80 per cent of the company finally devolved into private ownership. About 17 per cent of Telstra's shares were not taken up by the market and these have been lodged in a 'future fund' set up to finance the unfunded pension costs of Australia's federal civil servants. These shares will be sold down in future years. Some commentators claim that this cache allows the government to continue its influence at arm's length. Accusations of interference were strengthened just before the T3 sale with the controversial appointment of Prime Minister John Howard's policy advisor Mr Geoffrey Cousins to the Telstra Board, achieved only through the government's use of its then-majority share-holding. The conflict seems set to continue.

from 2008 to as late as 2012). In the meantime, Australian TV audiences may continue to explore digital content alternatives on the Internet.

Copyright law

The Australia-US Free Trade Agreement (AUSFTA), which came into effect on 1 January 2005, impacts on the ICT sector especially through the requirement to harmonize copyright laws between Australia and the United States. While both countries are said to be equal partners in this agreement, there are significant concerns that Australia will now be required to 'import' US legal frameworks. These may impact on copyright legislation, and on legislation governing related rights such as moral rights and access rights. In the realm of copyright, Australia will be required to extend its term of copyright to the US standard of 70 years after the author's death. Commentators object that this may stifle the ability of authors and inventors to build on the work of their forebears. They specifically argue that the provision mainly benefits the US content industries (such as Hollywood), limiting Australian opportunities to compete on an equal footing. There are also concerns over whether the Australian rights to the use of copyright material, for example for the purpose of fair dealing, will be maintained when these are configured quite differently under US law.

Furthermore, the US uses copyright law to defend technological protection measures (TPMs, such as region coding in DVDs, or anti-copying systems for other media forms). An importation of such legal approaches into Australian law could put Australian copyright law at odds with other applicable laws, such as those governing access rights. In the context of DVD region coding and elsewhere, US content industries have been accused of utilizing TPMs to control markets and stifle competition rather than simply to prevent unauthorized copying. This may directly impact on Australian consumers' access to products as the Australian market is likely to be seen by US companies as a region of lesser importance.

The outcome of the legislative processes surrounding the AUSFTA remains unclear, and is a matter of some concern to Australian media producers. A cross-party parliamentary committee published a highly critical report from its Inquiry into Technological Protection Measures (TPM) Exceptions, explicitly stressing the importance of maintaining 'the balance between copyright owners and copyright users achieved by the Copyright Act of 1968' (House Committee 2006, p. 17). The committee noted a number of areas where exceptions from copyright enforcement should be ensured. (See Australian Copyright Council,, for ongoing coverage of these developments.)

The future legality of the ways users get around TPMs for the purposes of time- and place-shifting of their media consumption (for example, by copying content to mobile devices) are of key importance in this context. It is also uncertain whether the provision of devices that circumvent TPMs is legal in Australia. An opportunity for a court decision on such matters was lost when the case against Sherman Networks, provider of the peer-to-peer (P2P) filesharing software Kazaa, was settled out of court in July 2006. Observers had hoped that a precedent in this case would have helped spell out the circumstances and conditions under which tools such as Kazaa could be legally used in Australia.

Open source and open content

As in many other countries, alternatives to copyright models continue to spread in Australia. Creative commons licences have been translated into the Australian legal context by the group (, a member of the international iCommons project. Creative Commons Australia (CC-AU), based at Queensland University of Technology, now organizes further research and advocacy around the creative commons project.

Creative commons and other open content licences are widely used. For example, AEShareNet is a company established by the Australian State and Territory ministers for education and training, which provides shareable learning and teaching materials under its own licence scheme. This includes licences such as 'Free for Education', 'Unlocked Content', 'Share and Return' and 'Preserve Integrity'. Based on a collaborative framework, the licenses involve a large number of universities and other educational providers. Australian Creative Resources Online (ACRO) is a repository for audio, video and still images content that is made available under both AEShareNet and creative commons licences. ACRO's mission is to provide source materials especially for amateur and grassroots content creators, as well as to study the creative work that draws upon this resource.

However, not all institutions in the Australian creative industries are predisposed towards the creative commons approach. In a widely publicized case in 2005, the Media and Entertainment Arts Alliance (MEAA), the union of workers in the media industries, argued strongly against its members' participation in a 'remixable' short film project by MOD Films (2005) that was to be released under a creative commons licence (APC 2005). With support from the Australian Film Commission (AFC), a government-sponsored body, the film was eventually shot in March 2005. Even so, MEAA, which exercises considerable influence in the film and television sector, has not revised its position on creative commons-licensed projects.

Education and research & development

The Australian higher education system is in a state of flux, which poses certain challenges to ICT-related research. Key to the government's new policy of measuring the quality and impact of publicly-funded Australian research is the Research Quality Framework (RQF) to be introduced in 2009, following data collection in 2008. Critics of the RQF model (such as the National Tertiary Education Union) argue that the assessment panel system may result in a small group of experts dictating

An Australian creative commons

Creative commons licensing schemes have become a widely accepted alternative to traditional copyright licences. They offer copyright holders the opportunity to open up particular forms of use that otherwise would be denied without explicit permission. A range of licences is available (variously combining restrictions such as the attribution of the original author; limiting use to non-commercial purposes; denying the right to create derivative works; or requiring the sharing of derivative works under an identical licence scheme). Such licences exist in three forms: a human-readable version, a machine-readable version, and a 'lawyer-readable' version that spells out licence requirements and restrictions in legally binding language.

This last version must be translated into applicable legal frameworks for each country in which the licence is to be used. The project of translating this legal licence code into local frameworks is coordinated by the global iCommons group. (In 2006, some 32 national translations were in existence, with another 10 in progress.) Strictly speaking, it is possible that creative commons licences may not be binding in national jurisdictions not covered by one of these translations.

The Australian versions of the creative commons licences were developed by the Creative Commons Australia group based at Queensland University of Technology, and launched in 2005 at the Open Content Licensing Conference in Brisbane. The development team included staff from the university's Law School as well as lawyers from the Blake Dawson Waldron legal firm. Creative Commons Australia now continues to maintain the Australian licence legal terms. This is an ongoing responsibility as Australian copyright law continues to evolve and as the overall creative commons licences themselves mature further. The group also advocates in favour of a broad adoption of the licences by private and public institutions.

Creative commons licences were already widely used for Australian content even before the development of an Australian-law version of the legal licensing code. However, the availability of this translated licence ensures the legally binding nature of these licences in Australian jurisdictions, and provides further peace of mind for individuals and organizations wishing to use such licences. As a result, government and educational institutions in particular have adopted these licensing options, thus contributing significantly to the development of an intellectual and creative commons in the country. Further, such developments are likely to gain momentum as the Creative Commons group's Science Commons project (and potentially a Business Commons project) gathers speed.

national research priorities, which may undermine experimental and esoteric research. This may be particularly problematic in the field of ICT-related research where investigators experiment with new and emerging technologies.

Under then Education Minister Brendan Nelson (replaced in 2006), there was considerable concern about the independence of the RQF, as well as of the Australian Research Council (ARC), the key national body administering competitive non-medical research grants. In 2005, Nelson had vetoed a number of 'controversial' grant projects even after they had passed the ARC's rigorous peer review process, which is designed to protect researchers from government interference. Such concerns have eased under the new Education Minister, Julie Bishop, who has promised not to repeat the ministerial interventions. Even so, the impact of Brendan Nelson's actions continues to raise questions about the independence of Australian research funding agencies.

Less controversially, the Carrick Institute for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education was launched in August 2004 and has been widely welcomed for its quality-improvement agenda. It has outlined 'innovation in learning and teaching, especially in relation to new technologies' as a priority area for its competitive grants scheme, and has provided a significant amount of funding to innovative teaching projects using ICTs (Carrick 2006).

Australian government research funding schemes encourage universities to cooperate with industry players, with industry partners providing a significant proportion of the resources. Among the key education-related research bodies in ICT fields are the Smart Internet CRC (Cooperative Research Centre), the Australasian CRC for Interaction Design (ACID) and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation (CCi). Launched in 2001, the Smart Internet CRC is a joint venture between government organizations, key universities and industry partners. It published its major report, Smart Internet 2010, in August 2005 and has since released a number of updates dealing specifically with open source and social networks (see

ACID is a similarly constituted body in the field of interaction design, working with major partners in industry. Its research programmes cover areas such as Smart Living, Digital Media, Multi-User Environments and Virtual Heritage. Of particular importance are its projects working with Indigenous Australian communities (see discussion earlier), and with town planners and housing developers to establish smart suburban communities (see

In 2005, the Federal government part-funded an AUD 10 million research initiative, the ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation (CCi). It is based in Queensland with a range of associated organizations and researchers from around Australia (CCi 2005). It is the first such ARC Centre outside the science, technology, engineering and medicine (STEM) sector—which highlights an increasing government focus on the creative industries as a major contributor to the national economy. There are six research programmes investigated by CCi, including the citizen-consumer, crisis in innovation, creative workforce, and legal and regulatory impasses and innovations.

The establishment of this centre also points to a wider trend in Australia's engagement with ICTs: the continuing embedding of ICTs as tools of everyday life rather than as a separate technological category. This development is also indicated in current undergraduate enrolment trends in Australian universities, which have seen a marked decline in traditional, strongly discipline-based ICT courses in favour of combined, interdisciplinary double degrees pairing business, law, creative industries, humanities or arts with ICT degrees (Rood 2004). IT faculties at a number of Australian universities have been drastically downsized in the process, while IT education finds its way into a variety of other degree options (Dreyfus 2006).

Australia and the region

Australia's complicated relationship with its neighbours impacts on its ability to engage in ICT-related projects in the region, including collaboration for ICT-related purposes with regional practitioners, scholars and students. On a political level, Australia's relationships with its neighbouring countries have become increasingly difficult following Australia's decision to join the 'Coalition of the Willing' and go to war in Iraq. The widespread perception in Asia Pacific of the Australian government as the neighbourhood 'deputy sheriff' of the US has soured relations with a number of countries. While police and military interventions were welcomed by locals in troubled nations such as Timor-Leste and the Solomon Islands, for example, they also generated significant regional opposition which may limit Australia's ability to involve itself in ICT4D projects in the region.

On the other hand, Australia continues to welcome China and India as current and growing trading and political partners and Australian industry, researchers and governments are strongly involved with both countries on all levels. This is true especially for ICT4D projects, where Australian researchers are working closely with UNESCO and other world bodies in developing locally-based solutions to ICT challenges. Such projects include work on promoting digital storytelling (Tacchi 2006) as a means of generating local content and developing ICT skills in local (and especially rural and underprivileged) populations, and the development of community-based local and regional multimedia centres (UNESCO 2006) to boost ICT literacy and information access (Tacchi et al. 2003a). In particular, ICT4D projects are also seen as a crucial component in the fight against poverty (Slater and Tacchi 2004). A core research tool in this context is ethnographic action research (EAR), a research methodology developed by Australian and British researchers in collaboration with south and central Asian participants and UNESCO (Tacchi et al. 2003b). Beyond this, Australia has also become an important exporter of creative industries theory and policy, especially to regional economic leaders such as China and India, where a creative industries approach is seen as an important longer-term strategy beyond the current boom in manufacturing industries. Australian researchers have been instrumental in raising awareness about this approach in the region.3


1. Insofar as they are regulated, Technology Parks are the responsibility of state and local governments. An example is Western Australia's Technology Park at Bentley near Perth (see

2. See for example;;; and

3. See especially Special Issue No. 9.3 (2006) on 'Creative Industries and Innovation in China' of the International Journal of Cultural Studies. Moreover, it is important to note that on 5–7 July 2007, Queensland University of Technology hosted the 2007 China Media Centre Conference. See


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Ananya Raihan and Shah M. Ahsan Habib

GDP per capita

USD 482 (USD 1 = BDT 65)

Key economic sectors

Agriculture, textile and clothing, leather and


leather goods, frozen fish, construction,


transport, overseas services by temporary


migrant workers

Computers per 100 inhabitants


Fixed-line telephones per 100

2.63 per cent



Mobile phone subscribers

2.03 (2004)

per 100 inhabitants


Internet users per 100




Domain names registered


under .bd


Broadband subscribers

not available

per 100 inhabitants


Internet domestic bandwidth

>122 Mbps

Internet international bandwidth

Current capacity: 10 Gbps


Capacity up to 80 Gbps


Current utilization: 300 Mbps

Sources: ITU 2006; UNDP 2005; Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics; Mumit et al. 2007.


Bangladesh has become more visible on the global ICT map during the last decade. Both the government and the private sector have become more active in harnessing ICT to facilitate economic growth and development. The government of Bangladesh has declared ICT as a priority sector and the country's ICT industry is characterized by increasing availability of computers and Internet use, expansion of the telecommunications network, and a growing number of software development houses, joint-venture companies and institutions working for ICT4D. Particularly noteworthy is the increasing use of ICT in developmental activities for the underprivileged.

This chapter is an analysis of ICT regulation and policies, developments and applications, and issues related to a technology-enabled environment for socio-economic development in Bangladesh.

Technology infrastructure

Computers were first introduced in Bangladesh in the mid-1960s mainly for research and data processing purposes. In the 1980s, the printing and publishing industries promoted the use of computers but high prices restricted their general and commercial use. Personal computers began to gain popularity in the 1990s and became widespread in 1998 after the government imposed a tax exemption for computers and ICT accessories, which coincided with substantial price reductions in the global market.

Competition policy in telecommunications, particularly in mobile telephony, contributed to an exponential growth in the telecommunications infrastructure. Five mobile companies are now in operation: Grameen Phone, Banglalink, Aktel, CityCell and Teletalk. Grameen Phone has more than 60 per cent market share across the country. Mobile teledensity increased to 8.04 per cent in April 2006 from only 0.58 per cent in 2001. It is believed that 10 per cent mobile teledensity will be achieved much earlier than 2010. Mobile coverage improved to 85 per cent by the end of 2005 from only 36 per cent in 2003 (ITU 2006). This growth is remarkable for a least developed country where one-fifth of the population lives on an income of less than one dollar a day.

Bangladesh could easily have a 95 per cent telecom coverage if the government will allow telecommunication companies to expand their network in three hill-tract districts that are now restricted due to the insurgency problem. It is expected that the new government of 2007 will allow telecom operators to expand their network, which would pave the way for Bangladesh to achieve 100 per cent mobile telecommunication coverage.

There has been high growth of Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) telecommunication in Bangladesh as well. In 2000, there were 491,303 PSTN subscribers. By June 2006, this figure had grown to 1.01 million, the average growth rate being 15.07 per cent per annum (BTRC 2006).

As of April 2006, both fixed and mobile telephone subscribers had reached 12.6 million from only about 1.2 million in 2001.

Bangladesh's international telecommunication used to be satellite-dependent, relatively slow in speed and costly. In May 2006, a submarine cable was installed. Though late, it is a significant step in ICT infrastructure development in the country. The infrastructure being laid down will enable ISPs to provide high bandwidth connectivity as the demand grows. Some ISPs have also been assigned the spread spectrum radio frequency band in the range of 2 GHz for point-to-point wireless communication between computers.

However, despite the remarkable growth in certain elements of information infrastructure, Bangladesh is still struggling to move forward with respect to other important components of a national information infrastructure, such as security and privacy of network and information, legal and financial infrastructure, and technology convergence.

Key institutions dealing with ICTs

In 1997, the government formed an ICT Task Force under the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) to foster ICT mainstreaming. A Support to the ICT Task Force (SICT) was formed in 2001 to identify and implement e-government projects. Five years later, in May 2006, an e-Governance Cell was initiated with the approval of the Prime Minister. In each ministry, a mid-level government official (at the level of Joint Secretary or Additional Secretary) has been appointed to act as the ICT Focal Point to coordinate e-governance activities and priorities within the ministry. Secretarial support to the National ICT Task Force is provided by the Planning Division of the Ministry of Planning. The latter hosts the SICT Programme to implement the objectives of the ICT Task Force, particularly in e-government, and is the hub for inter-connectivity among the PMO, Planning Commission and Secretariat.

It is the Ministry of Science and ICT, established in 2001, that is primarily responsible for mainstreaming ICTs in economic growth and development. It formulates ICT policies and pushes for ICT-related laws, such as the Intellectual Property Rights Act which was enacted by the Parliament in 2003 and amended in 2006, and the ICT Act which has been awaiting Parliamentary approval since 2002. The Ministry also facilitates the computerization of government institutions and schools.

The Bangladesh Computer Council (BCC) under the Ministry of Science and ICT is the main institution for promoting ICTs. It provides ICT training to government officials and citizens, incubates software companies, provides advisory support to government institutions regarding ICT, provides connectivity to ISPs and works for standardization through such projects as the development of a local language keyboard.

The Ministry of Post and Telecommunication is responsible for building and maintaining telecommunication infrastructure.

The Ministry of Education develops the curriculum for ICT education and spearheads the computerisation of schools.

The Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) is the licensing authority and regulates telecom service providers, while the Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs reviews ICT-related laws.

In the private sector, the Bangladesh Association for Software and Information Services (BASIS) plays a key role in promoting the ICT industry. It organizes an annual exposition of software and applications titled SOFTEXPO; many foreign software companies attend this exposition, helping to boost the reputation of the Bangladesh software industry. BASIS likewise acts as a lobbyist with the government for fiscal incentives and promotional support, such as income tax waiver, VAT waiver, and higher foreign exchange retention facilities. BASIS also organizes capacity building programmes for its members, particularly in product marketing. Meanwhile, the ISP association, Bangladesh Computer Samity, played a key role in the elimination of import duties on computers in the early 1990s, which facilitated ICT penetration.

Private universities and institutions lead human resource development by offering advanced courses on ICTs.

Several institutions work in the area of ICT for poverty alleviation. Grameen Phone, BRACNET.NET and Development Research Network (D.Net) are three prominent institutions championing ICT access in the rural areas. Grameen Phone built a national GSM network which is now available for Internet connection anywhere in Bangladesh through EDGE and GPRS technology. D.Net is aiming to bring ICTs to the doorstep of poor people in the rural areas. It has developed a comprehensive volume of local language content on livelihood, making the Internet relevant to the common people.

Digital content initiatives

Digital content has become a major issue as PC penetration and Internet access have increased across the country. Without locally relevant content, ICTs are of no use to people. Content development is now a priority not only of the private sector and civil society organizations but also of the government. The content issue has been highlighted in the draft Broadband Policy.

The Government of Bangladesh in collaboration with UNDP, Bangladesh has published many government forms in digital format, both on the Web ( and in CD-ROM format. Several forms can now be downloaded free of charge. However, out of 40 ministries listed in the government website (, only eight ministries have partially released their forms. The downloadable forms include passport application, visa application, citizenship form, pension form, Internet connection (Bangladesh Telegraph and Telephone Board [BTTB]), birth registration, income tax return and driving license. The availability of these forms online helps citizens access government services in less time and minimizes opportunities to bribe government officials. The website is bilingual and can thus be used by any literate person. Those who cannot read can get the forms from telecentres, which are now becoming popular in rural Bangladesh.

In 2003, D.Net started research on content development targeting the rural poor. Since then, a huge content base in Bangla has been developed. D.Net initially focused on the CD-ROM version of the content since Internet connectivity was not available in the rural areas at that time. But with the availability of access to the Internet through EDGE or GPRS from almost anywhere in Bangladesh, the Web version ( is scheduled for release in 2007.

The largest Bangla website at present is The website is dedicated to human rights issues and provides legal practitioners with access to the full text of laws, the explanation of these laws, addresses of institutions for legal redress, and the like. Another local language website is, which features eminent citizens of Bangladesh for the young to get to know them.

Online services

Both government and non-government institutions offer online services, which range from information services to e-commerce.

The government's SICT programme has initiated and in some cases completed over 40 e-governance projects of varying sizes across many government agencies. The SICT programme is scheduled to end by 2006. However, there is talk of extending the project to 2011 with a new budget of about BDT 950 million (USD 14.3 million).

Among the more successful e-government projects is the innovative Ministry of Religious Affairs website (, which provides information-based services to pilgrims, their relatives and friends, travel agents and government officials. The interactive website, which was launched in 2002, can be used for searching information about individual pilgrims (including their current location and status), for sending and receiving messages from individual pilgrims and for accessing various information regarding rules and regulations.

Another successful e-government project is the Rajshahi City Corporation's (RCC's) Electronic Birth Registration System

D.Net's demand-driven digital content: Unleashing the potential for poverty alleviation of access to information

Content development at D.Net is unique in many ways. First, the approach is research-based, focusing on the information needs identified by rural communities and the cognition level of end-users. The research identifies two types of users: those who browse content for themselves and infomediaries who browse content for illiterate end-users. Then, raw content collected from various domain institutions is converted into easy-to-understand form and supplemented with pictures. D.Net also develops animated and audio-visual content because in many cases text and pictures are not enough to explain something to end-users.

D.Net's research, which is ongoing, focuses on the whole value chain of livelihood issues to be captured in the content. The content areas are agriculture, health, education, income-generating activities, disaster management, awareness, employment, and directory information. The rural folk visit rural information centres and browse content that addresses their livelihood problems. Through livelihood-focused digital content, hundreds of users might reduce livelihood costs, enhance income-generation opportunities, or protect themselves from potential loss or damage (see the case studies at

This demand-driven approach towards content development opens up a whole new area of social entrepreneurship. Rural development organizations now buy the content for dissemination in their intervention areas.

Furthermore, the content-based approach gives a new direction to the global telecentre movement. A telecentre is traditionally a technology learning and communication centre. With D.Net's approach, telecentres in Bangladesh are now able to provide the core service—information and knowledge service. The content plays an important role in improving access to information, which is an economic resource. As poverty is an outcome of lack of access to resources, access to information is the new dimension in poverty alleviation discourse. Digital local language content and its dissemination through ICTs are thus directly linked with poverty alleviation.

(EBRS), which provides citizens with a unique identity card that they can use for various services, such as education and health care. Since the card helps them get certain social services and benefits, citizens are now encouraged to register births, which was previously considered by many to be a worthless hassle. The electronic ID is used for immunization purposes and also for getting admission to government primary schools in Rajshahi. The EBRS helps to keep track of each child registered through the system, starting from immunization requirements to school enrolment status. Since 2001, a total of 45,222 citizens have received birth registration services using EBRS, or 15.38 per cent of the total metropolitan population. In the Bangladesh context, this is a success: it means that almost all newborns are now registered with the electronic system. But there is a need for a campaign that would bring all citizens under the system.

Another laudable e-government initiative is the publication of the salary status of school teachers ( School teachers can now check online whether their salary has been sent to the bank by the Directorate of Secondary and Higher Secondary Education.

While some e-government projects have succeeded, others have failed. An example is the Voter ID Card Project (see boxed article below).

Moreover, while providing easy access to up-to-date information is a crucial service the government can provide to its citizens, the information on government websites in Bangladesh is unfortunately not current in most cases.

Private sector online services perform better. An example is, which was established in 2001 and which now has a monthly page view volume of 800,000 and 14,000 daily unique visitors. More than 140,000 résumés are posted on the portal, which has over 2,500 corporate clients. More than 2,500 employers in Bangladesh have recruited more than 35,000 professionals at different levels through the service.

The most popular online information service provider is, a Web portal for researchers,

The Voter ID Card Project: A disappointing conclusion

The Election Commission Secretariat of Bangladesh maintains a list of eligible voters which is updated every five years. But under this system, citizens are not given a unique identifying number. To correct this inadequacy, a project was undertaken by the Election Commission Secretariat in 1995 to generate laminated ID cards for every eligible voter in the country.

However, five years later the Voter ID Card Project reached a disappointing conclusion. The project was technically completed and some voter ID cards were distributed. But many of the cards had crucial mistakes that rendered them useless. It was a case of management and strategic failure, not technological failure. The media pointed out that the project would have opened up dimensions of government accountability around elections and service delivery not preferred by policymakers and law makers.

The important lessons to be learned from the 'failure' of the Voter ID Card Project are the following:

• Lack of adequate political will and support: From its inception, there seemed to be little political and bureaucratic commitment to the project. The issue of providing ID cards to uniquely identify voters is a politically sensitive one, and without the unequivocal support of all stakeholders, the venture cannot succeed.

• Poor planning: The Voter ID Card Project suffered from poor planning and execution. Many of the mistakes that compromised the project could have been avoided if appropriate strategies had been carefully crafted prior to implementation.

• Over-ambitious target: The project was overly ambitious, with impractical deadlines set and unrealistic expectations.

• No pilot projects: A nationwide programme worth BDT 1,870 million (USD 46 million) should not have been undertaken on a massive scale right from the start. The project should have been carried out in phases, through medium-scale projects that incrementally expanded the Election Commission's earlier successful pilot initiatives, in order to identify risk factors and other lessons before extending the project to a national level.

• Inadequate cultural consideration: The project did not take into account cultural issues, such as the resistance of some women to having their photographs taken. An awareness campaign and other special measures should have been undertaken to persuade women to sit for the photographs.

academics and policymakers. It currently hosts more than 2,000 papers, articles and book chapters on Bangladesh and South Asia published by prominent research and publication houses. The website has incorporated an innovative mechanism of selling research online through prepaid cards.

ICT and ICT-related industries

The ICT market in Bangladesh is estimated to be worth approximately BDT 11,000 million (USD 165 million) per year (excluding the telecom sector). Of the total domestic ICT market in Bangladesh, computer and network hardware has the lion's share with BDT 6,000 million (USD 90 million), while the software segment amounts to BDT 1,700 million (USD 26 million). The rest is to the account of Internet and network services and other ITES (ICT-enabled services) segments.

In 2006, the number of hardware and software companies increased to 2,500 and 350 respectively, from 1,200 and 100 respectively, in 2000. The number of Internet service providers increased fivefold (from 30 to 150) and the number of training and similar service providers reached 150 in 2006 from 100 in 2000 (BCS 2006).

ICT outsourcing is gradually gaining ground in Bangladesh. Recent export statistics show that over the last two years, export volume grew by about 70 per cent per year. In financial year 2006, the total volume of export of software and ICT-enabled services was USD 26 million, which was more than double that of the previous year. In financial year 2002, the volume of such exports was only USD 2.8 million (EPB 2006). Although the total volume of export is still very low compared to the export figure of the software giant India, this sector is becoming mature and has begun to compete with Indian outsourcing companies. Also, many Indian off-shore companies are setting up offices in Bangladesh. Bangladeshi software and ITES providers have also been able to attract foreign direct investments through joint-venture projects with European partners. In 2005–06, delegations from as many as 40 European and North American companies visited Bangladesh, resulting in 12 joint venture projects.

Enabling policies and the regulatory environment for ICTs

Public policies and private programmes make up an environment for ICT-led economic growth and development. In many cases, the government's attitude of non-interference has facilitated growth.

In keeping with the designation of ICT as a 'Thrust Sector', the Ministry of Science and Technology was renamed as the Ministry of Science and Information & Communication Technology and the National Policy on Information and Communication Technology was adopted in 2002.

The government abolished import tax and VAT on computer hardware, software and accessories in 1998, bringing down significantly the cost of computers at the retail outlets. Now even low-income households can afford to have PCs. PC importation grew more than 35 per cent during 2000–2005 and the current number of PCs stands at 1.5 million (BCS 2006).

The National Telecommunication Policy 2000 paved the way for competition, which facilitated the achievement of a teledensity of 8.4 per cent within five years.

The establishment of the Bangladesh Telecom Regulatory Commission (BTRC) in 2002 was also a step in the right direction. BTRC has full authority to grant licenses to all providers of telephony, data, networks and content services. However, some of its regulatory functions overlap with those of the BTTB, and market distortion has not yet been fully corrected.

A draft Information and Communication Technology Act was formulated and sent to the Parliament for approval in 2002. Now known as the IT Act 2006, the law contains provisions for an Electronic Certification Authority which will be established to issue licenses to entities for electronic signature authentication. Under the law, electronic documents will be accepted for various types of transactions.

A weak point in the draft law is that it is not mandatory for the government and its agencies to accept, or prepare, electronic records or deeds (Chapter 1, Article 11). This will create problems for institutions intending to deal in electronic deeds, particularly the financial institutions. It also creates an opportunity for government agencies to avoid adopting e-governance.

The Act also stipulates a maximum of 10 years of imprisonment for violation of security and privacy and damage to information systems and networks, as well as for sending spam e-mail. The penalty for electronic publishing of information is five years. However, this runs counter to the freedom of the press and of expression, which are fundamental rights under the Constitution.

The draft Act was first presented to the Council of Ministers in 2002. It was returned to the Law Commission for review. It was then presented to the Council of Ministers as IT Act 2006. However, the Council has failed to enact the Law. Thus, the potential for e-commerce remains unexplored due to the lack of a legal framework for e-transactions.

To protect the ICT sector and the country's software products, the government has amended Copyright Act 2000. However, due to lack of law enforcement, software piracy continues to be a problem.

Education and capacity building programmes

The National Education Policy of Bangladesh recommends compulsory computer courses at the secondary school level. The policy mandates ICT integration by 2010 in Bangladesh's 5,694 and 15,748 junior and secondary level institutions, as well as 922 colleges, 347 professional institutes and 1,462 mid-level technical and vocational institutes. It also recommends the introduction of ICT education in the 12 new science and technology universities being established by the government, as well as the introduction of a nationwide central examination system to maintain quality standards in both formal and non-formal ICT education provision (BCS 2006).

Between 2000 and 2006, the number of ICT professionals in Bangladesh increased from 11,440 to 25,200 (BCS 2006). Public universities play an important role in supplying the market with ICT professionals. The Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) first introduced formal education in Information Technology in 1984. At present, 10 public universities are offering postgraduate diploma programmes in information technology. Private universities have been offering various ICT degrees since 1995. However, in terms of quality, only a few universities out of more than 50 can supply professionals who meet industry requirements.

There are more than 350 training institutions in the private sector producing different categories of ICT professionals. Many of them are franchised institutes of the National Institute of Information Technology (NIIT), APTECH, CMC, TULEC, NCC and many other foreign institutes. However, it has been reported that many of these institutes charge high fees from students while failing to maintain minimum standards of course delivery.

Government employees are increasingly becoming ICT-literate. About 28 per cent of officials and 29 per cent of Ministry/Division staff have received ICT training. At the Department/Corporation level, about 23 per cent of officers have received ICT training (BBS 2005).

There are also several private and civil society initiatives for developing the ICT skills of rural children. The Computer Literacy Programme run by the Volunteers' Association for Bangladesh, New Jersey ( and D.Net, as well as the School Online programme ( operated by Relief International, are particularly noteworthy.

Open source and open content initiatives

The Bangladesh Open Source Network is leading the open source movement. A number of institutions, including the Bangla Innovation through Open Source (BIOS) and Ankur (, have played a pioneering role in popularizing the concept of open source.

Open content has also become popular. D.Net was the first organization in Bangladesh to launch Bangla websites built on the open content concept. Other noteworthy websites with open content are,, and Bangla wikipedia ( already has more than 15,000 entries.

Research and development

There are sporadic R&D initiatives related to ICT. Most have to do with localization and Bangla computing. Ankur ( is one of the most prominent initiatives. The Bangladesh Open Source Network is the apex body, leading localization and open source initiatives. In addition, BRAC University is implementing a localization project under the PAN Localization Project supported by the Pan Asia Network of IDRC. BRAC University is developing the Bangla OCR, a spell checker and search engine.

There are ongoing robotics projects at the BUET. Some of these have received international recognition, such as the 2005 Robocon Panasonic Award in Beijing, China.

D.Net is conducting research on reduction of telecentre operating costs and enhancement of income opportunities in order for telecentres to be financially independent while serving the rural community.


The digital opportunity index (DOI) for Bangladesh is only 0.20, and the country's overall ranking is 139th, which is better only than Nepal among its South Asian neighbours (ITU 2006). This proves that Bangladesh still has a long way to go in putting ICTs in the mainstream of efforts to achieve economic development and social well-being.

Investment is the biggest challenge both for the private sector-led ICT industry and ICT for development. Government allocation for ICTs remains small and scattered. Although the national ICT policy announced an allocation for ICTs of 2 per cent of the national budget, in 2006 the allocation was only 0.8 per cent. It is also unclear what the nature of the spending on ICT might be, due to ambiguous budget line items. Investment in telecommunications was relatively better. However, investment in human resource development is still missing.

Expenditure for rural ICT infrastructure is still not on the radar of development partners. The private sector is not likely to invest in ICT infrastructure in the rural areas until it becomes a licensing requirement. It is not clear to these groups that rural Bangladesh can be changed through ICTs, if proper infrastructure is made available with an appropriate pricing policy. However, grassroots initiatives show great potential.

Addressing the gender dimension of access to information through ICTs is also a challenge. The successful functioning of D.Net's Help Line in rural areas could contribute to women empowerment through ICTs. Through the project, the educated women in the villages, called 'mobile ladies', became the symbol of empowerment in the villages by providing access to livelihood information and advice of experts using mobile phones. The concept, which received the 2005 Gender and ICT Award at the World Summit on Information Society (D.Net 2005), must be replicated across the country. But once again, financing is a problem.

The institutions and government mechanisms are also a major challenge. The Ministry of Science and ICT is not an 'important' ministry for the government. A residual attitude to science and ICT still prevails among policymakers, and the Ministry is often a government dumping ground: people within the government who do not fit elsewhere are assigned to the Ministry. As a result, the Ministry has difficulty taking crucial decisions. It also does not receive adequate budgetary allocation to make its policy commitments a reality. Multiple centres of authorities add to the problem. As mentioned, the Prime Minister's Office took over a number of responsibilities regarding ICT promotion, which literally made the Ministry redundant. Institutional restructuring is urgent, but policymakers seem reluctant to pursue this. If telecommunication is not merged with the Ministry of Science and ICT, then it would be difficult to address many important issues, such as convergence.

The private sector, NGOs and civil society organizations are vibrant in Bangladesh. They are the driving force of economic progress, despite all odds. With effective and efficient government, Bangladesh could become a middle income country within a decade.


BBS. (2005). Data collection and dissemination of ICT statistics: The Bangladesh experience. Dhaka: Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics.

BCS. (2006). Industry profile and statistics: Bangladesh. Retrieved 25 October 2006 from

BTRC. (2006). Press release of BTRC, September 2006.

Chowdhury, M.R. (2001). ICT education in Bangladesh: A review. Dhaka: Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology.

D. Net. (2005). Pallitathya Help Line: A precursor to people's call centre. Dhaka: D.Net, November 2005.

D. Net. (2006). Twenty most important services and information for citizens assessment of Bangladesh. A report prepared for the World Bank, Dhaka, June.

Export Promotion Bureau (EPB) Bangladesh. (2006). Bangladesh Export Statistics 2005–2006.

ITU. (2006). World Information Society Report 2006. Geneva: International Telecommunications Union, August.

Mumit, K., Munir, A.A., and Raihan, A. (2007). Bangladesh country report on local language computing policy initiatives.

The Law Commission, Government of Bangladesh. (2002). Law of Information Technology. Working paper.

UNDP. (2005). UN human development report 2005. Retrieved from


Sangay Wangchuk and Gopi Pradhan

Total population

634,982 (2005)

GDP per capita (USD)

USD 1,320.90

Key economic sectors

Hydropower, Tourism, Minerals,


Forest products

Computer per 100 inhabitants


Fixed-line telephones


per 100 inhabitants


Mobile telephones per 100




Domain names registered


under .bt


Internet domestic bandwidth

2 Mbps

Internet International bandwidth

30 Mbps

Sources: Cabinet Secretariat; DIT, MOIC; Bhutan Telecom and Druknet.


Bhutan is located on the eastern foothills of the Himalayan mountain range, nestled between two Asian superpowers—India and China. Covering an area roughly the size of Switzerland, the country is divided into 20 districts called dzongkhag and further subdivided into 201 communities or geog. Bhutan is a mountainous country, with rugged terrain that is often difficult to traverse. As of the 2005 census, it had a population of 634,982.

Despite the difficult terrain and sparsely populated human settlements, people in Bhutan have access to terrestrial, satellite and mobile telephones, radio, print media, television and the Internet. Having recently introduced modern ICTs, Bhutan is an example of a nation that is 'leap-frogging' over older and often obsolete technologies in the ICT sector. However, there is still a marked disparity between ICT access and usage across Bhutanese society. While urban citizens are making use of the latest ICT gadgets, rural folk have only basic telephone services.

Technology infrastructure

Analog radio was introduced in Bhutan on 11 November 1973. Today, radio remains the main source of information and entertainment in Bhutan's remote villages. Bhutan Broadcasting Service (BBS) is the only broadcasting agency in the country, providing both short wave (SW) and frequency modulation (FM) services. Radio reaches all parts of the country and is the most prolific form of media in all 20 districts. News, entertainment and development-related programmes in health, agriculture and education are aired daily for 12 hours in four languages—Dzongkha, Nepali, Sharchop and English.

In the last two decades, Bhutan's telecommunication network has evolved from a physical wire network to a digital network. The first television network and Internet Service Provider (ISP) were launched on 2 June 1999. Within six years of its introduction, television, particularly cable television, has reached all districts. There are 35 cable operators and about 38,000 cable television subscribers, with the majority concentrated in the capital city of Thimphu and the urban town of Phuentsholing, near the Indian border. BBS broadcasts local news and national programmes. With INSAT4A satellite broadcasting, BBS can be received in 42 countries throughout Asia Pacific. This satellite broadcasting was launched on 20 February 2006 with financial support from the ITU.

Bhutan's first telephone was installed in 1963 while mobile telephone services were introduced in 2003. Overall teledensity (including both fixed and mobile subscribers) as of December 2006 was 17.9 per cent—32,123 fixed telephone lines (5 per cent of the population) and over 82,000 mobile subscribers (12.9 per cent of the population). Within a year, the number of fixed telephone subscribers increased by 4,685 lines, while the number of mobile phone subscribers increased fourfold from 19,000 in 2004. Mobile services are currently provided by B-Mobile, which is fully owned and operated by Bhutan Telecom (BT). B-Mobile uses GSM technology and provides voice and SMS services. The number of mobile users continues to increase at a steep rate. According to B-Mobile, its service covers 16 districts and 12 satellite towns and it plans to provide service to the remaining seven districts by 2007.

At present, there are three ISPs in Bhutan: Druknet, Samden Tech and Drukcom. Druknet is fully owned by BT and is the oldest ISP in Bhutan. As of September 2006, it had 6,000 dial-up and 55 leased line account holders, mostly from government, semi-government and international agencies. Druknet's main Internet node is located in Thimphu with nine other points of presence (POPs) in different parts of the country (Trashigang, Mongar, Bumtha, Chukha, Samtshe, Samdrup Jongkhar, Paro, Wangdi and Trongsa). In May 2006, Druknet doubled its international bandwidth from 10 Mbps to 20 Mbps to accelerate Internet connectivity and overcome peak hour congestion. Druknet has three satellite upstream links with KKDI Japan, British Telecom and Lrel Skynet. SamdenTech Private Limited was established in May 2005 and provides a bandwidth of 2 Mbps (512 Kbps upstream and 1.5 Mbps downstream) through a satellite upstream link with Europe Star. Among its 50 customers, there are 30 leased lines and 20 small volume users. With the substantial increase in the number of mobile subscribers, SamdenTech aims to provide Internet services through mobile phones.

According to Druknet, there are approximately 20,000–25,000 Internet users, 13,000 e-mail accounts, 139 websites and 247 domain names registered in Bhutan as of 1 September 2006. Of the 10,000 computers in the country, it is estimated that 3,000–3,500 computers are connected to the Internet using leased lines. Two private VSAT operators were licensed in 2004 to provide Internet and wireless broadband services with a view to introducing competition in the value-added services market.

Key ICT institutions

The Ministry of Information and Communications (MoIC), which was established in July 2003, is the lead agency for Bhutan's information and communication sector, including telecommunications and traditional and new media. Under MoIC are the Department of Information Technology (DIT), Department of Information and Media, Road Surface Transport Authority, and Department of Civil Aviation. DIT is the national focal agency for the development, promotion and coordination of all ICT-related activities in the country. Specifically, it is responsible for policy formation, coordination and implementation of donor-assisted projects, and governmental communication planning, including standardization of ICT products. The Department of Information and Media is responsible for planning and research in support of mass media. It is also responsible for the drafting of policies and regulations related to information contents and media.

With the enactment of the Bhutan Information, Communications and Media Bill (also known as the ICM Bill or Act) in July 2006, the erstwhile Bhutan Telecom Authority has become the Bhutan Infocomm and Media Authority (BICMA). The new ICM Act gives BICMA full independence in exercising its functions and responsibilities, which covers regulation of ICT facilities, ICT services, spectrum management and radio communications, content and media.

Apart from these major ICT institutions, all ministries and important government agencies have ICT divisions that play a strategic role in promoting the development of ICT in their respective ministries and agencies. The ICT divisions also work with the MoIC to coordinate ICT activities across the country.

ICT industries

Although computers were introduced in Bhutan in the early 1980s, it was only since 1999, after the introduction of the Internet, that a handful of private sector firms, most dealing with computer supplies, came into the market. With the government policy to outsource most of its ICT developmental activities to the private sector, the lifting of import duties for ICT products, and tax holidays for new ICT businesses, the growth of ICT businesses looks promising. While there is no noticeable increase in the number of firms, the size and dimension of existing businesses have improved. The 15 firms previously dealing only with supplies have now expanded their services, providing both software development and network solutions (Bhutan E-Readiness Study 2003). The same is true with the 13 training institutes. There are also a few repair and maintenance shops located mostly in the urban centres.

Furthermore, as of October 2006, the government has licensed two contact centres (or call centres) to private companies—one to serve as a call centre and another to provide medical transcription services. The selection and recruitment of employees and their training for these two businesses are being supported by the government through the DIT. The centres will commence operations in March 2007. Call centres are considered a potential growth industry, with the capacity to generate employment.

ICT policies and regulatory frameworks

Bhutan's ICT policy repertoire has expanded considerably in the past five years. The Bhutan Information and Policy Strategy (BIPS) issued in October 2004 and the ICM Act of 2006 are strong policy and regulatory instruments for the promotion of ICT in Bhutan today.

The BIPS addresses five key areas—Policy, Infrastructure, Human Capacity, Content and Applications, and Enterprise. Underpinned by the philosophy that 'with people at the centre of development, Bhutan will harness the benefits of ICT, both as an enabler and as an industry, to realize the Millennium Development Goals towards enhancing Gross National happiness', BIPS serves as a road map for ICT development in Bhutan. It covers three overall policy objectives:

1. to use ICT for good governance;

2. to create a Bhutanese info-culture; and

3. to create a 'High-Tech Habitat'.

The Information, Communication and Media (ICM) Act enacted in July 2006 at the 85th National Assembly provides a modern technology-neutral and service sector-neutral regulatory mechanism to implement convergence of information, computing, media, and communication technologies, and to facilitate privatization and competition in the establishment of ICT and media facilities, interconnections, universal services, e-services, activities related to cyberspace, and media operations. The Act also provides the new regulatory regime for BICMA to independently exercise its power to regulate all aspects of ICT activities and resolve disputes between operators. The Act facilitates the formalization of interconnection and infrastructure-sharing frameworks to enable converged data, voice and video services, and thereby meet universal service and access obligations. Other service providers can now secure converged service licenses to provide voice, data and video traffic over Bhutan's modern networks. This translates to reduced costs for ICT services.

The MoIC is also preparing other guidelines and regulations for electronic signatures, e-business and e-commerce, content regulation, security policies, and information management.

Enabling ICT projects

Thimphu WAN

A wide area network for Thimphu is currently under construction. This fibre network will connect all of the government agencies in the capital city. Completion of the project will facilitate the use of existing and future government information systems. It will also provide a fast, reliable and secure platform for e-governance and intra-government communication and information sharing.

District LAN

The DIT has also constructed, in each district, a local area network with 64 Kbps leased lines to connect the districts to the Internet. These leased line connections are leveraged to connect all of the surrounding offices with wireless technology. District Local Area Networks (LANs) have greatly enhanced the efficiency and effectiveness of the district administration offices and improved communication between the districts and the central government. However, much more needs to be done in developing and managing the content of the district websites.

Community Information Centres (CIC)

Several community information centres are being set up to provide integrated ICT access to rural communities and thus mitigate the negative effects of the digital divide. The 10th Five-Year National Development Plan states that the DIT shall establish at least one CIC in each of the 201 geog. Each CIC will be equipped with computers, Internet connectivity, a telephone, a fax machine, and photocopying facilities. The intent is to use these tools to improve access to relevant information that would enhance the health, education and livelihood of the villagers. The Bhutan Portal ( would be a main source of information, and its contents—which will include e-health, e-education, e-agriculture, and e-commerce/e-business services—are being developed based on the results of the information needs assessment at each CIC.

To date, the DIT in collaboration with Bhutan Post and the Ministry of Agriculture, has established 30 CIC with support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Government of India, International Development Research Centre (IDRC) of Canada and Microsoft Unlimited Potential. An additional 50 CIC are to be established before June 2007 mainly through the financial support of the Asian Development Bank, UNDP, Microsoft and IDRC.

Online services

The Royal Government of Bhutan has set forth a policy to provide 75 per cent of its services online by 2010. In order to meet this goal, all government and semi-government agencies are exerting considerable effort to publish information about the services they offer on their respective websites. Almost all of the government ministries and agencies have a Web presence, including the National Elections Commission, which is providing online voter registration forms in preparation for the first democratic election in 2008. The majority of government acts, publications, reports, statistics, forms, guidelines and application procedures are available online.

However, most of the current online applications in Bhutan were developed to address the internal needs of organizations and do not support inter-operability or communication with the systems of other agencies. Even if systems support internal efficiencies, they do not fully exploit the opportunities for interconnection and integration. Also, the majority of the applications

The Tangmachu community information centre

The CIC established in Tangmachu (located in the Lhuentse district of Eastern Bhutan) with the support of IDRC is among the most notable of CICs in Bhutan to date. The centre is located in the remotest district in the east. It has five computers connected to the Internet via IP Broadband VSAT with a bandwidth of 64 Kbps and an asymmetrical connection (downlink 64 Kbps and uplink 32 Kbps) and low-cost wireless phones (802.11 b/g specification). Approximately 100 households, representing about 90 per cent of the community in this locality, are connected with IP phones using Wi-Fi technology.

The inhabitants of nine remote villages in Tangmachu use the CIC for telephone services (VoIP and wireless loop-based telephony), Internet access, printing of documents, photocopying, and use of business planning and management tools. The centre is used not only for information sharing among the communities in the district, but also for attending to emergencies such as in health care. An illustrative case is that of Ap Tandin, who was found seriously ill by field engineers when they went to his house to install an IP phone. The nearest health facility (a Basic Health Unit or BHU) was two hours walking distance from his house. The project team made a call to the BHU for emergency help using the IP phone. Following instructions by the health assistant to bring in the patient for treatment, the engineers carried Ap Tandin on their back and brought him to the BHU. Ap Tandin was to be kept under observation for one night. In her anxiety, his wife forgot to bring food and blankets. She was about to leave her ailing husband to walk the two hours home to get the supplies, when the engineers advised her to use the newly installed Wi-Fi phone in her home to call her daughter and have her bring the necessary items to the BHU.

The CIC also connects the BHU, the village headman's office, the middle secondary school, the primary school, and the Renewable Natural Resources Centre. Content and applications for use at the CIC are being developed in accordance with the information needs of the villagers and include agriculture and education, in addition to health. Applications like e-learning and online marketing are also incorporated in the system. The interface is in Dzongkha, the local language.

are government-centric and do little to ease the problems of the general public in accessing these services.

Some good examples of e-governance initiatives are as follows:

• The Automated Border Management System (ABMS) aims to achieve an integrated cross-sectoral approach to border management with efficient and secure flow of data/information between the various stakeholders.

• The Bhutan Civil Registration System (BCRS) was developed by the Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs to collect, store and update data about every Bhutanese citizen. The system facilitates the issuance of new citizenship ID cards which are not only handy and convenient but also valuable for use in other information systems, including the banking, health care and education systems.

• A machine-readable passport system was developed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to facilitate immigration checks, minimize errors and reduce the chances of forgery.

• The Central Bank of Bhutan, Bank of Bhutan and Bhutan National Bank joined SWIFT in 2005. The latest version of SWIFT, running at the Royal Monetary Authority (RMA), is linked to the SWIFT centre in Chennai, India via leased line. The implementation of SWIFT at the RMA was carried out with assistance from Scandent Solution, a SWIFT service bureau in Mumbai, India.

Recently, Bhutan's print media welcomed two new entrants. Kuensel (, the only national newspaper until June 2006, was joined by two government-licensed newspapers, Bhutan Times ( and Bhutan Observer ( Kuensel is published twice a week while the other two newspapers are weeklies.

The most frequently visited websites at present are the Bhutan Portal, Kuzoo, Kuensel, Bhutan Times, The Job Portal and Druknet. Most of the tourist and travel companies also have an online presence to further their businesses.

The Bhutan Portal ( was developed through a UNDP-sponsored project titled 'Pilot Public Access to Information and Service'. The website contains a host of useful information and materials, including forms, publications and government legislation. It also contains links to the websites of all government, semi-government, non-government and private organizations. The Bhutan Portal is a one-stop source for information about the country and is a window for providing e-services online.

The Job Portal ( was launched by the Ministry of Labour and Human Resources on 11 March 2005, to provide a platform for job seekers and job providers to obtain information and interact for mutual benefit. It allows registered employers to post job vacancies, which are categorized according to occupations and posts. Job seekers are able to receive notifications of the vacancies that match their preferred occupations or job category.

Kuzoo ( was put up by the present King of Bhutan to serve as a platform for Bhutanese youth to meet and keep in touch. Young people can manage their own online profiles, connect with their friends, post their own blogs and announce and track upcoming events and social gatherings, among others. The website is becoming quite popular and is featured on Kuzoo FM 90, a live radio station airing youth-oriented programmes, including music.

Applications for development

The rural telecommunication project

Providing access to basic information to all Bhutanese is a key concern in the roll-out of ICT infrastructure and services. Despite the increasing rate of rural–urban migration, the majority of Bhutanese still live in the rural areas. The Rural Telecommunication project being implemented by Bhutan Telecom aims to provide at least 10 telephone lines in each of the 201 geog by end of 2007. As of December 2006, 21 per cent of the communities still do not have any form of electronic connectivity (Pradhan 2005).

There is also a plan to upgrade the current telecommunications network by 2010 to 155 Mbps from the current 34 Mbps digital microwave transmission system.


The Ministry of Agriculture, with support from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), is developing the Virtual

ICT and rural development

Two-thirds (69.1 per cent) of Bhutanese live in rural and remote areas where they face many hardships. Only about 8 per cent of the country's land is cultivable. This small percentage of cultivable land is also due to stringent environment regulations that aim to keep 62 per cent of the land under forest cover at all times. The reverse effects of the strict conservation policies on farming are evident in the growing public outrage at wildlife destruction of farmlands and livestock. When 85 per cent of the rural population depend on agriculture and livestock, the smallest impact on productivity can have significant repercussions.

Rural–urban migration is another issue confronting Bhutan. Educated youth are leaving villages in increasing numbers for better opportunities in towns and cities. The net rural–urban migration is 14.45 per cent. A number of policies have been initiated to promote rural development. One promising solution is innovative exploitation of ICT at all levels of society. Bhutan has already implemented a number of community-focused ICT projects. The e-Post project (a combination of traditional postal services and electronic communications) has benefited some of the most remote and isolated communities. Microsoft's CIC project, implemented in partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture and Bhutan Post, has been enhancing the IT skills and knowledge of communities. This will go a long way in building a critical mass of users with sufficient knowledge to be able to benefit from the information revolution in the future. IDRC has piloted a very successful rural connectivity project in Tangmachu, giving much hope to other communities. The UNDP for its part, supported some of the first rural telecentres in Bhutan.

However, despite its commitment and consistent efforts, the Government of Bhutan will continue to face challenges in rural development. Illiteracy is an important aspect of the challenge. No matter how sophisticated or affordable the solutions provided, people should have a sufficient level of literacy. The affordability of facilities and services in rural areas is also a key concern. While the average Bhutan farmer earns only BTN 10 an hour (about USD 0.238), the cost of a national call is BTN 100 (about USD 2.38) per hour. Third, content and applications need to be useful and understandable. At present, most if not all digital content is in English, a language that has very little use in the rural areas. Fourth, coordination among public sector offices in the rural areas is essential for the provision of a one-stop shop for poor people who cannot afford multiple access points to information.

Extension Research and Communication Network (VERCON), which aims to use the Internet to strengthen communication linkages among the research and extension service components of the national agriculture knowledge and information system. The overall goal of VERCON is to improve agriculture advisory services to Bhutanese farmers in order to increase agricultural production through improved research-extension linkages. VERCON will have two inter-dependent components: (a) the human component, consisting of a network of people committed to communicating, sharing information and supporting agricultural producers; and (b) the technology component, consisting of an Internet-based tool for information development, sharing, storage, retrieval, dissemination and communication. VERCON is being piloted in three regional research centres and in the headquarters of the Ministry of Agriculture. There is a plan to expand VERCON to RNR Extension Centres at the community levels.


The Ministry of Health is integrating the different components of its health services under one system called Bhutan Health Management Information System (BHMIS). The aim is to facilitate monitoring of changes in disease incidence/prevalence and thus be able to prioritize interventions at all levels for both modern and traditional medicine. The BHMIS will have the following components:

1. Referrals outside Bhutan: A database with administrative, clinical and financial information relating to patients referred outside the country for medical care.

2. Telemedicine: To rationalize the use of scarce specialized resources within the country or specialized services from outside the country using IT. While telemedicine has been introduced in six hospitals, it has not been fully operationalized due to lack of bandwidth and proper equipment. E-mail is being used to send ultrasound and X-ray images.

3. Individualized Patient Records (IPR): To store and easily retrieve administrative and clinical information relating to a patient within a health care facility. This system has been developed and is being piloted at the Thimphu General Hospital.

4. Laboratory Information System: To monitor diseases like HIV/AIDS and to keep track of clinical tests. This component is under development.

5. Pharmacy Information System: To facilitate the management of the pharmacies within health facilities, including tracking the movement of drugs. This component has been developed and is being used by the pharmacy department of the Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital in Thimphu.


The Ministry of Education is currently implementing the Information Technology in Education Master Plan. Through an annual government fund and donor contributions, all 23 higher secondary schools and 16 middle secondary schools have been provided with computers. In March 2006, the DIT, with financial support from the Government of India, provided computers, printers, and Internet access and training to 100 primary schools across the country. This project complements the efforts of the Ministry of Education towards 'ICTization' of schools and implementing ICT curricula at all levels of basic education by 2010. However, more work needs to be done. Although the schools can be considered to be 'connected', the rather high student-to-computer ratio translates to limited exposure and use.

In terms of teacher training, Sherubtse College and the IT Education section of the Ministry of Education are offering a Post Graduate Certificate in Teaching Information Systems (PGCTIS) for in-service teachers in middle and higher secondary schools. The National Institute of Education (NIE) has likewise been offering IT as an elective subject in the Bachelor of Education programme since 2004 to ensure a steady flow of teachers who can teach computer courses in schools. Moreover, all teachers, regardless of specialization, are required to undergo an IT literacy programme called Functional IT, which was introduced in 2002.

The two principal ICT training providers in Bhutan are Sherubtse College and the Royal Institute of Management (RIM). Sherubtse College offers a Bachelor of Science Honours programme in Computer Science while RIM provides a two-year Diploma in Information Management Systems (DIMS) for those who have completed class XII. In addition, both institutes offer short-term and ad-hoc courses. Approximately 100 IT personnel from civil service and private organizations received training between 2005 and 2006 in the CISCO Certified Network Academy jointly managed by the DIT and RIM.

In addition to the state-run training institutes, there are 13 private IT training institutes offering standardized curricula in basic computer courses such as network administration, Web development, and desktop publishing. Although there are currently no institutes for more advanced vocational ICT skills such as telecommunications, mass communications and media studies, there are a wide range of courses offered, from basic to diploma-level courses in communication and information management system.

At the moment, there are approximately 500 ICT personnel in Bhutan, including around 300 certificate holders, which indicates a severe shortage of qualified ICT professionals. The Ministry of Education's IT Master Plan and the academic programmes mentioned earlier aim to address this problem.

Open source initiatives

Although a written policy on open source does not exist, in practice, open source software like the Linux operating system is the de facto choice for servers in Bhutan. Most of the government-funded application projects seriously consider free and open source software (FOSS) and standards as a viable option. FOSS such as Apache for Web hosting, Squid proxy for Internet connection, and BIND for DNS are becoming almost a standard. PHP for Web scripting and MySQL and Postgresql for database are also commonly used.

A significant illustration of the open source option coming to fruition is the successful development and launch of Dzongkha Linux. Funded by IDRC, this project forms part of a regional network examining tools and technologies to 'localize'—that is, to develop fonts for commonly spoken languages.

Use of FOSS is also a feature of the digital library project of the DIT in collaboration with the University of Virginia. Preservation and promotion of tradition and cultural values is mandated by the Bhutan Information and Policy Strategy thus: 'By 2008, Bhutan will use ICT to preserve and promote its cultural heritage and boost the creation of local content.' Bhutan's digital library is based on FEDORA (Flexible Extensible Digital Object Repository Architecture), an open source digital library developed by the University of Virginia. According to the DIT, this project aims to develop an invaluable record of Bhutanese culture for Bhutanese students, researchers, tourists and anyone interested in Bhutanese culture. It aims to bring all stakeholders together to develop one digital library encompassing bibliographies, folktales, digital reprints of religious and ritual texts, journals, and audio and video collections. It will create online cataloguing records, transcripts, and analysis of audio-video collections of all Bhutanese cultural contents and other artefacts. There will also be an online Dzongkha–Dzongkha dictionary with 23,000 entries and an online Dzongkha–English dictionary with 13,000 entries (Dzongkha Localization Project 2006).

In another open source project, the DIT has completed the localization of the open source Drupal content management system, which allows individuals and communities to publish, manage and organize a variety of content on a website. The department is planning to organize training sessions for users in March 2007.

Research and development

There is a keen appreciation for the importance of research and development in the ICT sector in Bhutan.

Since 2005, a great deal of research on localization has been carried out under the PAN Localization Project (see of IDRC. Dzongkha Linux, an operating system with Dzongkha desktop, is a product of two years of R&D during which many new technical terminologies were coined and about 90,000 text messages were translated. Sorting rules, which were non-existent, had to be researched and embedded into the system. A whole range of open source engines, such as rendering engines for proper display of Dzongkha text, was developed. Dzongkha Linux supports all open source office applications, including Web browsers, chat programmes and an image manipulation programme equivalent to Adobe Photoshop, and all these have a Dzongkha interface. Other R&D projects to be pursued over the next three years are a text-to-speech system, a spell checker for Dzongkha, a morphology analyser, a word segment algorithm, letter-to-sound rules for Dzongkha, and an online lexicon. All will be developed using an open source platform.

To integrate ICT into the education system, a distance education service is under pilot implementation at Samtse district. Beginning in 2003, the project supported a teacher education programme using Web-based technologies. To date, the project has helped upgrade the NIE's internal networking system, created a website to allow students to access academic information online, and installed new software for supplementary online learning materials, tutorials and academic counselling. Moreover, findings from the project have informed the development of a broader Distance Learning Technology (DLT) project ( consisting of nine sub-projects researching DLTs in 11 countries across Asia.

On the technology side, there is a limited amount of research on new products being carried out at the DIT to determine the right choice of technology for adoption as a standard. Other research worth mentioning are ICT impact studies and information needs assessments that are conducted for policy formulation.

The challenges and opportunities ahead

Much has been achieved in the ICT and telecommunications sector of Bhutan. However, the sector needs to address several challenges to achieve more.

The first challenge is the cost of infrastructure. Basic telecommunications infrastructure needs to be deployed throughout the country. However, due to difficult mountainous terrain and sparse human settlements, the cost of providing basic ICT facilities and infrastructure to every village and community is huge. Bhutan Telecom estimates that it invests as much as BTN 200,000 (about USD 4,761.90) to install a telephone in a remote village. Despite its plan to provide at least 10 telephones in each community by end of 2007, Bhutan Telecom will still not be able to connect six remote communities that need more than USD 30,000 each to have a telephone system installed.

A second challenge is addressing 'capacity voids'. Specifically, the country requires significant investments in building capacity among its ICT and telecom personnel. Today Bhutan has only around 500 IT personnel in the public and private sector with a sufficient level of skills and knowledge of ICT. As the networks grow, businesses flourish, and opportunities expand, the capacity void is felt more and more. It is not only that skilled people should join the market to fill the vacuum; they also need to come with new and better skills and knowledge to keep up with the demand.

The third challenge is lack of ICT standards. Though ICT has proliferated in the last two decades, they are bifurcated and isolated from each other. Many of the systems currently being developed and deployed by different agencies adhere to different standards, resulting in lack of interoperability and eventually, limited efficiency and scalability. The cost of interconnecting existing applications and networks will be huge.

The fourth challenge is slow private sector growth. Most of Bhutan's few qualified ICT personnel are employed in the public sector, which is a contributing factor to the fledgling state of the country's private sector. Unless the government takes firm action to uplift and promote the private ICT sector, ICT development in the country will be confined to the public sector.

Despite these challenges, the future of ICT and telecommunications development in Bhutan is very bright. Bhutan is a peaceful and politically stable country that has been able to avoid many of the disadvantages that accompany legacy systems and obsolete infrastructure and applications. In addition, the government is aiming for 100 per cent coverage of electricity and telecommunication infrastructure by 2020. Offshore businesses, such as business process outsourcing (BPO) and contact centres, offer an opportunity for growth. In setting up these businesses, many of the multinational companies consider security and political stability—which Bhutan has—as key factors in choice of location.

The plan to establish approximately 300 CICs primarily in the rural areas over the next five years highlights an important opportunity for bridging the rural–urban divide and for bringing rural communities closer to the information society. With the licensing of the second mobile telephone company in 2006, the use of ICT services across the country, overall connectivity and access will increase. Revenue sharing and infrastructure sharing schemes are being explored to reduce costs and maximize efficiency on the telecommunication front. On the governance side, ICT is being used to support transparency and good governance.


Department of Information Technology, MOIC. (2004). National ICT centre of excellence project plan. Thimphu, Bhutan.

Dzongkha Localization Project. (2006). Homepage available at

GMCT Consulting Services, Asian Development Bank and UNESCAP. (2007). Empowering rural areas through community e-centres. Bhutan baseline and pre-feasibility study. Thimphu, Bhutan.

Kuenselonline: Kuensel Corporation. (2006). Open ground wire. Retrieved 11 December 2006 from

Ministry of Information and Communications. (2003). Bhutan e-readiness study. GMCT Consulting Services, Thimphu, Bhutan.

Office of the Census Commissioner. (2005). Population and housing census of Bhutan. Thimphu, Bhutan.

Policy and Planning Division, Ministry of Information and Communications. (2006). Project proposal for establishing community information centers in geogs. Final report of the national stakeholder meeting. Thimphu, Bhutan.

Pradhan, G. (2005). Bhutan country chapter. Digital review of Asia Pacific 2005/2006. Penang, Malaysia: Southbound Publications.

Rai, B. (2006). Dzongkhalinux—made in Bhutan. Retrieved 11 December 2006 from

United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia Pacific. (2006). Mid-term review of the Brussels Programme of Action (Bhutan country chapter). Bangkok, Thailand: UN Publications.

Brunei Darussalam

Yong Chee Tuan and Hj Abd Rahim Derus


The 8th National Development Plan (NDP) of Brunei Darussalam came to an end in the first quarter of 2006. However, the implementation of unfinished development projects will continue well beyond 2007. While the details of the next NDP have not been officially released, the primary objectives are likely to remain the same. These include diversifying the economy to become less dependent on oil and gas resources, enhancing the quality of life of the people, and strengthening the capacity for greater foreign direct investment (FDI).

The per capita GDP in 2006 for the population of 383,000 was BND 48,000 (USD 1 = BND 1.54). As the country enjoys the surge in oil prices and numerous associated opportunities, it also faces new challenges in moving towards diversification, improved living standards and increased FDI. The urgency and importance of meeting these challenges may be somehow sidelined when the dangers of depleting revenues from natural resources, in particular oil, are temporarily being turned around. But the young and new generations will have to become more prepared in order to continue to enjoy peace and prosperity. People between the ages of 20 and 54 comprise 54.3 per cent of the total population while the in-school population (between ages nine and 19) comprises another 26.7 per cent of the total population. The new NDP will unravel a roadmap for harnessing this young and dynamic workforce.

Meanwhile, the 12 ministries and the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) have been quick to formulate new strategic plans and roadmaps to lead the country into the new era. For one, the investment environment will be strategically enhanced by leveraging the opportunities provided by the improved communication infrastructure, innovative technologies and a highly educated workforce. More innovative approaches and strategic development programmes will be introduced to steer the country toward more peace and prosperity, with a strong national identity and a greater role in regional development.

These were some of the expected outcomes of the e-government initiative defined in the 8th NDP. More than BND 850 million (about USD 555.9 million) was set aside for the e-government initiative. Despite the sluggish pace of imple-mentation, the majority of the requested projects have already been awarded or tendered out. However, at the beginning of 2007 many of these projects are just at the initial phase of implementation. Thus, the overall impact of e-government is not yet visible or significant.

Technology infrastructure

For a small population density of only 66 persons (less than 20 households on average) per square kilometre, the challenges of providing high quality technology infrastructure can be slightly daunting. The economic returns on investment from household subscriptions alone do not look attractive enough for more than two service providers to compete. Some governmental interventions may be required to ensure sustainable quality services. One way to look at the situation is the implementation of government-wide EG-Bandwidth which is a Virtual Private Network (VPN) Line connecting all government agencies via several data centres.

TelBru Sdn Bhd (Brunei Telecom privatized as of 1 April 2006) took up the Internet service provider role. In the last quarter of 2006, a Next Generation Network (NGN) at the back office was successfully installed and commissioned. Domestic broadband services of 512 kb/s now cost BND 98 (about USD 63) per month. Currently, the telecommunication industry is driven by two major providers, DST (the first GSM provider) and B-Mobile (offering 3G services).

The number of Internet subscribers in 2006 was 131,141 (34 per cent of the population) while the number of mobile subscribers rose to 281,704 (74 per cent of the population). The landline subscriptions remained steady at 23.2 per 100 inhabitants.

Key institutions

The Ministry of Communications (MoC) is the central agency leading and shaping ICT development in the country. The Minister of Communications, Pehin Abu Bakar, is also the Chairman of the Brunei IT Council. During his three-year ministry, he has initiated several collaborative initiatives with international players such as Microsoft, Oracle, SAP and the various IT centres in Canada and India. The Ministry is also pressing for the rapid acceleration of the local ICT industry, and the establishment of an Innovation Centre managed by the Brunei Economic Development Board (BEDB).

Reporting to the MoC is the Authority for Info-communications Technology Industry of Brunei Darussalam (AiTi), another important agency regulating the ICT industry. It grants industry players one of two principal licenses: the Infrastructure Provider for the Telecommunication Industry License (InTi) and the Service Provider for the Telecommunication Industry License (SeTi). An InTi License is required of any operator who owns and provides infrastructure, systems, networks, facilities and other related equipment for telecommunication services. The SeTi License is meant for operators who sell services to consumers or corporate customers. The operator does not own any infrastructure outside its premises, but uses the infrastructure provided by the InTi Licensee.

Besides its regulatory role, AiTi is also the agency that looks after the Brunei Computer Emergency Response Team (BruCERT), which is the nation's first trusted one-stop referral agency dealing with computer-related and Internet-related security incidents. BruCERT also coordinates with local and international Computer Security Incident Response Teams (CSIRTs), network service providers, security vendors, government agencies and other related organizations to facilitate detection, analysis and prevention of security incidents on the Internet. The roles of AiTi were expanded recently to include management of e-government development and leading the growth of the ICT industry.

The Prime Minister's Office (PMO) plays a crucial role in the implementation and monitoring of e-government initiatives. The Deputy Minister of the PMO chairs the E-Government Leadership Forum (EGLF) which meets regularly to provide policy directions on e-government development. The members of EGLF are the Permanent Secretaries of each Ministry; they lead the campaign for various e-government flagship applications and policy changes.

Although its role in coordinating and monitoring e-government has been shifted to AiTi, the Department of IT and State Store (ITSSD) of the Ministry of Finance still functions as the primary coordinator for procuring or outsourcing major government-wide IT hardware, software and services. ITSSD recently signed an agreement with Microsoft to procure Microsoft-related products for government use.

Digital content initiatives and online services

The official language of Brunei Darussalam is Malay, but English is widely used in the country. The education system is bilingual. From Kindergarten to Primary 4 (Year 9) classes, all of the subjects except English are taught in Malay. However, from Primary 5 (Year 10) onward, all of the main subjects are taught in English. Therefore, most of the government websites are in English or Malay, or both.

The major initiatives for developing digital content are driven by the Ministry of Education under two main projects, namely, the e-Curriculum and Knowledge Management Systems. The first project involves the digitization of English, Science, Mathematics, Malay, ICT and Islamic Religious Studies for primary classes. The digital works are to be uploaded to a new Learning Management System (LMS) that will be accessed by students and teachers. The first phase of the e-Curriculum project will be completed in October 2007, while the LMS project will be tendered in 2008. The Knowledge Management System project aims to collect information on crisis management, conferences and asset maintenance, among others. Various communities of practice and staff members of the Ministry of Education are involved in the development of the content to be made available later at the ministry portal.

Since most of the e-government projects implemented to date are related to back office applications and automation, there are many notable online services offered by government agencies. The much talked about next wave of e-government is about the integration of these back-office systems and the implementation of online services.

ICT industries

As the number of mobile telecommunication subscribers increases steadily, Brunei society gradually becomes more ready to adopt new technologies and move away from landlines. A natural progression from letter to e-mail, voice and digital telephony is beginning to take place in some major corporations in the country. Sales of mobile handsets are promising, and an unofficial study reveals that more than 75 per cent of young executives (aged between 21 and 30) have changed their handsets over the last 12 months.

Another promising growth industry is the sale of computer notebooks and desktops. The ratio of computer notebooks to desktops sold is nearly 5:1. There are many PC exhibitions where discounted computers and accessories can be bought. These exhibitions are popular because although consumers can buy computers tax-free, all electronic components or accessories are subjected to a 5 per cent tax.

Locally assembled PCs are being heavily squeezed by the influx of major international brands such as Acer, Dell, HP, Asus, Apple and Lenovo. There is no sign that any of the hardware manufacturing or assembly plants will be established or located in the country despite some competitive advantages, such as having the lowest tariffs on electricity, fuels and factory rentals in the region. The limited local market consumption and the lack of highly skilled human resources, coupled with the absence of major supporting services, appear to be the external inhibiting factors. However, although these factors were critical during the industrial age, they have been gradually suppressed by opportunities offered in an increasingly globalized society. The flow of people and capital across borders is addressing the problem of lack of skilled human resources. Also, the expected 70:30 ratio of local consumption versus the export market is becoming obsolete as the cost of supply chains and logistics are now insignificant compared to production costs.

The internal factors are becoming the key considerations of major ICT investors. One of the most crucial questions raised is how to increase investor confidence in sustainable business growth. The lack of non-oil and gas plants and the limited success stories from the current small pool of investments do not communicate the right message to investors. All locally incorporated companies are required to have at least 50 per cent local directors. Since foreigners are not allowed to own land, investors ask their local directors or local friends to purchase property. Government does not interfere in the business arrangements of private sector organizations. When conflicts occur among the directors, foreign partners tend to feel threatened by the insecurity of land ownership. This becomes one of the weak links in the effort to boost investor confidence in sustainable growth. It is even more difficult to attract assembly plants that require heavy capital investment with rates of return lasting longer than a decade.

While assembly plants for ICT hardware require heavy capital investments, the software development industry requires a constant influx of innovative human resources. An internal factor that may dampen the growth of the software development industry in Brunei Darussalam is the uncertainty of being able to employ highly skilled workers and support staff. For example, the issuance of work permits/quotas for engaging accountant clerks is being suspended as the Labour Department puts more pressure on companies to hire unemployed accountants. The employment of foreigners is subjected to scrutiny and a lengthy processing time. Nevertheless, many software development companies have expressed interest in setting up branch offices in the country in order to enjoy the amenities, the light traffic and the clean environment.

Enabling policies and programmes

As noted by Naseem (2003), Kaname Akamatsu's 'Flying Geese Theory' is still relevant in explaining the behaviour of ICT vendors (manufacturers, developers, suppliers) who tend to follow the relocation/investment moves of key industry players. For this concept to become a reality, three aspects need to be addressed:

1. The intra-industry aspect that looks at product development in terms of Import, Local Production and Export: In a highly successful IT-driven economy, these three elements—import, production and export of IT-related products/services—are very active and proportionally higher than for other products. Consider the case of Korea and Finland (the two early adopters of communications technology) where the overall figures of local consumption of ICT components, local production and value-added services, together with export of technology to various overseas manufacturing plants, are relatively higher than for agricultural products. In the case of Brunei Darussalam, the rollout of e-government projects in the 8th NDP has created a surge in the local demand for ICT products and services together with a rise in the importation of these products. Note that prior to the e-government projects, the ICT industry could not have taken off simply because of the limited ICT adoption by the private sector.

2. The inter-industry aspect that looks at the sequential appearance and development of industries in the country moving towards diversification and upgrading of industries: The late adopters generally go into developing relatively newer products instead of starting with less sophisticated products. Brunei Darussalam is going in the right direction in terms of diversification of the oil and gas-based economy into downstream and service industries. In this effort, IT can play the role of an enabler as well as a competitive differentiator. The government is on the lookout for potential collaboration with players who can help develop niche products (for example, educational content, health care system, etc). Various ICT-related promotions and competitions such as the Brunei ICT Award (BICTA) and Inforama are heavily funded by the MoC and the Ministry of Education, respectively.

3. The international aspect that looks at the relocation (migration) process of industries from advanced to developing countries: Currently, there are several clusters of IT industries geographically distributed across Asia Pacific. Many of the manufacturing plants have been relocated to less expensive locations such as China and Indo-China, while the technology and intellectual property rights are retained by the companies in the advanced countries. The emergence of globalization and of superpowers such as China and India (and possibly Indonesia) has drastically affected the industry landscape. Most countries take advantage of largely populated countries by outsourcing low-cost and low-value services and supplying them with valued-added goods and services in volume (low margins). In this regard, the Brunei Darussalam Ministry of Trade and Foreign Affairs has been lauded for maintaining a very cordial relationship with all international partners, including China.

Open source and R&D initiatives

Although the government through various ministries and initiatives has allocated funds for R&D in technology advancement, there are no significant takers. Activating the funds requires several bureaucratic processes and information about the funds is not well published. The Innovation/Incubation Centre managed by BEDP is opening the floodgate for local 'technopreneurs' to focus on R&D work instead of merely playing the role of system integrators or customizing applications. This landscape may therefore be turned around within a few years.

Any research work on open source is encouraged, but there is no specific policy on the use or promotion of open source technology in government organizations. In fact, many of the e-government project proposals that are based on open source applications are not usually lower in cost than those based on proprietary systems. The lower initial cost of open source systems is sometimes offset by the implementation/customization and the long-term maintenance costs.

Relatedly, the use of open source software/applications is generally taken up in operations that are not mission-critical or in experimental activities. Because these operations are not properly budgeted in 'project implementation', they suffer from lack of financial support and they are at the mercy of the few technology-savvy staff for systems maintenance. Thus, the success stories that can be shared or showcased to others are few and far between.

Making a change in total productivity and research orientation requires a shift in management styles, entrepreneurs' mindsets and business models. Also needed is enhancement of support services, such as outsourcing capabilities, logistics and marketing. While many local companies are not familiar with R&D and innovation, some forms of assistance/facilitation from academic institutions and large corporations are required as the final deal depends on their available technological products. While creating strong Bruneian brands in ICT products may seem far-fetched to many, this process is a prerequisite to taking local products abroad. It also means that these solutions must first be piloted nationally and preferably taken up by government agencies. Success in international business depends on the ability of local companies to form a consortium or partnership with others for sizable projects.


Brunei Darussalam has been blessed with abundant oil and gas resources and the capacity to lead the industry to world-class standards. There are several remarkable breakthroughs in championing new processes or coming out with innovative products in the Brunei Shell Petroleum Company Sdn Bhd. This economic driver is so efficient that it often dwarfs the development of other industries in the country.

Nevertheless, diversifying the economy away from heavy dependence on oil and gas is still a serious priority. There are several paths that the country can take. Some potential clusters of industries in which the country has demonstrated strategic advantages include tourism, health care, education, logistics and services industries. Regardless of any combination of strategic implementation, developing a strong information technology industry is a prerequisite to enable the other industries to takeoff.

Developing the ICT industry and using it to strengthen diversification holds much promise. However, although the external factors discussed earlier are very positive, many of the internal factors need to be resolved quickly in order to develop investor confidence. The issues of land ownership, work permits, dependent pass, company registration and sustainable funding for national ICT-related projects must be comprehensively addressed in order to attract and retain foreign investment. Rolling out the e-government initiative in the 8th NDP was a good start. But more needs to be done so that the long-term benefits of ICT can be realized.

The e-government projects are the best hope for developing the ICT industry, with local SMEs taking up the opportunity to participate in these projects. Although in the initial five-year period there will be a lot of 'sorting' among the local SMEs through open bidding for projects, the industry will quickly settle into various categories of players with some forms of specialization in the later years. The categorization of ICT players will become an important process in the pre-qualification of tenders. This will also ensure that the SMEs will not be spread too thinly in many areas of ICT development, but will instead focus on their and their partners' core competence. The companies can then develop and become more specialized in their expert domain.

Government agencies continue to provide opportunities for local specialized companies to meet their basic growth targets and to foster research, collaboration and innovation. The current e-government projects were designed with so-called Tier-1 standards and requirements, meaning that the solutions sought can hardly be conceived by regional SMEs (let alone local ones). Some forms of project grouping must be introduced, to assist and recognize local innovation. Each ministry should plan and allocate several small-scale projects that are not so mission-critical but which are strategically important for developing a local ICT industry. For example, an exploratory RFID project and courseware development projects may be good choices for locally incubated solutions.

Fostering rapport between local ICT players and government can create win-win solutions. Some forms of private–public partnership programmes should be introduced. And while government continues to promote local SMEs, the Tier-1 enterprises (such as Microsoft, Oracle, IBM, SAP) should not be made to feel 'unwanted'. They are, in today's terms, the leading geese that can influence the other flying geese. Some of the e-government projects should be allocated to these Tier-1 companies to attract large corporations and develop their confidence in building bases in Brunei Darussalam.


Department of Statistics, Department of Economic and Development, Prime Minister's Office, Brunei Darussalam. (2006). Brunei Darussalam key indicators.

Naseem, S.M. (2003). Rethinking the East Asian miracle. Journal of Economic Studies, 30(6), 636–44.


Brian Unger and Naomi Robinson


From Phnom Penh, the development of Cambodia's ICT sector appears blindingly fast. One year ago there were no ATM machines in the country. Now one bank has 26 in Phnom Penh. Moto (the local name for motorcycles for hire) drivers in the big cities often have cellphones. Cellphones are always answered, even when in the middle of a kiss, a sandwich, a shower or a speech to 50 people. Yet little has changed in rural areas where electricity is still rarely available.

Cambodia's population at the end of 2005 was 14 million, with a density of 78 people per square kilometre. The GDP per capita was USD 440 and 8 per cent of the population had a landline or cellular phone.1 Cambodia was one of the first countries in the world in which mobile phone subscribers surpassed fixed-line subscribers. In 2005, 97 per cent of all telephone numbers provided by eight telecom service providers were for mobile subscribers. Yet even with this penetration, only 1.1 million people had cellphones at the end of 2005 (see Table 1). In 2007 the Cambodian Daily reported that there are 1.5 million mobile subscribers or 11 per cent (World Bank 2007). This suggests that the number of cellular subscribers grew by nearly 25 per cent in 2006.

Although mobile phone penetration is increasing rapidly, the number of landlines per capita has actually decreased. Also remarkable is the fact that though phone ownership is low, many Cambodians can make calls using portable cellphone booths that are usually managed by one woman.

There are roughly 40,000 Internet users (0.28 per cent of the total population) in Cambodia.2 Most of these users access the Web through one of the more than 340 Internet cafes (Cambodia Yellow Pages 2007) since less than three of every one thousand people have access to a home computer (ITU 2007). There has been almost no growth in computers and Internet access per capita during the past year.

Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) access during working hours is expensive—for example, USD 99/month for 256 Kb/s and up to 1 Gb/month total upload and download volume. Charges for data transfer (upload and download) per month range from USD 0.07 to USD 0.10 per Mb (Savage 2007). There are approximately 200 computer hardware companies, 100 software companies, and 10 Internet Service Providers (ISPs) listed in the May 2007 online Cambodian Yellow Pages.

Internet access costs as well as electricity costs in Cambodia are among the highest in the world. Given this and the country's recent history of conflict, it is not surprising that Cambodia also has one of the lowest electrification rates in Asia, with only 12 per cent of its population connected to an electric power supply. Outside the provincial towns, electrical power is rare. About 6 per cent of Cambodia's rural households have access to electricity and another 3 per cent own some type of individual power generating unit. Of the remaining 91 per cent of the rural population, some 55 per cent use automobile batteries (costing USD 2–3.5 per kWh) for occasional and limited use, and the rest (36 per cent) do without electricity completely (World Bank 2007).

Television and radio are very popular in the rural areas, as they serve as one of the few forms of entertainment. TV and

Table 1
Basic ICT indicators

ICT indicators



Main phone lines

0.23/100 in 20051

0.24 in 20001 (decreasing)

Cellular subscribers


1.12 million1(1.5 million in 2007)2

Local network usage

72.8 per cent1

of total network capacity

Main phone line cost

USD 3.0/month1

residential, USD 0.03/local call1

Main phone line cost

USD 6.5/month1


International phone traffic

0.9 minutes

per capita1

Internet users


.26/100 in 20044



~ same as 20044

DSL subscribers


1.1 per cent of phone lines1

Internet access cost

USD 0.50


DSL Internet access cost

USD 350/month

128 Kb/s unlimited data volume3


USD 39/month

64 Kb/s unlimited, off peak hours3

.kh domains


NiDA 20064

Domain registration

USD 40

$30 annual renewal4

Sources: 1 ITU (2007) (statistics refer to 2005 year end)

2 Welsh and Thul (2007)

3 Savage (2007)

4 Miyata (2006)

radio have the broadest reach among the different forms of mass media. While only eight of every one thousand Khmer own a television set, this form of mass media reaches more people than this statistic indicates, as whole villages will crowd around one set to watch a sporting event or favourite television series on one of the nine Khmer channels. A good example of the efficacy of this medium is that the UK's BBC weekly television drama Taste of Life, which dealt with issues such as HIV/AIDS, traffic safety and women's rights, was viewed by over 80 per cent of Cambodians during the two seasons in which it aired.

Radio is even more far reaching and accessible. Eleven per cent of the Cambodian population own radios, many of which are useable in areas off the electrical grid. Cambodia has two national radio stations and 14 local radio stations. There have been some attempts to set up community-run radio stations, but these efforts have been disallowed by the Ministry of Information.

Cambodia's Opportunity Index, which uses 10 indicators to measure ICT capital (network infrastructure), ICT skills, ICT uptake or usage, and the intensity of ICT usage,3 grew from 20 in 2001 to 29 in 2005—a growth rate of 42 per cent. In 2005, Cambodia ranked 164th out of 183 countries. At first glance the growth rate might seem good. However, the speed at which ICT is developing throughout the world indicates that Cambodia is developing more slowly than most. To compare Cambodia with her neighbours: from 2001 to 2005 Myanmar's OI grew from 9 to 19 (ranking 177th), Lao PDR's OI grew from 24 to 39 (ranking 151st), Vietnam's OI grew from 44 to 77 (ranking 111th), and Thailand's OI grew from 75 to 99 (ranking 87th). The growth rates during these five years for Myanmar, Lao PDR, Vietnam and Thailand were 112 per cent, 49 per cent, 76 per cent and 32 per cent, respectively. Cambodia's ICT growth rate is lower than that of all of its neighbours except Thailand whose OI is three times that of Cambodia.

Key organizations

The government ministries, organizations, companies, educational institutions and NGOs that are involved in ICT can be categorized as illustrated in Figure 1. The categories used here are 'policy and regulation', 'infrastructure', 'content', 'enterprise' and 'human resources'.

In the past, the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications (MPTC) was responsible for all government policy, regulation and infrastructure. Government efforts to reform the telecommunication and ICT sector have resulted in a plan to divide these three functions into separate, independent organizations. In 2005–06 the responsibility for telecommunications infrastructure was moved from MPTC to Telecommunications Cambodia (TC). MPTC currently carries responsibility for both policy and the regulation of Cambodian telephony and ICT. In the next year or two, it is expected that MPTC will divest itself of responsibility for regulation of the telephony and ICT sector.

Figure 1
Key organizations involved in ICT


TC now has full responsibility for Cambodia's telecom and ICT infrastructure. This includes the major backbone landlines, international connections, connections to mobile phone service providers, and connections to the new IPstar satellite national network. TC's current backbone and planned extensions are illustrated in Figure 2. TC revenue last year was over USD 25 million, employing roughly 600 people operating in eight of Cambodia's 24 provinces. TC is jointly owned by MPTC and MoEF (Ministry of Economics and Finance).

In 2000, the National ICT Development Agency (NiDA) was created to promote ICT. It reports directly to the Office of the Council of Ministers and is chaired by the Prime Minister. Although NiDA was initially intended to formulate ICT policy for short, medium and long-term development, this responsibility clearly overlaps with MPTC, which has resulted in conflict and confusion. NiDA currently has five divisions: infrastructure, policy, human resource development, enterprise, and content and applications. Partly in response to the confusion, NiDA has begun focusing on the content and enterprise areas, particularly toward the development of e-government (Miyata 2006).

The role of the Ministry of Information (MoI) is the development and regulation of media and publications. This also overlaps to some extent with the roles of NiDA and MPTC. Thus the MoI has been, and continues to be, actively involved in ICT policy discussions. The MoI's role also includes censorship of the media and control of information sharing. For example, the MoI appears to have stopped the licensing of community radio in 2006–07. The MoI does support the dissemination of important information about issues such as health and government activities.

The Ministry of Commerce (MoC) is responsible for enterprise development, import and export regulation and development, foreign and domestic trade, intellectual property issues,

Figure 2
Current national backbone and development plan


and supporting the development of rural Cambodian small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). MoC is also leading ICT for Rural Empowerment and Community Health (iREACH), which aims to develop local enterprises to sustain rural e-communities (see the box 'iREACH Cambodia').

The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport (MoEYS) plans to integrate ICT within its various initiatives towards its long-term vision of 'education for all'. The ICT in education policy focuses on teacher training: the Ministry gives priority access to all teachers and to secondary schools, and emphasizes the role of ICT as a teaching and learning tool. MoEYS also endorses the use of various types of media technology in outreach education and the use of ICT to improve education administration.

The Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training (MLVT) is also involved in education and training, as well as in labour conflict resolution.

Two NGOs focusing on ICT are the Centre for Information Systems Training (CIST) and Digital Divide Data (DDD). According to Jessamy (2001),

DDD was established in Cambodia through a partnership between an international team of advisors and local people with a wide range of proven experience in the business, non-profit and social entrepreneurial sectors. DDD hires talented workers from some of Cambodia's disadvantaged groups, such as land mine victims and women, and trains them to provide data entry and digitization services outsourced from the developed world. DDD runs as a self-sustaining cooperative, with all profits going back into the business to provide fair salaries, ongoing training and health services for its employees.

The Centre for Information Systems Training (CIST) is an NGO that funds education for disadvantaged children and helps to employ young adults in Southeast Asia. CIST aids in the education of Khmer youth so they may contribute to the development of their country.

iREACH Cambodia

The iREACH (ICT for Rural Empowerment and Community Health) project launched in 2005 is a partnership between the Cambodian Ministry of Commerce and IDRC. Initially for three years, the project is generating and documenting evidence regarding the process, value and potential sustainability of building multi-purpose, community-driven computer-communication networks for rural people. Two 'e-communities' in Kep and Kamchai Mear are being piloted. The project's technical innovations and social and economic effects are intended to produce evidence to influence better ICT policymaking for rural people to benefit from a changed ICT world.

ICT-enabled services will be offered at numerous points throughout these two communities, including access to health, education and agricultural resources; low-cost telephony; local-area video conferencing; access to the Internet; and community radio and video. Examples of usage can range from providing timely and accurate weather forecasts for small fishing craft in Kep, to supporting the collection and dissemination of marketing information for fruits and vegetables, to distance education for pupils far from a secondary school, to a multi-village interactive video conference on maternal and child health among village women and a remote health expert.

Each pilot is conceived from the outset as a community-owned enterprise offering a suite of services capable of generating income and becoming sustainable. Building on an assessment of local needs, each pilot has a local management committee selected through a democratic process. In addition to the core staff, iREACH is employing and training 'content developers' from the communities to ensure that services are adapted to local needs. A key challenge is local institution-building, building the capacity of local people to plan and manage a successful enterprise.

Technologies deployed include innovative low-cost wireless such as WiMax, Wi-Fi and VoIP, as well as eco-friendly solar power since electricity is not available in most of the communities. A key component of the project is research—baseline research with the local community to help track the contribution of the initiative to poor people's lives; documenting the process to capture the lessons from mistakes as well as successes; and extracting policy lessons that can be used to inform ICT policy more widely in Cambodia.

Issues such as the link between rural development policy and ICT policy and the potential role of universal access funds in replicating such initiatives will be examined. The lessons learned from iREACH will be integrated with experience from around the world to develop potential policy initiatives.

Policy and regulation

The National Strategic Development Plan (NSDP) is Cambodia's comprehensive five-year plan for 2006 through 2010. It lists ICT as one of the government's 16 highest priority areas. The NSDP states the following in the section on key strategies and actions:

ICT: The long-term development vision is to develop a cost-efficient and world-class post and telecommunications system that has a nation-wide coverage. The realization of this vision would require high levels of investment to build the backbone infrastructure of the telecommunications systems, especially high-speed optical fibre cables for the development of rural telecommunications systems. The immediate challenge is to bring down the cost of telecommunications to help businesses and people at large. Telecommunications and Information Technology (IT) should be made to work for the betterment of the poor. Priorities during NSDP, 2006–10 are:

• Expand the telecom network in urban areas and extend them to smaller cities and towns.

• Strengthen postal services and the capacity of concerned institutions to improve the coverage and quality of the services.

• Strengthen and improve efficiency and quality of Radio and TV broadcast networks.

• Continue to follow an open policy in promoting a high level of private sector participation.

Emphasis will continue on promoting extensive use of IT in all aspects of governance and government to improve efficiency and effectiveness in maintenance of records, data bases and websites which will provide easy access to the public at large on all matters of their concern. Each ministry or agency will host its own website and keep it fully updated every six months or more often as needed. Such websites will contain all data and information pertaining to the ministry or agency.

The intent of the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) with respect to ICT policy and regulation is positive. However, the practice and implementation of this policy is very limited. For example, the MPTC has entered into joint ventures with foreign private investment companies to construct the mobile network. While this has helped to build infrastructure with little government funding, the implementation has been marked by a lack of consistency and transparency. The licensing of private mobile carriers has been dealt with case by case, without a clear legal framework. Currently, the sector is undergoing a major reform, as it is a condition of a Japanese soft loan for a fibre optic network between Sihanoukville and Kampong Cham.

The Telecommunication Sector Policy Statement is 'a national policy for the development of the sector' for 'the delivery of efficient, cost-effective and affordable telecom services to the people of Cambodia'. The statement primarily aims at reforming the sector by dividing MPTC into three independent entities responsible for policy, regulation and infrastructure. As noted earlier, MPTC would retain its 'policy' functions, TC has been created to deal with 'infrastructure', and a Telecommunications Regulator of Cambodia (TRC) will be created (Miyata 2006).

Consistent with the above policy statement, a new law on telecommunications has been developed over the past three years and in 2006 was sent to the National Assembly. This law is expected to establish the rules by which the TRC will regulate the ICT sector, including all telecom service providers (operators) (Miyata 2006).

In 2003, recommendations for a national ICT policy were developed within a study of the sector performed by NiDA with the assistance of UNDP-APDIP. The scope of this study included policy, infrastructure and access, content and applications development, human capacity development, and ICT enterprise development. It has been under review by the Council of Ministers for several years. According to Miyata (2006),

[the] Prolonged process of formulating ICT policy revealed a serious strain of coordination and cooperation among key players, in particular, between MPTC and NiDA. Coordination and cooperation are crucial as ICT cuts across all sectors .… It seems that it is the Deputy Prime Minister … who acts as a mediator and a coordinator among key agencies, namely MPTC, NiDA and MoI.

The intent in creating TC and moving responsibility for infrastructure out of MPTC was to separate this function from policy and regulation. However, although TC is now a separate corporation, it is state-owned, 100 per cent by MPTC and the MoEF. Thus MPTC still has a significant influence on the ICT infrastructure and operational functions.

It is clear that the transparency and consistency of the overall telecom and ICT policy and regulation environment have a major impact on sector development. The government is struggling with conflicting responsibilities for policy, for example, MPTC and NiDA's overlapping roles with respect to policy, and MPTC ownership of TC on infrastructure. This lack of clarity significantly retards development.

Achieving separate, independent, arms-length responsibilities for policy, regulation and infrastructure, which is the current government's plan, would have a significant positive impact on ICT sector development, including e-government, e-health, e-commerce and e-learning.

Education and capacity building

During the recent 30 years of internal conflict, primary, secondary and higher levels of education were all seriously weakened. The education system has been operating fully only since 1998. As a result, many Cambodians within the current working generation have not had adequate education, and many in the 20–45 age group lack sufficient primary education (Miyata 2006).

Recent enrolment increases in university level computing and IT courses are now producing many degree holders in Computer Science and Information Technology. However, many employers seeking ICT professionals have complained that these graduates have low levels of knowledge and inadequate skills for employment. Companies report that a great deal of time has to be invested in on-the-job training. There is often a lack of basic skills such as understanding how to plan and schedule work, complete tasks and meet deadlines. Currently, very few education programmes target these basic skills, and they are not adapted to meet ICT market needs.

On the positive side, in 2006, CIST performed a market study in Cambodia interviewing over 200 organizations and companies in both, the ICT sector and sectors that utilize ICT services. Specific skills were identified that ICT graduates need for employment in construction, consumer goods and services, education, energy and utilities, finance, health, NGOs, manufacturing, transportation and logistics, as well as ICT suppliers. CIST has plans to create an education programme that would be tailored to develop the skills that are most needed in these areas.

Many universities have developed ICT-related courses. With assistance from UNESCO, teacher training centres have been outfitted with second-hand computers and an introductory computer class has been added to all teacher training courses. MoEYS has also slowly worked towards improving the quality of higher education. For example, MoEYS introduced a first-year foundation course in every university and has set up the Accreditation Committee of Cambodia.

The Institute Technologie du Camboge (ITC) in Phnom Penh which has a strong focus on IT has received substantial support from the French government. ITC also has an important role in addressing human capacity in applications development within the Khmer PAN Localization Project (see the box 'PAN Localization Cambodia').

Donor support of ICT

There has been, and continues to be, substantial donor support for the development of Cambodia's ICT sector. Donor-supported ICT4D projects are listed by 'Activity' and 'Theme' in Table 2. 'Activity' refers to the main project output category

Table 2
Current and recent donor ICT4D projects

Focus area of support









KfW or Germany (east-west optic fibre network)




Japan (Local exchange, optic fibre network)




IDRC (first Internet connection)




Korea (optic fibre in Phnom Penh)



Community centre

Korea (Internet Plaza), India (10 Internet Kiosks)




USAID (22 Community Information Centres)

Asian Foundation



World Bank, ADB ITU-UNDP



ICT General





JlCA (IT Action Plan for Cambodia)




ADB (e-commerce law)




UNDP (e-trade strategy/e-assessment)




ASEAN (e-ASEAN initiative)








IDRC (survey on the use of ICT in SMEs)

NiDA (planned)


ICT in Schools

UNESCO (ICT Policy in Education)



Rural Access

IDRC (2 Pilots) (see iREACH boxed article)


Human Capacity

ICT General

UNDP-UNESCO-IBM (IT awareness)




InWent, Intel, Microsoft (basic IT skill trainings)




Korea (IT Forum on e-government GAlS centre)




UNCTAD (traininq for government officials)



ICT Skill Training

Cisco Systems-UNDP-APDIP (Cisco Academy)



and Education

Korea (National Polytechnic Institute of Cambodia)




India (Cambodia-India Entrepreneurship Development Centre)




Singapore (Cambodia Singapore training centre)




France (Institute of Technology of Cambodia)




France, Private IT Companies (establish Center for

Enfant du Mekong



Information System Training: CIST)



ICT in Schools

UNESCO (use of ICT in EFA)




Private and Individual contribution (Village Leap)



Khmer Scripts and

InWent (OpenOffice training)








World Bank, IFC (promoting SMEs using ICT)




UNESCAP (e-biz development service for SMEs)

ICT Association



GTZ, USAID (private sector promotion with ICT)




GTZ-UNDP (village phone f/s)




UNDP (support of local enterprise for job creation)




Private and Individual contributions (Village Leap)


Content and


Korea (Government Admin. Info. System: GAlS)



ICT in Schools

UNESCO (use of ICT in EFA: creation of content)



Khmer Scripts and





CICC, Japan (Workshop and Seminars on FOSS)




IDRC (Pan Localization) (see boxed article)



Access to Info.

UNDP (support CIC pilot outreach)




USAID (election information outreach via CIC)

Asian Foundation

Note: Projects which only support attending international conferences, workshops and trainings are not included.


PAN Localization Cambodia

Access to most computing tools, and to most Internet and Web content and services, requires some level of English literacy. Unfortunately, very few Cambodians can read English, which severely limits the number of people who can take advantage of ICT tools, content and services. Khmer is the national language and is the official language of communication, official documents and government documentation in Cambodia.

The PAN Localization Cambodia (PLC) project aims to develop Khmer language access to computing. It was established in May 2004 with support from the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) of Canada through its Pan Asia Networking (PAN) programme and the National University of Computers and Emerging Science (NUCES) based in Lahore, Pakistan, and in partnership with the National Committee for Standardization of Khmer Script in Computers (NCSKSC).

The PLC project is addressing a number of aspects of Khmer language localization, including linguistic standardization of Khmer script for use in computing, applications, development platforms, content publishing and access, effective marketing and dissemination, and intellectual property right strategies. More specifically, the PLC project has explored both Linux and Microsoft platforms for a number of applications. During the past three years, the project has completed the following localization software and utilities:

• Khmer Encoding Conversion Utility

• Khmer Collation and Sorting Utility

• Khmer Basic Lexicon

• Khmer Word Segmentation Utility

• Khmer Spell Checker Utility

• Khmer Text Corpus (around 500,000 words)

• Khmer Mobile Interface Terminology (in progress)

Since its creation in October 2006, the PLC website has been accessed over 30,000 times. Khmer Unicode fonts and some of these tools can be freely downloaded from the website.

while 'theme' refers to the main subject area. This list was created from projects mentioned in interviews and existing reports with an ICT4D focus. It does not include projects with non-ICT goals but which may have an ICT component. Some projects appear more than once in the table, since they have many activities (outputs) under a single topic. These groupings enable a comparison of the focus of donors. Most donors, for example, have focused on human capacity development. Infrastructure development has been through bilateral cooperation (Miyata 2006).


The Kingdom of Cambodia and the RGC have been in existence since 1994, only 18 years. The previous 25 years of conflict destroyed nearly all of the country's infrastructure, including educational systems, health care, land titles, telecommunication systems, social institutions, civil society, financial systems and government structures. In the context of this tragic recent history, elements of Cambodia's ICT sector have developed rapidly, usually due to exceptional efforts by a few Khmer individuals, and at times, by the government.

However, Cambodia's start from near zero in 1994 and the lack of clear, consistent, forward-looking policy and regulation place the country's ICT sector far behind those of its neighbours. Cambodia's ICT sector is developing at a slower rate compared to ICT sector development in its neighbouring countries and most other LDCs. There is a lack of decisive and progressive government action towards implementing modern telecommunication and ICT policy and regulation, which in turn stems from a lack of progressive knowledge and expertise in the government teams in this rapidly growing field.

The RGC, in concert with many committed donors, has developed good plans and it has drafted laws that if implemented, would truly boost Cambodia's rate of development. The plan to divide MPTC's policy and regulation functions and to privatize infrastructure development is positive. However, implementation of this plan is proceeding very slowly and, in some cases, also appears to subvert the intent (for example, MPTC's ownership of TC).

On the policy and regulation front, little has changed since the 2005–06 DirAP report (Klein 2005). Restrictive VoIP and community radio licensing continue to be examples of backward-looking policy and regulation that is hampering progress. The implementation of progressive ICT policy and regulation would unleash many Khmer private companies and entrepreneurs, with a corresponding substantially improved ICT sector rate of development. The impact of this should not be underestimated. It is not only the ICT sector that would improve much more rapidly; the much larger business, education, health and government sectors that depend on access to effective, efficient and economical ICT services would also hugely benefit.


This report borrows many ideas and specific data from the April 2006 UNDP report written by Mayumi Miyata who worked in 2005–06 as a short-term UN Volunteer for the ICT Sector, UNDP Cambodia. Quoting from that report:

The UNDP report was prepared under the direct guidance of Ms Yoko Konishi, ICTD Focal Point/Governance Specialist, Governance Cluster, UNDP Cambodia, and with valuable advices from Dr Brian W. Unger, Executive Director of GRID Research Center/Professor of Computer Science, University of Calgary, and Mr Dara Bunhim, IT Analyst, UNDP Cambodia. (Miyata 2006)

Mayumi acknowledges many other people in her report who have contributed to this chapter as well. Valuable suggestions have also been made by Maria Ng Lee Hoon and our editor, Patricia Arinto.


1. Compare this with Laos at 12 per cent, Vietnam at 30 per cent and Thailand at 34 per cent.

2. Laos, Vietnam and Thailand have 0.42 per cent, 13 per cent and 11 per cent, respectively.

3. The 2007 International Telecommunications Review titled Measuring the Information Society defines an ICT Opportunity Index (OI) according to 10 indicators: main telephone lines per 100 persons, cellular phone subscribers per 100 persons, international Internet bandwidth, adult literacy rates, enrolment rates, Internet users per 100 persons, proportion of households with TV, computers per 100 persons, broadband Internet subscribers per 100 persons, and international outgoing phone traffic (min) per person.


Cambodia Yellow Pages. (2007). Retrieved 10 May 2007 from

ITU. (2007). Measuring the information society: ICT opportunity index and world telecommunication/ICT indicators (statistics refer to 2005 year end).

Jessamy, D. (2001). Digital divide data. Retrieved 10 May 2007 from

Klein, N. (2005). Cambodia. Digital review of Asia Pacific 2005/2006.

Miyata, M. (2006). Situational analysis of ICTD in Cambodia. UNDP-Cambodia Internal Document. April.

National strategic development plan 2006–2010. (2005). English draft of Cambodia's comprehensive five-year plan (2006–2010); Khmer version launched 2006.

NiDA. (2006). Information communication technology in Cambodia. Royal Government of Cambodia.

Savage, R. (2007). Waiting for speed. South eastern globe. March 2007, pp. 22–27.

Welsh, J. and Thul, P.C. (2007). Mobile phone usage now at 1.5 million. Cambodian Daily, 10 May.

World Bank. (2004). Seizing the global opportunity—Investment climate assessment and reform strategy for Cambodia. June. Retrieved 10 May 2007 from

World Bank. (2007). Cambodia and energy. Retrieved 10 May 2007 from,,


Zhang Guoliang, Zhang Xinhua and Deng Jianguo

Total population

1.30756 billion (2005)

Key economic sectors

Energy, Mining, Manufacturing, Construction,


Transport, Storage, Post and


Telecommunications, Wholesale and


Retail Trade, Catering Services, Tourism,


Finance and Insurance, Real Estate

Computer per 100 urban

approximately 31 (2005)



Fixed-line telephones

approximately 27.99 (2006)

per 100 inhabitants


Total computer hosts

54.50 million

Internet hosts per


10,000 inhabitants


Cell phone subscribers

approximately 33 (2005)

per 100 inhabitants


Total bandwidth of

214,175 Mbps (2006)

international connections


Sources: China Bureau of Statistics, China Ministry of Information Industry.


The Chinese government has been working to transform China into an Information Society since the early 1990s, primarily through the nationwide 'Three Golds Projects' in the customs, banking and taxation sectors. The first national informatization conference was held in 1997. The importance of developing China's information sectors has been increasingly emphasized in various sessions of the National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC). During the 10th Five-Year Period (2001–05), significant progress in this regard has been achieved, as evidenced by the following:

• The information network has expanded rapidly, and is the essential infrastructure for the country's economic and social growth. The Chinese telephone network and subscriber-base are now the world's largest; China's population of Internet and broadband users rank second in the world and radio and TV networks now cover most Chinese villages.

• The information industry has experienced rapid growth, contributing significantly to the nation's economic growth. In 2005, the ICT industry's contribution to GDP reached 7.2 per cent, electronic and information product exports accounted for over 30 per cent of China's total exports and Chinese enterprises owned more proprietary key technologies.

• Information technology has been applied in a widening set of areas, with notable results. An agricultural information service system has been completed; traditional IT industries like energy generation, traffic and transportation, machinery and chemistry are being reformed; the information service sector is thriving; and information development in finance and banking sector has boosted innovation and a modern finance service system has taken form. E-commerce is booming and information development in science, education, culture, medicine and health, social security and environment has been accelerating.

• E-government development has been expanding, enabling governments at various levels to transform their functions, increasing administrative efficiency and promoting transparency. Using information technology, governments at all levels have been expanding public access to information, resource sharing and administrative coordination. Use of IT in the customs, banking and taxation departments has achieved notable results and use of IT in public security and government approval bodies is progressing steadily.

• Online information in China has been increasing and information processing ability has been enhanced.

• A national information security strategy has been formulated and an information security administration and work mechanism has been set up. Internet information safety management has been consolidated.

• National defence and military information development is being pursued.

• Information development legislation and standardization work is moving forward.

• ICT awareness and training have improved significantly and the number of ICT human resources is increasing.

Technology infrastructure

In 2005, there were 38.68 million newly registered fixed-line telephone subscribers and 58.6 million newly registered cellphone subscribers in China, bringing the total fixed-line telephone subscribers to 350.43 million and the total cellphone subscribers to 393.43 million.

The 18th Statistical Survey Report on Internet Development in China released in July 2006 shows that as of 30 June 2006, China had approximately 2.9 million domain names (including names registered in .CN ccTLD and gTLDs); .CN domain names reached more than 1.1 million. The top five provinces and cities in terms of number of websites are Beijing (144,800 websites, or 18.4 per cent of the total), Guangdong (141,105 websites, or 17.9 per cent), Zhejiang (73,304 websites, or 9.3 per cent), Shanghai (64,704 websites, or 8.2 per cent) and Jiangsu (63,933 websites, or 8.1 per cent). Total bandwidth connecting to the United States, Russia, France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, Korea and Singapore reached 214,175 Mbps.

By 31 December 2005, there were 2.4 billion Chinese Web pages, representing a 269 per cent year-on-year increase; 64 per cent of these are dynamic Web pages. Web page bytes increased from 46,763 gigabytes in 2004 to 67,300 gigabytes in 2005, which indicates that Internet content and resources in China have increased substantially. However, since 2004 the number of online databases decreased slightly from 295,400.

As of 30 June 2006, there were 123 million Internet users (netizens), representing an 18.1 per cent (17 million) increase from 2004 figures. In terms of accessing methods, 26.8 per cent use leased lines, 47.5 per cent use dial-up and 77 per cent use broadband.1 About 13 million access the Internet using mobile phones, and about 6.10 million Internet users have other types of accessing facilities, such as mobile terminals and information appliances.

China's Internet penetration rate increased from 8.5 per cent in December 2005 to 9.4 per cent in June 2006, and is increasing both in urban (from 16.9 per cent to 18 per cent) and rural areas (from 2.6 per cent to 3 per cent). The June 2006 data show that the urban penetration rate is six times the rural area penetration rate. It is expected that this digital gap will remain for some time due to the sharp difference in economic development between urban and rural areas and across different regions in the country. The coastal areas, special zones and central cities in the hinterlands have prosperous business communities and have access to advanced science and technology. The western and middle parts of the country are underdeveloped but possess tremendous potential for development.

There is also a big gap between east and middle-west in the volume of domain names and websites per 10,000 people. In terms of the volume of domain names per capita in late 2005, the east grew more quickly than the middle-west. However, the middle-west developed better than the east in terms of website volume per capita.

During the 10th Five-Year Period (2001–05), major innovations were achieved in integrated circuits, computing, network and telecommunications, software, and digital audio and video generation and dissemination. The National High Technology Research and Development Programme (also called the National 863 Programme) has given birth to a range of innovative key technologies and a line of strategic products and systems for technology integration and applications, improving the competitiveness of China's high technology industry. Some of the major innovations during the 2001–05 period are given below.

China-made central processing unit chips

China is one of the top 10 high-performance computer manufacturers in the world. The development of a proprietary CPU series has laid the foundation for the development of core technologies for China's information industry. China-made Longxin and Zhongzhi chips have been massively produced. China has also achieved a breakthrough in making its own computer operating system (such as Kylin) and office software (such as WPS Office, Yongzhong Office and EduOffice) and has produced a line of products with some market share.

IPv6: China's next generation Internet

In September 2006, China announced the launch of the world's largest pure next-generation Internet using IPv6. The Chinese network, called CNGI-CERNET2/6IX or CERNET2 for short, and broadly referred to as the China Next-Generation Internet (CNGI) project, currently links 167 institutes in 25 universities in 20 different cities. It also has links to telecom operators China Telecom, China Unicom, China Mobile and China Tietong, as well as partner equipment providers ZTE, Tsinghua Unisplendor and Tsinghua Tongfang. CERNET2 uses Chinese IPv6 routers rather than the foreign routers that support the current IPv4 network around the world. Chinese experts say that it would take about 10 years to make the full transition from IPv4 to IPv6.

China Next-Generation Internet (CNGI) will:

• move data at about 100 times current Internet speeds;

• support online streaming video at unprecedented levels;

• allow over 160 departments and institutions on CERNET2 to set up experimental labs and conduct research into new applications that people may not have seen before;

• drive new technology deals and innovations;

• allow China to develop new standards for the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), which develops and promotes Internet standards; and

• support an infinite number of IP addresses, providing the platform for what many call the Internet of Things, a world in which objects have their own IP addresses and can share data.

3G mobile phone networks

China has made remarkable achievements in the 3G system with its TD-SCDMA (time division synchronous code division multiple access) standard. Under the direction of the Ministry of Information Industries, trials of 3G/UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System) radio access networks and terminals were completed in 2005. W-CDMA technology has been found to be quite satisfactory on the network side and more dual mode handsets are expected for further testing. With the final results of these trials expected soon, the UMTS Forum anticipates that China will signal its intention to award 3G licenses in due course. The Chinese central government has yet to decide when to license operators to build 3G networks on the mainland. Many industry observers now expect the 3G licensing to occur in the first half of 2007 at the earliest.

Digital content

The Survey Report on Quantities of China Internet Information Resources released by the Informatization Office of the State Council on 15 May 2006 shows that 60.4 per cent of Web content in the Chinese mainland are company websites and 21.9 per cent are personal websites. These originate mainly from Beijing, Shanghai, Guangdong, Fujian and Zhejiang, which indicates a digital gap between east and west China.

Portal websites

Portal websites serve as a one-stop place for information and services. The service information available includes information on education, training, jobs, daily-life consumables, leisure, entertainment and tourism, health, sports, hospitals, industry and business.

The 2005 Survey Report on Quantities of China Internet Information Resources shows that enterprise websites accounted for most (60.4 per cent) of the 694,000 websites in China. But for over 50 per cent of the enterprise sites, daily page views are under 50 due to lack of links to other sites. Most enterprise sites provide only product introduction and display, and are not fully integrated into the business.


In 2005, there were six major B2B e-commerce companies in mainland China, including, in order of strength,,,,, and; the first three have most of the market share. Chinese B2B e-commerce websites still lack experience in integration into the global procurement system and in marketing clients' products to the international market.

The major B2C e-commerce companies are, and Due to a deep pocket and good management, e-commerce companies with foreign investment seem to be more competitive.

IT Information

IT information websites offer information related to highly technical programming knowledge or popular IT software and consumption electronics. But websites with content that is too technical have begun to turn off visitors while those with less esoteric content attract more users. Currently, Chinese language Web page content is being copied heavily across sites, with a 'repetition rate' of as high as 25–40 per cent. China's first IT information website,, was acquired by American CNETNetworks for USD 11 million in March 2005.

Government affairs

As of the end of 2004, most of China's central government departments had gone online, with over 90 websites established. Local government websites totalled more than 20,000. According to a survey conducted by Singaporean newspaper Lianhe Zaobao in 2003, China ranks 74th in the world in e-government readiness. The United States tops the world list, while Singapore ranks 12th, taking the Asian lead. The weaknesses of China's government websites include non-standardization of URLs and site names, incompleteness of contact information, lack of professionalism in page design, lack of timeliness in content updating and lack of interactivity.

Agricultural information

Agricultural websites provide information on agricultural technology, policy and administration, market analysis and prediction, meteorological and environmental information, horticulture, fishery, planting and agricultural machinery, and the like. A China Ministry of Agriculture survey shows that as of 2001, the Chinese mainland has 2,175 agricultural websites, 2,000 more than in 1998.

In 2005, the China Electronic Commerce Association and China Agriculture Web jointly compiled China's Top 100 agriculture websites in the hope of promoting the growth of these sites.

The weaknesses of Chinese agricultural sites at present are: nearly half of them (49.27 per cent) are based in Beijing and in coastal provinces rather than in more rural western areas, most of these sites are run by governments and some lack two-way information communications with users, information is repeated across sites, and some information is impractical and outdated.

Personal websites

There are more than 30 million personal websites, accounting for 21.9 per cent of all websites in China. Many have attracted venture capital.

The top 10 portal websites in China, Inc. ( is a leading Chinese-language Internet search engine. According to Wikipedia, Baidu has an index of over 740 million Web pages, 80 million images and 10 million multimedia files. It also offers blogs and other services. had its initial public offering (IPO) on 5 August 2005.

Sina ( is the largest Chinese-language Web portal, providing news, entertainment, e-mail, search and related services. Alexa ranks Sina as the 7th biggest Web property in the world, just behind MySpace. It is said to have 94.8 million registered users and more than 10 million active users of fee-based services, with an estimated three billion page views every day.

Founded in August 1996 and developed from the first Chinese search engine, Sohu ( claims to be 'China's premier online brand and is indispensable to the daily life of millions of Chinese'. It is in Chinese and is ranked 16th in the world in terms of traffic volume by Alexa.

Also called NetEase (, this famous Chinese-language website is a two-time winner of the Best Ten Chinese Websites Award from CNNIC. NetEase's daily page views in September 2005 exceeded 614 million. Corporation ( is China's leading e-commerce company, operating the world's largest online market for international and domestic trade and China's most popular online payment system, AliPay. also owns and operates Yahoo! China, which it acquired in October 2005.

CE.Net (, in Chinese and English, is the largest Chinese B2B e-commerce website.

The bilingual (Chinese and English) ( was established by the All-China Industrial and Commercial Union and partnered with CE.Net in May 2000. ( is the biggest Chinese-language cultural and artistic website with an average of 5,000 new articles submitted daily and about 3 million articles in its archive. In October 2005, Rongshu had 4.5 million registered users, with over 700 page views daily, ranking the world's 400th in daily page view numbers. (, in simplified and traditional Chinese and English, introduces scenic spots all over China and provides online reservation services.

The electronic version of the Chinese newspaper People's Daily ( reports on China in seven languages: Chinese, English, Japanese, French, Russian, Spanish and Arabian.

Run by the official Xinhua News Agency, provides worldwide news 24 hours a day in seven languages: Chinese (simplified and traditional), English, French, Spanish, Russian, Arabian and Japanese. About 5,000 news items are published daily.

A national academic computer network ( has been established principally to serve educational and research institutions. It is in Chinese and English.

CCIDNET ( is the largest Internet and IT information service and commercial service provider in China. By 30 June 2006, the site had 1.52 million registered users and its daily page views reached 5.88 million; the number of daily visits reached 1.5 million.

Established in 2000, ( offers online sales of various books, audio-visual products, software, toys and gifts, and general merchandise. In August 2004, acquired a 100 per cent stake in

Web2.0 contents

These fast growing websites, copied mostly from their US equivalents, provide very good user experience due to good ideas and their use of the latest Web technologies. Some offer rich content consisting of text, music, pictures and video. Others give users a platform to collaborate online or build social networks.

Online services

Search services

As Internet content increases exponentially day by day, the need to retrieve the right information when it is needed has intensified. Hence the popularity of the major Internet search service providers in China, which include Google China, Baidu, Yahoo, Zhongsou, Sohu, Sina and Skynet. Blog search engines for personal online content are also popular. Chinese blog search engines include,, grassland ( and Blogcn ( Among the challenges faced by Chinese search engines are that users are currently limited to searching for key words and category browsing, which limits accuracy of search results, and Web content in Chinese is limited.

E-government services

The Chinese government portal site ( received 40.5 million hits and 5.19 million page views on the first day of its official operation on 1 January 2006. The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs website has 3.20 million daily visits. By November 2005, 138,400 new enterprises in Shanghai completed licensing, quality control and tax registration via e-government sites. In Hangzhou, over 9 million data exchanges between government bodies had been recorded by 20 December 2005, suggesting increased government administration efficiency and service quality. Chengdu, a western city, completed in November 2005 a comparison of historical data on 90,900 enterprises, and data sharing between government departments on the registration, licensing and information modification of 19,000 new enterprises.

According to the China Informatization Report 2006, the top 10 provinces and cities in the e-government performance evaluation in 2005 were Shanghai, Beijing, Jilin, Zhejiang, Hebei, Anhui, Jiangsu, Yunnan, Shanxi and Heilongjiang. The list shows an even distribution between developed and less-developed areas.


The 18th Statistical Survey Report on Internet Development in China released in July 2006 shows that as of 30 June 2006, China had approximately 1.8 million websites registered or These account for 81.5 per cent of all the websites registered in the Chinese mainland. In 2005, China's e-commerce transactions, most of which were B2B transactions, reached 600 billion yuan, a 40 per cent increase over 2004 figures. China's e-commerce transaction volumes are expected to exceed the 800 billion yuan threshold in 2006. E-commerce models in the Chinese mainland include B2B, such as Alibaba (, Huicong ( and Jinyindao (; C2C, such as dangdang (; and B2C, such as Ebay China (


According to the China Online Community Research Report of the China iResearch Inc., 68 per cent of 3,094 respondents surveyed visited online community websites in 2004. Major online community services in the Chinese mainland include comprehensive community websites, such as Xici ( and Xilu (; BBSs affiliated to major portal websites, such as NetEase BBS ( and Sina BBS (; hobby websites, such as Rongshuxia (; and online game sites, such as 17173 (

ICT industries and services

According to the China Informatization Development Report 2006, total sales in the electronic information sector was CNY 3,841.1 billion (about USD 502.35 billion) in 2005, representing a 24.8 per cent increase year-on-year. Profits reached CNY 130.7 billion (about USD 17 billion), a 5.2 per cent increase; the sector paid CNY 43.5 billion (about USD 5.7 billion) in taxes, a 10.5 per cent increase; and exports totalled CNY 268.2 billion (about USD 35 billion), a 29.2 per cent increase.

After nationwide sectoral restructuring, China now ranks No. 1 in the world in the manufacture of computers, mobile phones and TV sets. New audio-video products, telecommunication networks, equipment and electronic displays are the new growth points of the country's economy. Computers have become a top earner, with a sales volume of CNY 1,064.4 billion (about USD 139.2 billion), a 21.7 per cent increase since 2004.

In the past five years, China's policy of mindfully fostering ICT giant companies has had notable effects. In 2005, the number of ICT companies with sales of over CNY 10 billion (about USD 1.3 billion) increased to 22. The eastern coastal area, especially Jiangsu, Beijing and Shanghai, have seen a growth rate of over 30 per cent. In 2005, the whole industry's production–sale ratio was as high as 98 per cent.

Pushed by increasing demand for high-end products, the production growth rates for LCD and plasma TV sets were 418 per cent and 215 per cent respectively. In the computer sector, laptop computers accounted for nearly 60 per cent of all newly made computers.

In 2005, China's electronic and information product exports totalled USD 268.17 billion, topping the exported product categories.

The software sector has also experienced rapid growth. By November 2005, there were over 11,000 software enterprises, 200 of them with over CNY 100 million (USD 13 million) in sales. Over 200 enterprises have passed CMM2 or above standards.

In 2005, total sales in the Chinese software industry was CNY 390 billion (USD 51 billion), a 40.3 per cent increase year-on-year. Software exports reached USD 3.59 billion, a 28.2 per cent increase year-on-year. By September 2005, there were 28,401 registered software products in China. There are 11 national software industrial bases and six national software export bases.

While getting stronger at home, China's information industry companies have been expanding overseas, with notable feats by computer giants, such as Lenovo's acquisition of IBM's PC branch in May 2005. After the acquisition, Lenovo's yearly sales are expected to reach USD13 billion at a yearly sale of 14 million PCs.

Enabling policies

The CPC Central Committee's Recommendations about the Making of the 11th Five-Year Plan on National Economic and Social Development, passed at the Fifth Plenary Meeting of the 16th CPC Central Committee held on October 2005, defines the main tasks and directions of Chinese informatization thus:

• advancing the national economy and social informatization;

• developing distance education and projects to 'extend radio and TV coverage to every village';

• improving rural communications and communications networks;

• vigorously developing core industries such as integrated circuit and software, focusing on fostering an information industry based on digital audio and video, a new generation of mobile communications, computers and high quality network equipment;

• enhancing the development and sharing of information resources and promoting the dissemination and application of information technologies;

• strengthening the construction of information infrastructure such as broadband Internet, digital television network and next generation Internet, integrating the three as a whole; and

• improving information security.

Development Strategies of National Informatization 20062020, published by the National Leading Group of Informatization in November 2005, emphasizes promoting e-government to enhance the government's ability to manage state affairs, informatization of national defence and military affairs to maintain national security, social informatization to create a harmonious society, development of core technologies through independent innovative capacities to improve the quality and competitive power of the information industry, accelerated development of technological standards, establishment of a legal framework for ICT and improved training for employees.

To match these macro policies, government has formulated a series of special measures in rural informatization, e-government, e-commerce and information security. A conference on 'Promoting Rural Informatization to Create a Harmonious Society' was held in Beijing on 22 September 2005. The State Department's Guidelines to Construct China E-Government published in August 2002 defines the basic principles, development goals, main tasks, guarantee measures and infrastructure for e-government for the next five years. In early 2005, the Office of the State Department published Ideas about Quickening the Development of E-Commerce, which defines a policy orientation for e-commerce and focuses on operative measures to respond to the Electronic Signature Act. The Central Bank later issued Regulations of Internet Banking. The China Banking Regulatory Commission also passed Regulations of Electronic Banking, Guidelines to Assessment of Electronic Bank Security and Rules of Qualification Certification of Security Assessment Institutions of Electronic Banking, which require supervision agencies at all levels to encourage financial entities to launch electronic banking by simplifying examination procedures.

With respect to information security, the National Information Leading Group passed in 2003 Suggestions for Enhancing Information Security, and the Information Office of the State Department, together with the Ministry of Public Security and others, began to draft an Information Security Statute one year later. The State Administration of Radio, Film and Television succeeded in drafting the Act Guaranteeing Transmission of Radio, Film and Television. The Minister of Public Security issued a circular on Operative Measures for the Protection of Information Security on 15 September 2004 while the National Certification and Recognition Supervision Commission issued the Notice of the Establishment of the National Certification and Recognition System for Information Products in October 2004.

Regulatory environment

China's informatization campaign is supported by the Special Programme of Informatization in the 10th Five-Year Plan released in January 2004. A series of related laws and regulations has been released recently, including amendments to the Criminal Law, Contract Law, Custom Law and others, to cover information network servicing, Internet security, information rights and electronic transactions, thereby legally ensuring the healthy development of informatization. The PRC Electronic Signature Act came into effect on 1 April 2005, and legislation of the Telecommunications Act is in progress. The Statute of Governmental Information Openness has been listed in the first-class legislation schedule of 2006 by the State Department. In addition, research for legislation regarding the protection of minors online has been completed and submitted to the legislature.

The PRC Electronic Signature Act confirms the legal power of e-signatures, regulates the use of e-signatures and protects the legal rights of all parties concerned, ensuring the security of e-commerce and laying a firm foundation for the creation of a safe certification system and national Internet trust system. Under this legal authorization, the Management of E-Certification Service and Management of E-Certification Code have been implemented. By the end of January 2006, 17 e-certification services had acquired a License of e-Certification Service from the Ministry of Information Industry.

Administrative regulations relevant to Internet input servicing, Internet information servicing and Internet logging servicing are likewise in place. The Temporary Rules of International Networking Administration issued on 20 May 1997 is the most important legal document for regulating international networking of the Internet in China. Management Measures of Internet Information Service came into effect on 25 September 2000, while the Notice for Further Enhancing Regulation of Sites for Internet Access Service was issued by the Office of the State Department on 3 April 2001. In August 2002, Management Measures of China Internet Domain Names first came out; this was modified and reissued by the Ministry of Information Industry in November 2004, and implemented since 20 December 2004.

The National People's Congress Standing Committee's Decision on Maintaining Internet Security, passed at the 19th Conference of the 9th National People's Congress on 28 December 2000, is China's first legal decision to protect information security. In 2005, the Informatization Office of the State Department began to write the Draft Information Security Statute.

Regarding protection of information-related rights, the State Department modified in 2001 the Statute of Protection of Computer Software first issued in 1991 and published it on 20 December of the same year. On 27 October 2001, the 24th conference of the 19th National People's Congress passed the decision to modify the PRC Copyright Law to take into account the new Internet economy. On 30 April 2005, the Ministry of Information Industry and National Copyright Bureau issued Approaches of Administrative Protection of Internet Copyright, improving the system of copyright protection in the Internet environment. The Statute of Collective Management of Copyright was also put into practice on 1 March 2005. The Regulations of Management of Internet News Information Service, which regulates activities involving Internet news services, was issued jointly by the News Office of the State Department and the Ministry of Information Industry on 25 September 2005.

Moreover, guided by the CPC General Offices and State Department's Suggestions about Further Promotion of Administration Openness, by the end of 2005, Central governmental agencies had developed 30 legal documents involving information openness, and 75 local party and administrative agencies had issued related regulations. Handan city in Hebei province and Jiaxing city in Zhejiang province developed rules on openness of governmental information. To regulate the collection, publication and use of business and personal credit information, Shanghai, Hunan and other places issued credit information management measures. Beijing, Jilin, Anhui, Yunnan and others formulated approaches to manage intellectual property rights protection in an Internet environment.

Education and capacity building programmes

Great importance is being attached to the education of citizens, especially the younger generation, regarding ICT applications. Colleges and universities have produced many information science professionals trained in courses such as information and communications engineering, cybernetics and engineering, computer science and technologies, and electronics. ICT-related education and training is required of all students in universities. By the end of 2004, 389 of 1,731 colleges and universities had computer software majors and 550 had majors related to IT and software. In the same year, there were 67,454 graduate students and 1.794 million undergraduates in these specialized subjects nationwide. There were 31,683 students in 35 demonstration software colleges and 62,550 in 35 demonstration professional software colleges. Currently, there are 127,468 students in the departments of information science of colleges and universities. The number of undergraduate computer and information science programmes has increased from 505 in 2003 to 771 in 2005. The percentage of such programmes relative to all undergraduate programmes has increased from 4 per cent to 18 per cent.

Meanwhile, IT training in the secondary vocational schools has been strengthened and an IT subject is now a required course in 98 per cent of such schools. There are 1,400 specialized IT vocational schools in the country, and another 5,000 schools have IT majors with a total of 1.5 million students enrolled in IT-related subjects.

On-the-job training is an important way for China to cultivate IT talents. The CPC Central Committee and government ministries and commissions have organized various types of training classes on informatization and e-government, developing a team of professionals to lead, organize and promote informatization and e-government. In 2005, 683,635 government employees were trained through the National IT Training Programme; about a third (218,144) of them participated in qualification tests and over 20 per cent acquired qualification certificates of different grades. Another third (274,112 staff) took part in IT self-study tests, and a little less than a third (191,379) in other tests for authentication. In the National IT Training Programme, the training areas include software, hardware, Web design, Internet and professional English.

The authentication of professional skills in the electronic industry is in full swing. The Ministry of Information Industry has established 50 authentication stations in the country, while 15 provinces with developed electronic industries have set up provincial guiding centres for authentication. Bases for training in advanced IT skills, numbering 109 in all, have been established in the whole country, and 39 national professional standards have been developed and released. To date, 320,568 technical workers, students of technical schools and professionals of various types have been trained and tested; 63,881 of them have acquired qualification certificates as high-grade workers and 4,679 were granted the qualification of Technician or High Technician.

Chinese provincial and municipal governments are also promoting informatization. In Shanghai for example, the Municipal Association of Women, Municipal Commission of Information, Municipal Office of Civilization, and Municipal Association of Science and Technology jointly organized a project to help one million families to surf the Internet within the next 3–5 years. The project was ranked one of 12 practical undertakings by the municipal government in 2003. Projects like these, which involve the cooperation of foreign educational institutions and domestic IT businesses, are indeed noteworthy.

In the years to come, China will continue to enhance IT knowledge and training, developing the information capabilities of leaders, public servants and professionals. It will continue to carry out the '653 Programme' to develop a large base of human resources skilled in IT, software and integrated circuits.

Open source movement

Open source software (OSS) is increasingly being used in China. Recently, Linux of China and OSS companies forged a mechanism for cooperation in product orientation, R&D, marketing and training, creating a primary ecosystem of open source software, from applications at the business level to table-top products, from embedded Linux software to hardware and development tools supporting Linux.

Since the 10th Five-Year Plan, the Chinese government has strengthened support for the development of OSS, including the Linux operating system and its applications. The Ministry of Information Industry has vigorously supported R&D work on Linux operation systems and office software for servers, desktop computers and other equipment that embeds such software, contributing to the emergence in the market of products such as Zhangke Red Flag Linux, Zhongbiao Puhua Linux, Gongchuang Linux and Turbo Linux. All these make the Chinese Linux market a rich one.

In May 2005, the Ministry of Information Industry set up a ministerial centre for promoting software and integrated circuits and a public service platform for national software and integrated circuits, and established Linux laboratories with HP and Freescale. With guidance from the Ministry, the Chinese Open Source Software Promotion League was created on 22 July 2004, and now has 80 members. On 10 May 2005, the China Linux Industry Strategic Alliance was officially founded; it has 60 members.

As open source technology matures, more and more Chinese businesses are beginning to think highly of its commercial value. Studies show that 23 per cent of the Top 100 Chinese Commercial Technologic Businesses in 2005 have deployed Linux or other OSS. However, open source technology still has low penetration in small and medium-scale businesses, open source communities are relatively small and have little influence, open source businesses are small- scale and lack core competencies, and technical support is also lacking.

International cooperation is a promising development. In April 2004, the ministries for telecommunications of China, Japan and South Korea signed the China, Japan and South Korea: Cooperative Memorandum of Open Source Software, which defines 10 cooperative projects and sets three governmental IT meetings and three Southeast Asian forums for promoting OSS. China and France also signed the China-France Cooperative Memorandum of Open Source Software.

Research into ICTs

As mentioned earlier, various IT innovations have been realized, especially in integrated circuits, computers, networking and communications, software and digital audio and video. The integrated circuit technology of central processors such as Zhongzhi and Longxin are highly effective, the Shu Guang 4,000A super-computer ranks among the Top 500 in the world, new high-speed routers are being used in the construction of Chinese next-generation Internet, industrial standards of TD-SCDMA have been formed, and 3G mobile technology is advancing rapidly.

More investment is being put into the R&D of typical IT businesses, resulting in many innovations. In 2004, the Top 100 in China's electronics industry spent CNY 311,000 million (about USD 40,673.27 million) on R&D, representing a 17 per cent increase on R&D spending in 2003 and 3.8 per cent of sales revenues. There were more than 3,600 patent applications in 2005. The Huawei Company, which has the most number of patent applications, has applied for over 3,000 3G patents and owns 5 per cent of the basic patent of WCDMA. In June 2005, the Haixing Digital Video Processing Chip, the first video chip in China developed by the Haixing Group, passed qualification by the concerned agencies, freeing the Chinese colour TV industry from its dependence on the import of core chips. The Yongzhong Science and Technology Co. Ltd. in Wuxi, Jiangsu has succeeded in solving technological puzzles worrying the global software sector by relying on an independent innovation: the Yongzhong Integrated Office which integrates word processing, worksheet and briefing using digital object storage base technology development.

Current efforts aim to establish and improve an innovation system combining production, study and research. The guideline to develop high-performance 64-bit CPUs has been defined and the Longxing Industry Alliance has been set up. The construction of a public information platform for home-made hardware and software and a platform for national auto computation is advancing. China is also speeding up its implementation of standards and intellectual property rights and encouraging large domestic corporations to participate in international standard R&D.

Future trends

China's 11th Five-Year Plan commenced in 2006. With Development Strategies of National Informatization 2006–2020 and Special Program of Informatization for the 11th Five-Year Plan in place, informatization in China in the next 5–15 years will enter an entirely new development phase marked by the trends discussed below.

According to the new requirements for rural development, information servicing through radio, television and communications in Chinese rural areas will gradually improve. This will contribute greatly to reducing the digital divide between urban and rural communities, and between east and west. IT will serve as an important means of saving energy, water and materials, and protection from pollution caused by such industries as metallurgy, oil chemistry, construction materials production and paper making. IT will play an important role in reducing land pollution and resource waste arising from urban development and exploitation of mineral resources. IT will also improve the productivity of new industries through such services as networking, e-finance, modern logistics, chain operations, special information services and consultancies.

Social informatization plays an important role in promoting the construction of a harmonious socialist society. There have been signification developments in terms of social security, employment, digital radio, digital television, digital publication, video games and public cultural information service. Informatization will be systematically deepened in education, health, epidemic prevention and monitoring, emergency response and environmental protection.

With the development and implementation of the Overall Framework of National E-Government, the construction and integration of national e-government networks will accelerate. E-government applications, interdepartmental information sharing and business cooperation with a focus on basic information sharing, e-port creation, comprehensive governance of taxation and regulation of the market economy will progress further. The system of governmental websites will be improved. The building of applied and integrated environments, such as an administrative information resources directory, exchange system, simulation examination of e-government, promotion of home-made products and the like will take place.

With the implementation of Suggestions for Strengthening Development and Exploitation of Information Resources, more policy work in this area will be conducted. Research on policies regarding the development of the digital content industries, supervision of information resource markets, wider and better uses of governmental information and management of information assets will be enhanced. To optimize the structure of information resources, efforts are being made to improve the exploitation of information resources in fields such as production, distribution, science and technology, population and environmental resources, and speeding up the digitization of information resources in education, culture and literature.

To improve the IT industry's ability to innovate core competencies independently, the government is focusing on the following efforts: enhancing close cooperation between sectors to study and promote IT innovations, increasing financial investment in IT businesses, strengthening R&D on information security technologies and on the basic and common technologies involved, speeding up the implementation of standards and intellectual property rights, promoting the IT innovation system with business as the main body, with a market orientation and a combination of production, learning and research, and formulating new rules and regulations on IT innovation. To accelerate the structural adjustment of the information industry and its optimization and upgrade, the state agencies concerned will develop related policies and measures that will further encourage the development of the software and integrated circuit industries.

Guaranteeing information security is a continuing priority. Based on the tasks proposed in Suggestions for Enhancing Information Security and Suggestions for Further Enhancing Management of the Internet, the basic infrastructure for information security continues to advance and the Internet environment will be developed further.


1. The percentages do not add up to 100 per cent as Internet users who adopt multiple accessing methods are recounted.

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Hong Kong

Geoff Long, John Fung and Charles Mok


6.9 million (2006)

GDP per capita

HK$ 214,710 (2006) (about USD 27,500)

Key economic sectors

Banking and finance, tourism, import/export


trade, logistics

Fixed-line telephones per

95.6 (2007)

100 inhabitants


Mobile phone subscribers

135 (2007)

per 100 inhabitants


Domain names registered

138,952 (March 2007)

under '.hK'


Broadband subscribers

72.8 (2007)

per 100 inhabitants


International bandwidth

698,106 Mbps (2006)

International Internet

59,522 Mbps (2007)

bandwidth (not including


to Mainland China)


Sources: GovHK portal ( and Office of the Telecommunications Authority.


Hong Kong's information and communication technology (ICT) sector is one of the most developed not just in the region but also globally, as evidenced by a number of recent reports. For example, in the World Economic Forum's latest Global Information Technology Report, published in March 2007, Hong Kong was ranked 12th out of 122 economies in terms of Network Readiness. The report's Network Readiness Index examines the preparedness of countries to use ICT effectively on three dimensions: the general business, regulatory and infrastructure environment for ICT, the readiness of the three key stakeholders—individuals, businesses and governments—to use and benefit from ICT, and their actual usage of the latest information and communication technology available.

Hong Kong fared even better in the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) e-readiness rankings, where it jumped from 10th place in 2006 to fourth in 2007, behind only Denmark, Sweden and the US. The EIU places more importance on connectivity and the quality of infrastructure, with more weight given to broadband access than dial-up, for example, while it also rates the affordability of such communications. According to the report, Hong Kong owes much of its e-readiness success to strong government policy.

This is not to suggest, however, that Hong Kong is rigidly regulated. One of the main success stories of the regulatory environment has been to create a liberalized and competitive market for services, something that is easier to do in this highly urbanized environment than it might be in less densely populated countries. Situated on the eastern side of the Pearl River Delta, bordering the South China Sea and Mainland China, Hong Kong has 6.9 million people living in an area of just 1,104 square kilometres, making it one of the most densely populated places on earth. As a result, it provides a concentrated and economically viable market that has been seized upon by ICT providers to quickly and efficiently build a critical mass of customers while lowering prices.

First-grade infrastructure is also required by the country's business sector, particularly as Hong Kong's GDP is now predominantly derived from the provision of services. Hong Kong is the 11th largest trading economy in the world and operates the busiest container port in the world in terms of throughput. It is the 10th largest banking centre in terms of external banking transactions and its stock market is Asia's second largest in terms of market capitalization and the eighth largest in the world. These international logistic, trade and finance services rely on Hong Kong's excellent telecommunications infrastructure.

ICT indicators

Since 2000, the Census and Statistics Department has published annual ICT statistics, with the most recent, titled Hong Kong as an Information Society, coming in November 2006. According to the report, 71.7 per cent of Hong Kong's 2.3 million households had PCs at home, compared with 70.1 per cent in 2005. The PC penetration rate has hovered around the 70 per cent mark since 2004. The number of households with PCs connected to the Internet increased from 64.6 per cent in 2005 to 67.1 per cent in 2006, with the majority connecting through a broadband connection.

The highest rate of computer use was in the 10–14 age group, with 98.2 per cent using a PC at least once in the 12 months before the survey. Usage among those aged 65 and over was lowest, with just 5.3 per cent of those surveyed having used a PC in the 12 months prior to the survey, although this was up from 2.2 per cent in 2003. The increase in the number of senior persons using computers was a result of intervention at the community level. Now, almost all centres for the elderly within the territory offer computer equipment or training classes. Gender disparity among the senior citizens was high in terms of computer usage—almost two men to one woman. This could be because of the comparatively low literacy rate of women in that age group.

The report suggested that computer users are likely to be more educated and economically more active. Utilization of electronic business such as the Octopus card, ATMs and e-cash was also quite high. Around 97.4 per cent of those aged 15 and above claimed that they had used such services before the survey. However, only 8.8 per cent of all persons in that age group had made an online purchase. E-government services had also been used by 34.6 per cent of those aged 10 and over.

The report did not indicate the utilization of PCs and Internet by disadvantaged members of the population. However, such a survey was conducted by the University of Hong Kong and the Hong Kong Council of Social Service between April 2005 and February 2006. Six disadvantaged groups were identified and investigated: Single Parents with at least one child aged below 18, adults aged 60 or above, children in households with income lower than half of the median household income, new arrivals, female homemakers whose highest level of education was primary school, and Persons with Disabilities and/or Chronic Illness (PWD/CI). The data was collated to create a Comprehensive Digital Inclusion Index (CDII), where a rating of 1.0 is the level of access for the mainstream or non-disadvantaged population in society. The figures are shown in Table 1.

Due to the compulsory nine-year education system in Hong Kong and the fact that all schools now provide access to the Internet, the situation of children in low income families was better compared to other disadvantaged groups. Older people in society were the least 'included' compared to other disadvantaged groups, followed by people with disabilities.

The findings of the Digital Inclusion Index (DII) study have been quoted by the Hong Kong Government in its Digital 21 Strategy public consultation paper, which suggested that further investigation would be required to understand the specific needs of and barriers experienced by different groups of people with disabilities. The DII study was also the first of its kind in Hong Kong and if continued could be used as a tool to monitor and narrow the digital gap.

ICT infrastructure

One of the hallmarks of Hong Kong's ICT infrastructure is the breadth of competitive service providers. As of April 2007, there were 11 fixed network operators (one of which offered fixed wireless services), five mobile operators, six providers of satellite service, 22 cable operators, 255 external telecommunications operators and 179 Internet Service Providers (ISPs).

Despite widespread competition, incumbent operator PCC-WHKTC has a universal service obligation to provide a good, efficient and continuous basic service to consumers anywhere in Hong Kong within a reasonable period of time. The other local fixed-line providers are New World Telecommunications, Wharf T&T, Hutchison Global Communications, Hong Kong Broadband Network, Towngas Telecommunications, CM TEL (HK), TraxComm, HKC Network and Hong Kong Cable Television (HKCTV).

Also remarkable is the quality of the network, with the majority (72.8 per cent) of Hong Kong households accessing broadband services rather than dial-up, while in the mobile sector four of the five operators have widespread 3G (W-CDMA) coverage and are starting to offer higher-bandwidth mobile access through a 3G upgrade known as High Speed Packet Access (HSPA). The regulator has also announced its decision to go ahead with the assignment of spectrum for a CDMA 2000 network in 2007.

The ADSL network of incumbent operator PCCW covers 98 per cent of households, while cable modem service covers

Table 1















&/or chronic



Older people

New arrivals

Single parents


(low income)



Accessibility Sub-Index








Usage Sub-Index








Knowledge Sub-Index








Affordability Sub-Index
















Source: CDII

more than 90 per cent. The customer access networks of other operators cover 71 per cent of households. Due to the widespread broadband coverage, services such as Voice over IP (VoIP) and IP-TV are popular. Hong Kong boasts the highest penetration of IP-TV in the world with a household penetration of 25 per cent.

Throughout Hong Kong Wi-Fi hotspots are common in coffee shops, office buildings, public transport facilities and so on. The Office of the Telecommunications Authority (OFTA) has a search service to locate registered access points on its website, which can be searched by name, area or district. It lists 29 licensed organizations that offer 1,299 Wi-Fi access points across Hong Kong.

In terms of satellite and submarine cable facilities, Hong Kong is one of the major hubs in Asia Pacific. Satellite-based telecommunications and television broadcasting services are provided via a multitude of satellites in the region with more than 50 satellite earth station antennas operated by Reach Networks Hong Kong, Reach Cable Network and Reach Global Services, Asia Satellite Telecommunications, APT Satellite and a number of external fixed operators and broadcasters.

The Hong Kong Government is also taking steps to prepare its infrastructure for the next generation of Internet Protocol, IPv6. The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) has proposed IPv6 because of its far greater address space, which will be needed to connect a multitude of mobile devices and consumer electronics equipment in the future. The Government believes it will generate new business opportunities for the ICT and other sectors.

As a result, the Government will take the lead in migrating to IPv6. The Internet backbone of the local universities has already been upgraded to a high-speed network of 10 Gbps in support of IPv6. The new protocol will be adopted in the Government's internal network by 2008. The Government will also encourage Internet service providers to prepare for the migration.

In 2007, Hong Kong also started the transition to digital terrestrial television (DTT). While digital television stations are already available through cable and satellite networks, the two terrestrial TV broadcasters, Asia Television Limited (ATV) and Television Broadcasts Limited (TVB), will migrate their analogue services to digital. Digital services offer better reception, the ability to offer high-definition TV (HDTV) and new interactive services.

At the end of 2006, ATV and TVB submitted a proposal to the Broadcasting Authority to adopt the national standard announced by the Standardization Administration of China (SAC) called 'GB 20600–2006: Framing Structure, Channel Coding and Modulation for Digital Television Terrestrial Broadcasting System'. Under the transition framework, the two stations will broadcast both analogue and digital signals in 2007 and aim to extend the coverage of their digital networks to at least 75 per cent of Hong Kong by 2008. Subject to further market and technical studies, the Government will direct ATV and TVB to switch off analogue broadcasting within five years after the commencement of dual broadcasts.

The Broadcasting Authority has approved ATV and TVB's investment plans for digital TV programme service and network rollout. ATV has committed an investment totalling more than HKD 400 million (about USD 51 million) up to 2009 to provide a hybrid digital service of HDTV and multichannel broadcasting, while TVB has committed an investment totalling more than HKD 400 million up to 2009 to provide an HDTV channel starting from end 2007. This HDTV channel will include at least 14 hours of HDTV programmes per day.

Key national initiatives

Digital 21

In July 2004, the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer (OGCIO) was set up to provide leadership for the development of ICT within and outside of the Hong Kong Government, as a single focal point with responsibilities for ICT policies, strategies, programmes and measures under the Digital 21 Strategy.

First drawn up in 1998, the Digital 21 Strategy for information technology is the highest-level policy initiative by the Hong Kong Government in the area of ICT development. The strategy is currently under review and a new version will be published in 2007. Previous reviews of Digital 21 were undertaken in 2001 and 2004. The most important areas of focus in the new strategy will include expanding the use of advanced IT in citizen services like a 'one-stop portal' for e-government services, health care and transportation, as well as further investment to achieve better digital inclusion.

In a consultation paper on the Digital 21 Strategy, the government notes that innovation and technology will continue to play a key role in helping Hong Kong to compete by enabling businesses to transform and provide goods and services of increasing value and harnessing the role of Hong Kong as a business hub for Mainland enterprises to attract foreign investments and participate in the global economy. There is also a clear vision of moving towards an inclusive, knowledge-based society in which the benefits of ICT adoption are widely available to different segments of the community. In addition, the consultation paper points out that issues relating to data standards, information management and intellectual property rights protection are becoming areas of increasing focus.

Aimed at making Hong Kong a world digital city, the Digital 21 Strategy has initiatives around four areas:

1. Promoting advanced technology and innovation, including initiatives such as the strengthening of the Cyberport, Science Park and newly established R&D centres.

2. Developing Hong Kong as a hub for technological cooperation and trade, including initiatives to boost the ICT workforce by developing competency standards and strengthening training leading to professional recognition.

3. Enabling the next generation of public services, including initiatives such as the establishment of a new government portal, GovHK, as the single entry point to online government information and services.

4. Building an inclusive, knowledge-based society through provision of broadband connectivity for every citizen and other initiatives.

Digital solidarity fund (DSF)

The Digital Solidarity Fund (DSF) was established as a platform to engage government, the private sector and NGOs in the work of narrowing the digital divide. The government and private sectors contribute financially and are also heavily involved in direction setting and project selection. NGOs contribute their expertise in project implementation and are also engaged in fundraising and fund management.

Of around 120 applications for funding, DSF has granted more than USD 256,000 to 13 community programmes. Projects supported are mainly for providing access and capacity building services such as training and technical support for specific groups. Mobilization of volunteers was a major part of almost all programmes.

The response from stakeholders has been positive. DSF sponsors have noted that their direct involvement in the management of the fund and occasional participation at the community level on a voluntary basis was a rewarding experience. Community organizations have found it encouraging to learn that their expertise is being acknowledged and that disadvantaged people in the community would be able to participate in the information society effectively through their help. The Government has already proposed to include its support for DSF in the Digital 21 Strategy.

However, despite its achievements, financial support for DSF remains a big constraint. The USD 130,000 raised annually is slightly below 50 per cent of the expected target. DSF is expected to do better at attracting public and private funds in the future.

Public Wi-Fi services

In May 2007, the Legislative Council approved the release of USD 217.6 million to fund the provision of Wi-Fi facilities at about 350 government premises for free use by the public. Priority sites will be set up at premises frequently visited by members of the public by mid-2008. These premises include libraries, public enquiry service centres, community halls/centres, parks and government buildings. The OGCIO will centrally oversee, coordinate and manage the programme, but installation, provisioning and operations will be outsourced to the private sector.

The Government will specify the security requirements in the tender document to ensure that the contracted service providers will provide the necessary hardware, software and technology with appropriate security features. The Government will also require service providers to install various security measures to safeguard user data, such as encryption, intrusion prevention and detection systems, and filtering software. Security consultants will be engaged to perform security risk assessment on the Wi-Fi network designs and conduct security audits after the networks have been put into full operation.

The Government expects the initiative to stimulate the development of wireless and mobile applications that will be conducive to the development of the ICT industry and the wider economy.

Research and development

Hong Kong has two key centres for ICT R&D: the Cyberport situated in Telegraph Bay in the Southern District of Hong Kong island, and the Science Park located in the Tai Po area of the New Territories.

The Cyberport, a USD 2 billion project managed by Hong Kong Cyberport Management Company Limited and wholly owned by the Hong Kong government, is seen as the territory's main ICT hub. It is a strategic cluster of more than 100 IT companies and more than 10,000 IT professionals. The clustering of local and overseas companies and professional talent is envisioned as a catalyst and hub for the growth of local and regional IT digital entertainment industries, with particular emphasis on IT applications, information services and multimedia content creation. Cyberport also provides IT education for the broader community.

The Science Park is dedicated to applied research and development. It is also being developed along a clustering concept, with four clusters of electronics, IT and telecommunications, biotechnology and precision engineering. The first phase of the Science Park was opened in 2002, while phase two is to be completed in stages in 2007 and 2008.

In the latest Digital 21 consultation paper, the Government stated that it would continue to strengthen both the Cyberport and the Science Park. It has also set aside USD 2 billion under the Innovation and Technology Fund to set up a further five R&D centres which are described as dynamic hubs forging partnerships among multiple players, including the ICT industry, different industrial sectors, academia and overseas/Mainland enterprises in the development, application and commercialization of new technology. In particular, the new R&D centres will undertake industry-oriented research in technologies demanded increasingly in Mainland China. The five focus areas are R&D for ICT, automotive parts and accessory systems, textiles and clothing, logistics and supply chain management enabling technologies, and nanotechnology and advanced materials research.

Regulatory environment

One of the strengths of Hong Kong's ICT sector, as noted in the EIU e-readiness survey, is its enlightened and forward thinking regulatory policies. Key to this is a fully liberalized market where service providers are free to adopt the technology that best meets market demands. All sectors of Hong Kong's telecommunications market have been liberalized and there are no foreign ownership restrictions.

In the fixed network sector, there is no preset limit on the number of licences issued, nor a deadline for applications. There is also no specific requirement on network rollout or investment. The level of investment is determined by the market. Similarly, in the satellite sector Hong Kong adopts an 'open sky' policy in regulating the provision of satellite services. The only limits on operators are in wireless services where there is a physical constraint such as spectrum availability.

Number portability has been introduced in both the fixed and mobile sectors to promote competition by allowing consumers to retain their existing telephone numbers if they change providers.

Charged with overseeing the sector and enforcing such competition measures is the Office of the Telecommunications Authority (OFTA), which was established as an independent government department on 1 July 1993 as the executive arm of the Telecommunications Authority, the statutory body responsible for regulating the telecommunications industry in Hong Kong. The Government also plans to set up a Communications Authority by merging the existing Telecommunications Authority and Broadcasting Authority. This is to recognize the convergence of the telecommunications and broadcasting industries.

OFTA is vested with all of the necessary powers under the Telecommunications Ordinance to administer licence conditions, make determinations and impose sanctions for breaches. Its role can be broken down into six main areas: regulating public telecommunications services, enforcing fair competition in the telecommunications sector, tracking down illegal telecommunications activities, managing the radio frequency spectrum and coordinating satellite orbital positions, advising the Government on telecommunications matters, and representing Hong Kong in international telecommunications organizations and forums.

OFTA is also looking at new measures to ensure a more competitive environment. In April 2007, it published a new spectrum release plan that will make available further radio spectrum over the next three years through an open bidding or tendering process. OFTA said the publication of the plan, which will be updated annually, is also for increasing the transparency of the supply of radio spectrum.

The new spectrum is expected to be used for the deployment of broadband wireless access (BWA). In May 2007, OFTA announced proposals for the allocation of the 2.3 GHz band for BWA and also requested feedback from interested parties to assess the potential demand for spectrum in the 2.5 GHz band. An auction is planned for 2008.

Further measures are intended to remove restrictions on incumbent operator PCCW with reference to unbundling the local loop and pricing tariffs. This is because the Government thinks that there is now effective competition in all sectors of the market, both through a variety of network operators and network technologies (ADSL, cable, satellite, etc).

In the past, the regulator required approval on tariffs set by the incumbent so as not to reduce competition through pricing pressure. As of 2005, however, this was removed and all operators are free to set their own tariffs. OFTA is also in the process of removing requirements on unbundling the local loop, whereby the incumbent is required to provide new players access to its telephone exchanges. Due to adequate network coverage by others and the future likelihood of fibre being deployed, OFTA no longer regards the local loops of the incumbent as essential facilities. To promote facilities-based competition, OFTA has set the end of June 2008 as the termination date for phasing out mandatory unbundling of local loops at the telephone exchanges of the incumbent. After this date, unbundling can still be available through commercial agreement or as mandated by regulation in the small number of locations where the local loops remain as 'essential facilities'.

OFTA has also reviewed its regulations regarding VoIP. It allows such services, both from facilities-based and services-based operators. Telephone numbers will be made available to both types of operators. Additionally, broadband access providers are not allowed to block their customers' access to VoIP services. Moreover, with the introduction of VoIP services and new radio technologies that can economically reach customers in remote areas, OFTA is currently reviewing its universal service obligations to make sure that its system is efficient and more fairly shares costs between operators.

Content and services

With the support of the Innovation and Technology Fund, a Digital Rights Management (DRM) infrastructure employing state-of-the-art technologies was set up at the Cyberport in November 2005 to provide a channel for digital content creators to distribute their products to consumers efficiently and at low cost. The two-year programme starting from June 2006 promotes the use of DRM among ICT system developers, digital content developers and consumers, particularly young people, to cultivate a legal software download culture in the community. aims to provide the infrastructure to facilitate protection and distribution of digital content. In other words, it provides the backend infrastructure for content protection, license issuing and tracking for audio-visual and Flash-based multimedia content. For content owners/distributors, a portal at has been built for distribution of protected digital content and is aimed at content partners with no existing e-commerce network.

The project aims to facilitate the distribution of legitimate digital content across all platforms and devices and accelerate the adoption of intellectual property protection technology by lowering the technological, investment and management barriers. For digital artists and independent content producers, the platform acts as a safe place for permanent archival of their works and as a creative space to deliver innovative products. The project also strives to stimulate more research and development in digital asset management and related technologies.

IP service centre

An Intellectual Property Servicing Centre was established in June 2006 as part of the Integrated Circuits Design Centre at the Science Park. The Intellectual Property Servicing Centre provides a platform to support and facilitate the wider use of semi-conductor intellectual property and to protect the technological investment of integrated circuit design companies.


A key component of the IT services sector is the software industry. Although most of the local software developers are small firms with less than 20 employees, they are able to produce competitive customized software to support local and foreign clients in various sectors such as finance and banking, transportation and logistics, supply chain management, transportation, trading and telecommunications.

Some recent examples of Hong Kong's successful and pioneering software development include the Smart Identity Card, which is given out to all residents in Hong Kong—the first of its kind in the world—and the Octopus card, the largest cash payment card in circulation in the world. Octopus was introduced in 1997 to provide a simple and unified way to pay fares on public transport in Hong Kong. Soon after, Octopus extended its reach into simple micropayments for purchases in retail outlets and became a simple way for cardholders to gain access to buildings and schools and to identify themselves. Today, over 500 service providers accept Octopus, and there are more Octopus cards in circulation than there are residents in Hong Kong.

HK ICT awards

There are 38 professional bodies related to the ICT industry in Hong Kong. Most have sought funding from the Government to organize events such as awards nights. In 2006, the OGCIO consolidated Government support for these events and sponsored a single HK ICT Awards programme. The programme was considered a success and will be continued in 2007.

The six categories for the first ICT Awards were a Digital Entertainment Award won by a project called Moving Music whereby images of human movement are used to control sounds produced in games; an e-Business Award won by a Next Generation Terminal Management System; an e-Government Award won by the Immigration Department's e-Channel, an automated passenger clearance and vehicle clearance system that uses biometrics to enhance public service; the e-Learning Award won by GoChinese, an online Chinese learning platform; an e-Youth Award won by 'Flaber', a Flash-based Web building tool; and the Digital Inclusion Award won by the IT Inclusion Community Project where a secondary school student mobilized community resources to help new migrants and other disadvantaged families learn to use ICT.

Electronic Health Records (e-HR)

The Hospital Authority (HA) is a government statutory body established in 1990 to manage all public hospitals in Hong Kong. Among the successful IT implementations at the HA is its Clinical Management System (CMS), which links the entire HA network, allowing seamless access to a centralized IT system and database for health professionals. More recently it has been piloting a scheme for electronic patient records (e-PR). Patient participation in this pilot scheme is voluntary and a number of encryption and other security measures have been set up to ensure information privacy.

Public and private hospitals are now discussing whether to use the e-PR service as the basis for a territory-wide electronic health record (e-HR) system. Subject to confidentiality and security safeguards and the patient's consent, e-HR could be accessed by a health care professional in public and private hospitals, clinics and residential care homes for the elderly. The availability of comprehensive records will enable timely and informed decisions to be made at the point of care. However, before it is introduced a number of questions need to be addressed. These include a body to oversee or regulate the e-HR operation, whether legislative backing is needed, financing of the capital investment and recurrent costs, ownership of the records and limitations on access to these records, security and privacy protection of individual data and the entire system, and whether any penalty should apply to proven cases of unauthorized use of the data. In the meantime, the HA has embarked on a pilot project to share its e-HR system with a number of private hospitals and private medical practitioners.

Open source community

In the area of open source software (OSS), the Hong Kong Government and the industry in general take the practical approach of adopting open and interoperable standards, as opposed to having any officially imposed preference for a particular technology platform. Since 2002, the Government has set up an Interoperability Framework (IF) to reflect major changes in the industry and set out government standards and practices to ensure data and technical interoperability among its IT systems and e-government services.

The Government's policy on procurement of software products is based on objective criteria, such as value for money, functionality, security, system compatibility and the availability of reliable technical support. However, the Government has stated in its policy that it will promote the use of OSS technologies and solutions within the Government in order to widen product choice and maximize the potential for cost savings.

Future trends

While it already boasts one of the best ICT infrastructures in Asia Pacific, Hong Kong looks set to improve its digital outlook. It continues to introduce measures designed to improve the competitiveness of the ICT sector, such as freeing up radio spectrum and looking at new areas of technology, such as fixed-mobile convergence. For example, the regulator is examining the existing regulations, including interconnection charges and carrier licensing arrangements, to facilitate the convergence of the two sectors.

The Government is also progressive in providing electronic access to its services. A new Web portal, GovHK, was introduced in September 2006 to replace the Government Information Centre ( as the entry point to online government information and services. The portal, which provides access to some 1,200 existing government electronic services, is undergoing constant development. One enhancement planned is the provision of geospatial information to underpin information and services. Efforts are also under way to develop a youth portal that will provide access to a range of public services for youth aged 15–24.

Another potential strength is Hong Kong's links with Mainland China. The Government has established channels for cooperation with the relevant Mainland authorities and Guangdong province in areas such as innovation and technological development. Identified areas for cooperation include software development, wireless and mobile technology, automotive parts and accessory systems, integrated circuit design, digital entertainment, digital certificates cross-recognition and the development of standards and applications in emerging technologies such as RFID and next-generation Internet. The Government is also looking to participate in the Mainland's technology development plans and the formulation of national standards through the Mainland/Hong Kong Science and Technology Cooperation Committee. The ICT industry, professional bodies and academics from both sides are expected to be involved in these initiatives.

If it can also continue to act on 'digital inclusion' measures through the Digital Inclusion Index and other measures outlined in its latest Digital 21 Strategy proposals, Hong Kong will remain one of the most significant ICT players in Asia Pacific.


Census and Statistics Department. (2006). Findings of the 'Household Survey on IT Usage and Penetration' and the 'Annual Survey on IT Usage and Penetration in the Business Sector' for 2006. Retrieved from

Commerce, Industry and Technology Bureau. (October 2006). Public consultation on digital 21 strategy. Retrieved from

Digital TV, Commerce, Industry & Technology Bureau, HKSAR Homepage. Available at

Economist Intelligence Unit. (2007). The 2007 e-readiness rankings. Retrieved from

HKSAR Homepage. Available at

Hong Kong Domain Name Registration Company Homepage. Available at

Office of the Telecommunications Authority, HKSAR Homepage. Available at

Wong, Y.C., Law, C.K., Fung, Y.C., and Lam, J. (2007). Study on the digital inclusion index of Hong Kong. University of Hong Kong. Unpublished report.

World Economic Forum. (2007). The global information technology report (GITR) 2006–2007. Retrieved from


Frederick Noronha and Sajan Venniyoor

Total population

1,112 million (2006)

GDP per capita

USD 3,547 (PPP)

Key economic sectors

Agriculture (18.6 per cent), Industry (27.6 per


cent), Services (53.8 per cent) (2005 est.)

Fixed-line telephones per

4.1 (2004; up from 0.6 in 1990)

100 inhabitants


Mobile phone subscribers

4.4 (2004)

per 100 inhabitants


Internet users per 100

3.2 (2004)



Sources: IMF 2006, UNDP HDR 2006.


India has an estimated 45 million Internet users. But only about 10 million are 'power users', that is, those who regularly use the Web for research and e-commerce. Government efforts to loosen restrictions on access, and the entry of private companies into the Internet market, are said to be driving the growth (Kaufman Bros. 2006).

Figures vary. According to the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) and IMRB International, Internet users in India reached 37 million in September 2006, up from 33 million in March 2006. During the same period, the number of 'active users' (those who have used the Internet at least once in the last 30 days) has risen from 21.1 million in March 2006 to 25 million in September 2006. The survey was conducted in early 2006 among 16,500 households covering 65,000 individuals across 26 major metros and small towns in India, with an additional coverage of 10,000 business and 250 cybercafé owners. The survey did not include the rural areas.

India's potential in shaping the Internet globally—because of its large population—should not be overlooked. Of the seven Asia Pacific nations in the top 20 countries in terms of number of Internet users, three—China, Japan and India—are in the top five (Make-IT-Safe April 2005).

However, the quality of usage can be questioned. Also, the lack of sufficiently widespread local language solutions could hamper future growth. Wikipedia points out that '[n]otably absent from … [the languages used on the Internet] is Hindi, one of the most commonly spoken languages of the world, as well as the national language of India, the second most populated country in the world.' The reasons cited are lack of access to the Internet by the large majority of the Indian population, and a preference for English among those with Internet access.

According to India's National Readership Survey 2006, there are currently 9.4 million Internet users who log in every week, up from 7.2 million users in 2005. But this figure, says the study, constitutes only 1.2 per cent of India's 12 years plus population. Urban India has shown faster growth in Internet reach—from 2.3 per cent to 3.4 per cent, says the survey. Mobile phones are reaching a critical mass. The reach of this medium, as measured by the proportion of the population accessing value-added-service (VAS) at least once a week, grew from 1.1 per cent in 2005 to 2.7 per cent in 2006—translating to nearly 22 million individuals (Hindu Business Line 2006).

As for mobile subscribers in India, the estimate as of July 2006 was 111 million mobile subscribers, representing some 10 per cent of the total population. Short Messaging Service (SMS) is believed to be the leading method of communication (Kaufman Bros. 2006) in the country. But while the figure might seem large, in the context of India's total population (1.1 billion) the coverage is obviously far from sufficient. ITU (2007) argues that countries that are leaping ahead in Internet use, such as India, may have a sluggish mobile sector.

In September 2006, the Manufacturers' Association for Information Technology (MAIT), the lobby group of the hardware, training and R&D services sector in India, said that sales of desktops and laptops together exceeded 1.2 million units in the second quarter of fiscal year (FY) 2006–07. They expect desktop sales in FY 2006–07 to exceed 5.6 million units. According to MAIT, IT consumption in the country continues to be dominated by industry verticals and corporate sectors such as telecom, banking and financial services, manufacturing and IT-enabled services. Apart from these traditional sectors, high consumption was also witnessed in SMEs, education, retail and other computer-centric small enterprises. Aggressive pricing by PC vendors has also helped improve the PC penetration, especially in the households and the SME segments (MAIT 2006).

Internet growth

The youth are the main drivers of Internet usage in India. College students and those below the age of 35 are the biggest segments on the Internet. Both these segments have the highest proportion of conversion of 'ever' users to 'active' users of the Internet. According to an IAMAI-IMRB study, the 'ever' user base is estimated to grow from 37 million in September 2006 to 42 million in March 2007 and 54 million in March 2008, while the active user base will hit 28 million in March 2007 and 43 million in March 2008. Smaller cities and towns recorded a whopping 142 per cent year-on-year growth, with 25 per cent of users coming from smaller towns.

Kaufman Bros. (2006) suggests that 'due to the limited online population and the smaller subset of researchers and purchases on the Web, the concept of assisted Internet has taken root in India'. This refers to Internet-based companies opening 'retail storefronts' throughout the country. Kaufman Bros. (2006) says that India still awaits a 'killer application that drives consumers not only to the Web, but [also] to obtain a broadband connection'. Such an application could be in education, commerce, entertainment or gaming.

According to a NASSCOM analysis (2007), Indian IT vendors are increasingly turning their attention to the domestic market. NASSCOM is the trade body for India's software and service companies. The Indian user industries are outsourcing parts or entire IT infrastructure to specialized vendors. Recognizing the growing importance of the domestic market, NASSCOM put the domestic software and services segment at USD 3.9 billion in 2003–04, up from USD 3.0 billion in 2002–03.

NASSCOM also sees potential in the rise of smaller cities as new investment destinations for the IT-ITES sector, with the industry taking a keen look at these locales that are now gradually taking the pressure off the already infrastructure-strapped, saturated metros.

Some like Mohan Krishnan, Vice President and Country Manager of the eTechnology Group@IMRB, have argued that, 'The next round of growth will be driven by new and innovative applications such as blogs, P2P, video on demand and online gaming while the old favourites such as email, Chat and IM will drive first time users to the medium' (IAMAI September 2006). Indeed, 51 per cent of Indian Internet users come from the low-middle class. Checking blogs is the second most preferred online activity, according to a study which notes that Indian languages, small towns and broadband are gaining prominence. The Internet is making deep inroads in the lives of Indian people, spreading horizontally and vertically, perhaps leading to the probable reduction of class, language and regional barriers (Srivastava 2006).

Digital content

As India grows more accustomed to the digital world, local content initiatives are increasing. But the lack of local language solutions and widespread acceptability is limiting potential growth.

Some initiatives help keep track of what's happening in diverse areas. For example, India's Manthan Awards ( encourages 'the development of e-content at every level and enhancing the e-content production capabilities and inducing poverty alleviation exercises'. Among the 2006 winners were the Agriwatch portal (, meant to be a knowledge hub for the agricultural sector in India;, covering milk procurement, cattle feed management and more; the portal for people speaking the regional Bhojpuri language; launched in 1997; which focuses on the regional Durga Puja festival of Bengal; and which builds awareness to reduce the stigma among families and persons affected by mental illness. Other awardees came from the fields of telemedicine projects for rural areas, e-governance (deployed for 'panchayati raj' or rural governance, grievance handling, ICT initiatives for local governance, utility-driven websites for municipalities), and a prison management system. In e-learning, there were vernacular-language Braille solutions, IT training lessons, multimedia content for high schools and a knowledge-sharing website.

Other categories of awards were 'e-inclusion', e-news, e-localization, e-environment, e-youth and e-content. Community broadcasting became a new category for Manthan Award 2007. The award panel noted that community broadcasting 'is the most effective way of empowering the masses at the grassroots level in India where oral communication is a medium of information and knowledge sharing'. There have been plans to open up noncommercial, non-state community broadcasting for a decade now. But while the authorities have been cautiously opening on-campus radio projects, the arrival of 'community radio' is still happening only very slowly.1

Meanwhile, the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL) is a Government of India initiative based in New Delhi that aims to build a database of traditional knowledge that 'enables the protection of such information from getting misappropriated'. TKDL says it has completed the transcription of 36,000 Ayurvedic formulations into English, German, French, Spanish and Japanese since an inter-disciplinary team started working in October 2001. It has also made a presentation at the IPC Union in Geneva. One of the issues that TKDL addresses is the erroneous application of patents to traditional knowledge. According to TKDL director V.K. Gupta, 'A majority of the patents (taken on Indian knowledge) is by expatriate Indians or multinational corporations. There are about 2,000 patents which have been wrongly issued, in our view. Each takes 11 years to fight.'

In mid-August 2006, a digital knowledge centre set up at a cost of INR 7 million (about USD 173,913) was inaugurated at the central library of Anna University. The digital centre aims to help students, scholars and faculty access the Internet, the online journals and periodicals subscribed to by the university, and digital libraries. There are also plans to digitize selected books and journals in the main library. Alumni from the batch of 1979 contributed INR 2.5 million (about USD 62,111.80) towards the infrastructural needs of the project. They also undertook the installation of the systems. Anna University funded the purchase of computer systems at a cost of INR 4.5 million (about USD 111,801.24) (The Hindu 2006b).

In another initiative, the Natural Disaster Information System (NDIS) was launched as 'a first of its kind pilot project aimed at alerting people about any impending natural disaster' (The Hindu 2006a).

At the Indian Telecentre Forum held in New Delhi on 23–25 August 2006, representatives and leaders of telecentre networks from countries around the world had an opportunity to meet and discuss common concerns, issues and opportunities.

Networks such as BytesForAll ( and and India-GII ( deal with ICT or ICT4D issues in South Asia and India.

Elsewhere, a new initiative hoped to become the craigslist ( for India, especially for places other than the largest Indian cities. Allahabad-based bitsTek launched ( to 'provide a classified platform to community'. In this website all postings are free and there are no banner or pop-up ads.

The spirit of sharing knowledge and information also appears to be catching on. For example, there is some discussion about a 'dollar one encyclopedia', or a wikipedia-on-a-CD for easy and inexpensive distribution (Thejesh 2006).

Other online ventures like also encourage the sharing of local content. Tools like the Wikipedia (, which is among the 20 most visited globally, help give Indian content and issues global visibility. For example, Wikipedia has been highlighting on its home page a number of Indian issues, including the Indian Institutes of Technology, a group of seven autonomous engineering and technology-oriented institutes built to create a 'skilled workforce to underpin India's economic and social development after independence in 1947…' (Wikipedia).

During his visit to India in late August 2006, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales noted that the volume of volunteer contributions to the Kannada Wikipedia has been growing 22 per cent per month while the volume of volunteer contributions to the Bengali Wikipedia has been growing 35 per cent per month. This is significant because although other Asian languages are spoken by millions, there tends to be little sign of them in the English-dominated cyberspace. 'We still have an enormous amount of work left to do. India has 23 official languages. English [is the only language used in India with] more than 10,000 articles. We aim to have 200,000 articles for every language spoken by a million people. That covers 94 per cent of the people on the planet,' Wales said. By the end of September 2006, the Bengali Wikipedia, built both in Bangladesh and India, crossed the landmark of 10,000 articles. It became the 50th language to do so, and only the second from South Asia. Bengali is spoken by almost 220–250 million people; it is the seventh largest language in terms of total speakers. The Telugu Wikipedia, representing the south Indian language, now has over 15,000 articles.

Meanwhile, an 18-month-old 'Wikipedia for India' network on the social networking site Orkut has some 215 members. The network aims to become 'the place where u can find info on anything from Hindu mythology to Besant Nagar beach…or Connaught Place'.

Knowledge commons issues have been debated. There is a deepening debate on how knowledge is shared or controlled in this new information-dominated century, and it is a debate of vital relevance to a country that is making an increasingly visible global impact through its brain power and at the same time has one of the most impressive collections of traditional medicines and knowledge. There are diverse views on how these kinds of issues should be tackled, as was obvious at the 'knowledge symposium' held in New Delhi on 24–25 August 2006. The issue of the need for 'IP-unencumbered software' has also come up (Noronha 2006a).

Open Access is a new trend in India. This refers to free online availability of research-oriented scientific and scholarly journal articles. It picked up globally since around 2002. According to Chennai (South India)-based information scientist Subbiah Arunachalam, 'Nearly a hundred journals (in India) have already taken the Open Access route.' In early 2006, the Bangalore-based information company Informatics (India) Ltd, launched Open J-Gate (, a portal covering more than 3,500 English-language journals. Some 2,000 of these are peer-reviewed. Open J-Gate claims to be the 'world's biggest Open Access English language journals portal'.

But more action in this area is needed. As Arunachalam argues: 'Research performed in India, funded by Indian taxpayers, is reported in a few thousand journals, both Indian and foreign. Since some of these journals are very expensive, many Indian libraries—including sometimes the author's own institutional library—are not able to subscribe to them.' Arunachalam estimates that Indian researchers publish approximately 20,000 papers a year in 2,500–3,000 journals in 130 countries, 'including in (small countries like) Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka or Croatia.' Because of the current situation, researchers cannot even read their peers. Besides, most Indian journals have poor circulation: only six of the crucial Council of Scientific & Industrial Research's 20 odd journals have over 1,000 subscribers. Few Indian researchers reach high-impact journals abroad, while roughly half of all Indian research is published abroad. Thus, Indian research work does not reach a wide audience, which affects both its visibility and its impact.

India's Open Access journals include 11 journals published by the Indian Academy of Sciences, four journals published by INSA, one journal published by the Indian Institute of Science, one journal published by the Indian Council of Medical Research, and three journals published by the Calicut Medical College. In addition, the National Informatics Centre of the Government of India operates the Indian Medlars Centre, which makes available electronic versions of 38 Indian biomedical journals, mainly published by professional societies. Indian Medlars Centre also has an ePrints-based archive called OpenMED where biomedical researchers from anywhere in the world can deposit their papers., a Delhi-based company, publishes eight Open Access journals dealing with subjects like forensic medicine, fire engineering, neonatology, agricultural sciences and veterinary sciences. offers free access to 38 biomedical journals. The Institute of Mathematical Sciences (IMSc) was the pioneer in Open Access archiving in India. Also gaining increasing attention is the GNU EPrints archive at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore.

LexLibre aims to contribute projects or articles as working papers to the public domain. Promoters say 'this will enable the creation of a large database of legal resources, something which is sorely needed in India'. There is also an ongoing consultation on making theses available online. The University Grants Commission (UGC) of India is inviting public comments on its draft consultation paper 'Electronic Thesis Online (India) UGC (Submission of Metadata and Full-text of Doctoral Theses in Electronic Format) Regulations, 2005' (Digital Opportunity Channel 2005a).

Proponents point out the many advantages of Open Access institutional archives. They not only make Indian research work more visible, but also help Indian research papers win more citations. Such archives are easy to set up as the required software is free.

Some major global commercial publishers had promised to offer access to countries with less than USD 1,000 per capita incomes. But they went back on their word in India, arguing that they enjoyed sizeable subscriptions in the country. On the positive side, in November 2006 44 scientists and policymakers from Brazil, China, Ethiopia, India and South Africa met in Bangalore to set guidelines for developing countries to freely access publicly funded research. The success of their draft national policy will depend on whether the relevant governments, funding groups and research institutes will adopt their recommendations (Noronha 2006b).

Enabling ICT policies and programmes

One of the big plans currently being unveiled is Mission 2007 (, which aims to connect a targeted 25,000 villages in the first year by pooling resources from various states, government agencies and corporations, and using affordable and accessible technology. According to the project planners, 'Mission 2007 will initiate formation of consortia of content developers to provide content and ensure that local livelihood needs are met and available content resources are pooled for achieving the common goal… The endeavour will…make it possible for local communities to collect, access and use data on their livelihoods and assets using these applications for local, regional and national planning.'

In connection with the plan, there are efforts to 'influence policy issues such as low tariff and de-licensing of last mile ICT applications, especially wireless spectrum and community media'. The project seeks to include training and capacity building of 'village entrepreneurs'. Other issues raised include peer-to-peer learning, sharing of knowledge at the village level, working towards a suitable legal and regulatory environment, Open Source and content, security issues, educational programmes, and building the technology infrastructure. Because it is an ambitious project, there are doubts about the degree of effectiveness and timeliness of implementation, end-use deployment of practical results and its actual impact on rural India.

In May 2004, Union Minister for Communication and Information Technology Dayanidhi Maran announced a 10-point agenda, including achieving convergence of ICTs; bringing about transparency in administration and making government functioning more 'citizen-centric'; providing broadband connectivity to all 'at the most reasonable prices'; leapfrogging to next generation (4G) mobile wireless technologies; connecting all ISPs in India to a national Internet exchange; significantly improving the Indian Internet Domain Name service; migration to the IPv6 protocol; cyber infrastructure protection and security and digital signatures; promoting Media Lab Asia work in rural connectivity, healthcare, literacy through distance education and development of low-cost PCs; local language computing; outsourcing skilled human resources and an R&D thrust.

Referring to the 10-point plan, Gartner Research suggests that India's ICT Ministry cannot achieve most of these goals on its own 'because the power to make the necessary decisions is distributed among many players, including the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, the federal economic and other ministries and the country's state governments'. Gartner Research also notes that the Indian ICT Ministry has a limited budget. Moreover, the two government-owned telecom providers, BSNL (Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd) and MTNL (Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd), fund most of their capital outlays through internal accruals, and this is unlikely to change. The IT section of the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology likewise has limited resources for IT projects.

Gartner Research notes that the Ministry can make a difference only through policies that promote investment and competition and remove market distortions. It also suggests that the Indian government 'promote the use of IT by using it aggressively, both for internal processes and for citizen services. Because of the scale of government operations, this can "kick-start" the domestic IT market, a segment that has lagged.' Also suggested is a reduction in the cost of IT for all user segments through fiscal and other incentives, to spur domestic demand. 'This will help with the legitimate social goal of bridging the Digital Divide', Gartner argues (Kumar et al. 2004).

There are other ICT initiatives, such as the Natural Disaster Information System (NDIS) launched in mid-February 2006 by the Union Minister for Science, Technology and Ocean Development Kapil Sibal. The project seeks to alert people about any impending natural disaster using the local language, mobile phones and a specially set up wireless public address system. It was developed by a private–public partnership between the Technology Development Council (TDC) and Bangalore-based Geneva Software Technologies. Data security is assured with a 128-bit exception using dedicated leased lines. Alerts will then be sent out to mobile phones in the language of the local community concerned. The voice message will be streamed as an outbound call and sent to the wireless public address system for direct audio alert2 (The Hindu 2006b).

In October 2006, the AirJaldi Summit was held in India, with the intention of addressing 'some of the ways that wireless solutions can be used to provide affordable Internet access in rural communities'. The conference focused on 'showing the advantages that wireless networks can provide, by enhancing the quality of education, governance and health care, increasing economic development, and promoting cultural exchange'. The spotlight was on the Dharamsala Community Wireless Mesh Network developed and managed by the Tibetan Technology Center (TibTec) to provide Internet connectivity to rural communities, schools and institutions in the Dharamsala region. This relatively large-scale experiment saw a combination of low-cost yet robust technology and community-based implementation. The Summit organizers said the Dharamsala project is an appropriate model for many rural areas around the world.

Some projects at the state (regional)-level include: Akshaya (Kerala), Bhoomi (Karnataka), CARD (Andhra Pradesh), e-district (Tiruvarur), FAST (Andhra Pradesh), FRIENDS (Kerala), Gyandoot (Dhar, MP), Kalyan-Dombivli Municipal Corporation (Maharashtra), Koshwahini (Maharashtra), Sarita (Maharashtra), Community Information Centres (Lakhimpur, Assam), Drishtee kiosks (Assam), Bhulekh (Orissa), commercial taxes (Bihar), e-computerized operations for police services (eCOPS), electronic data interchange of the NIC, electricity power billing (Bihar), e-procurement (Andhra Pradesh), Oswan (Gujarat), Integrated Financial Information Systems (Andhra Pradesh), Kaveri (Karnataka), Khajane (online treasure computerization project) in Karnataka, Lokmitra (Himachal Pradesh), Saukaryam (Andhra Pradesh), SETU (Maharashtra), SmartGOV (renamed as CaringGOV) in Andhra Pradesh, STAR (Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu), Sukhmani (Punjab), Tarahaat (Punjab) and the Automatic Vehicle Tracking System (Delhi).

Also among the regional initiatives is the launching of the Goa Knowledge Commission website ( In addition, the National Association for the Blind in New Delhi has been conducting a weekly programming workshop online moderated by Arun Mehta. Different people are learning different languages at different speeds.

Media Lab Asia: Building on ruined plans?

Media Lab Asia appears to have come unstuck. This much-hyped project between the MIT Media Lab and the Government of India, among others, failed to work as planned and, amidst a lot of dissatisfaction, both partners went their own way. However, here is a list of projects that have been supported under this initiative. It would be interesting to track the attainments of each.

aAQUA: An agro information system being tested in Maharashtra
Ashwini: A Broadband Wireless Network for delivery of virtual services being tested in rural areas of Andhra Pradesh
Ca:sh: Hand-held device-based health data collection and management being tested in Haryana
CHIC: Craft revival: A CAD tool for helping the Chikan embroidery artisans, being deployed in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh
Digital Gangetic Plains: Long range Wi-Fi tested over a distance of 75 kms in the Lucknow–Kanpur belt
Digital Mandi: An electronic trading platform for agro commodities, being tested in Uttar Pradesh
e-Sagu: An IT-based tool for agricultural extension, being deployed in Andhra Pradesh
GramPatra: Store-and-forward messaging system being tested in Karnataka for land records delivery over the BHOOMI project
Polysensors: Portable and affordable water quality test kit being tested in Maharashtra
Sahayika: A system for supplementing the knowledge requirements of school students, field-tested in West Bengal
Sanyog: A communication system for the speech impaired and for people affected with cerebral palsy, being tested in West Bengal and Delhi
Sehat Saathi: Portable/Mobile health-care delivery being tested in the Lucknow–Kanpur belt and in Andhra Pradesh
Shruti: An embedded Indian language text-to-speech system being tested in West Bengal

Source: Media Lab Asia is dead; Long live Media Lab Asia. (2003).

Industry initiatives

One of the more impressive networks—because of its breadth of vision, the persistence of its initiatives, and the number of initiatives taken up—with an ICT4D agenda is the Telecommunications and Computer Networking Group (TeNeT), linked to the IIT-Madras ( Its mission is to transform communication in India by enabling 200 million telephones and 50 million broadband connections; to connect every village in order to double rural per capita GDP; to set next-generation wireless standards; and to develop high-quality distance education for rural areas.

TeNeT and its partners have developed a number of technology solutions for the rural areas such as:

• The Cable Wireless Internet Triple-play Unified System (indigenous broadband access solutions such as CitiusTM) of Midas Communication Technologies.

• Broadband corDECT, a wireless local loop solution with per-user always-on data speeds of up to 336 Kbps and a spectrum efficiency approaching 1.66 bits/second/Hertz, also by Midas Communication Technologies.

• CygNet, a product of NMSWorks, another TeNeT partner, designed to provide network management solutions for large telecom operators.

• An 802.11 b/g based mesh network for rural communities.

• Gramateller, an ATM designed to enable a low-cost model of delivering banking services in rural areas.

• An affordable telemedicine solution which includes a Remote Diagnostic Kit developed by Neurosynaptic. The kit, which can be installed at villages and other remote locations with Internet connectivity, connects rural patients to a doctor in the city via a video conference link.

• Online Tutorials to enable rural students to pass examinations.

• Indic Computing which aims to extend the reach of computing to India's non-English speaking masses.

TeNeT says it is exploring the possibility of using the ICT infrastructure established by n-Logue through its Chiraag network of villages, to enhance income generation. Several crafts initiatives have been initiated and outsourcing to rural areas is planned. In collaboration with the Indian Society of Agribusiness Professionals (ISAP), an NGO based in New Delhi, they are offering online consultancy to farmers in Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Karnataka through videomail using the software MV4.

Ashok Jhunjhunwala of TeNeT says they have been setting up Internet kiosks in India for INR 55,000 (about USD 1,356.69) per kiosk. The only requirement is that the kiosks be set up in a cluster of nearby villages within a 25 km radius.

The TeNeT Group incubates R&D companies and collaborates with 'like-minded organizations' such as Midas Communications in telecom infrastructure (; Banyan Networks Limited (, which merged with Midas Communication Technologies in 2004; NMSWorks (, which works on integrated network management systems for emerging convergent networks; NexGe Technologies Pvt Ltd, which develops IP communications products targeted towards carriers, broadband operators and ISPs; iSoftTech, a product development company in the networking space; iSoftTech ( for embedded solutions and enterprise solutions in Data Networking, VoIP and WLan; Nilgiri Networks (; and Amdale (, which is working to create what is probably the only open standards-based packaged CTI suite which can be used to build a vast array of computer-based telephony solutions.

Others in this network of companies are Novatium (; N-Logue ( for evolving technically superior and cost-effective solutions for countries like India; CK Technologies Pvt Ltd which is currently involved in promoting Indian language computing as a subject (; Vortex Engineering Pvt Ltd for low-cost electromechanical systems for rural areas; Neuro Synaptics ( for medical devices, software and solutions for telemedicine; OOPS or Object Oriented Programming Services for network telephone applications; Lattice Bridge ( for speech technologies; and Tekriti (, which is engaged in outsourced product engineering services in the domain of social networking, rich Internet application development and media publishing, the aggregate of which is referred to as Web 2.0.

There have been some difficulties in implementing TeNeT projects on the ground, for example in villages that get power for only two hours a day. Yet, this network continues to inspire many to carry on the dream.

Regulation and security

The Ministry of IT's e-Security Division 'deals with technical matters related to [the] Internet, e-regulation and e-security and implements a programme that promotes research and development in the area of e-security'. An official note says that the division promotes R&D through grant-in-aid support to recognized autonomous R&D organizations and academic institutions proposing to undertake time-bound projects in the thrust areas identified by the Working Group on e-Commerce and Information Security.

The Working Group provides full advisory support to the information security sector through analysis of technology trends, identification of thrust areas, preparation of technology development plans, as well as evaluation of submitted project proposals for execution with financial support from DIT. Project proposals are accepted via Projects already carried out by various organizations have led to the development of network security tools, cyber forensic tools, a virtual private network security solution, a biometric identification and authentication system, a public key infrastructure solution, a payment gateway for e-cheque or credit card, an intrusion detection system, an information security management system, network monitoring tools, a brain mapping technique to examine suspects, a secure print document tool, tools for enterprise system security management and tools for steg-analysis.

Current 'thrust areas' identified by the Working Group are cryptography and cryptanalysis, biometrics for identification and authentication, network security, systems security and security architectures, risk assessment and assurance, monitoring, surveillance and forensics (Department of IT 2007).

Free/Libre and Open Source Software

India's interest in Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS) is being closely watched around the world. Across India, there are over 130 GNU/Linux, Linux and Free Software User Groups, an indication of the interest in this field (visit for a listing of GNU/Linux and FLOSS user groups in India). A number of FLOSS techies maintain blogs and some of these can be accessed at

Ironically, while FLOSS has grown rapidly on the ground and among technical and academic networks, it has received little support from the government.

A handful of regional governments, more the exception than the rule, have been pushing for wider FLOSS adoption, as has happened in the south-western pocket of India. An example is the plan of the south Indian state of Kerala to adopt FLOSS for the computers used in some 12,500 high schools in the state.

The use of computers across the country is being encouraged by the distribution of free CDs that contain localized versions of popular open source applications. For example, the government has started distributing CDs containing Tamil-language versions of various open source applications (Marson 2005). At Vigyan Bhavan New Delhi, a Hindi Software Tools CD was launched by political leader Sonia Gandhi. The CD contains open source software that runs both on Windows and Linux. It includes Open Office, Firefox, Gaim, Columba E-mail and Limewire (CDAC 2006).

There are also low-cost 'CD outlet options' where FLOSS software is downloaded, replicated and sold at a reasonable rate of INR 50–250 or about USD 1–6 (depending on whether CD or DVD). See one example of such operations at

The Technology Development for Indian Languages (TDIL) programme of the Department of Information Technology (DIT) aims to develop information processing tools and techniques that remove language barriers from human–machine interaction. Officials say efforts are being made to provide these language tools to the masses through the Indian Language Data Centre (

The Asia OSPA (Open Solutions is Public Administration) Forum is intended to analyze and support the use of Open Data Standards (ODS) and Open Solutions (OS) for e-Government and Public Administration (PA) in Asia Pacific. It was scheduled to be held along with the South Asia e-Government Summit in New Delhi in October 2006.

Meanwhile, Indian techies and campaigners have been involved in the drafting of the GPLv-3, the General Public License of the Free Software Foundation (FSF). GPLv-2, released in 1991, is the most widely used free software license. Jaldhar H. Vyas, who is unusual in being both a Hindu priest and Debian geek, has pointed out that one of the problems facing GNU/Linux users in countries like India is low bandwidth. Therefore he argued, a distribution on CD or DVD is preferred over large network installations or updates. He has found a sponsor and is looking for a 1-DVD version of the Debian system.'s Project Resource Centre is a network for students interested in discussing GNU/Linux and FLOSS projects. Some networks are offering support to students wanting to undertake FLOSS projects (see The main objective of the e-GURU programme is to assist students in their final year in a Bachelor's or Master's degree course in computer science, information technology or electronics who find it difficult to carry out a project, a major component of their curriculum, due to lack of resources and mentors. NRCFOSS (National Resource Centre for Free and Open Source Software) offers a common page for student project proposals, fellowship proposals and other FLOSS projects (NRCFOSS). Other NRCFOSS plans include:

• Getting the technical universities and colleges to offer two FOSS elective courses to undergraduate students.

• Arranging for or conducting Teacher Training Programmes (TTPs) for faculty of colleges of engineering.

• Supplying engineering faculty with teaching materials, books, lab ware and the like.

• Assisting colleges to migrate to FOSS equivalents wherever possible (personal e-mail from Professor C.N. Krishnan 2006).

Finally, an open source simple computer for agriculture in rural areas (called OSCAR) was launched in January 2004. It aims to develop an open source weed identification software for the major weed species of the rice-wheat crop systems which can be deployed on computers or simputers. The application is intended for agricultural extension workers, farmers/farmer groups, and students in the Indo-Gangetic plains (Digital Opportunity Channel 2005b).

Local language solutions

Clearly, this is an issue where a breakthrough is still awaited. In recent years, technology solutions that would make computing in Indian languages easier on both proprietary and FLOSS platforms have been announced. But large-scale and effective Indian-language computing is still a challenge, for a range of reasons. This is evident from the lack of mailing lists and blogs in Indian langauges, and the difficulty of building websites or wikis in the Indian languages.

There are a few initiatives underway. HP Labs in Bangalore have been engaged in developing a Devanagiri input device which works on the basis of partial handwriting recognition. During preliminary studies it was revealed that in spite of a large demand for a Hindi keyboard, the ones available in the market (QWERTY keyboards with Hindi labels) have not been accepted. See other HP proposals at

Bangla/Bengali 2.0: Ankur group is the official team for Bangla Translation work is reported to have started in 2006. Their goal is to have Bangla as a supported language. 2.0 is already out with most of the menu entries translated in Bangla. Future versions of will have more translated modules (Angkur Supporting Bangla [Bengali] on GNU/Linux).

C-DAC Mumbai is working on Project Janabhaaratii for Localisation of Free/Open Source Software: Development, Deployment and Community Building. Initiatives include contributing to community efforts in developing a software suite based on GNU/Linux and made available in Indian languages. The project is funded by the TDIL group at the DIT, Ministry of Communication and Information Technology.

The DIT says its mission is to 'proliferate the use of Indian languages on computers, to overcome language barriers that restrict the nation's path to knowledge and development'. It has invited individuals, public, private agencies and academic institutions to participate in a national public–private partnership to launch and distribute applications, tools, utilities and products developed for Indian language computing.

Dr G. Nagarjuna, Chairman of the Free Software Foundation (FSF) of India and scientist at the Homi Bhaba Centre for Science Education, has been focusing on the issue of 'self-reliant e-governance in Indian languages'. He argues:

Keeping in mind that only about 5 per cent of the Indian population can manage with English-speaking computers, the need for e-governance, by default, in a multilingual system is clearer than daylight and no additional argument is required. Since public documents must live for eternity, the need of open standards for e-governance will be underlined. If these values of self-reliance in information technology and local language computing with open standards are to be followed in letter and spirit, then it is mandatory that Governments must legislate the use of Swatantra Software and open standards.

On another level, an Israeli firm is teaming up with CK Technologies to produce Shakti Office Suite (, an 'indigenous, affordable bilingual alternate to popular office suites'. It will be the first to integrate FastKeys, software developed by the Israel-based FTK Technologies. Its interface 'intuitively' toggles between English and one of the 18 Indian languages and vice versa. The integration of FastKeys in the Office Suite is meant to make the product more user-friendly. When typing in Hindi or Tamil, most users would have to constantly glance between the keyboard and the monitor which makes the process difficult. Other existing solutions are prohibitively expensive. FastKeys addresses the problem by projecting onto the monitor a real-time simulation of the keyboard and user's hands as they type. The keys on the virtual keyboard would show the characters in the vernacular, simplifying the process for a new user who might otherwise have to plough through scripts of character positions on the keyboard.

Meanwhile, the Center for Research in Urdu Language Processing (CRULP) at the National University of Computer and Emerging Sciences, Lahore, Pakistan has announced the release of an updated version of the open source character-based Nafees Web Naskh Open Type Font for writing Urdu in Naskh script based on Unicode standards. Such initiatives from across the border could benefit India, which has a significant Urdu writing population.

Jitendra Shah announced via the Indic computing users mailing list that contains a few GIS applications and a few Web-based database applications using FLOSS. This includes tenders of the Maharashtra government

ICT tools for diverse groups

• The Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, announced the release of a CD comprising an e-Governance solution for the Drug Control Department. The CD details 336 court judgements (Business Line 2005).

• In a pilot installation in a village near Mumbai, India, students use PCs donated by Via Technologies to perform geometry homework, while local women use computers to track their savings in a micro-payment programme (Kanellos 2005).

• Encore Software Ltd has announced plans to launch a range of cheap desktops costing around USD 230–280, three years after it launched the USD 200 Simputer. These desktops are targeted mainly at basic users like students, small shop owners and educational institutions (Roy 2007).

• is growing into a full-fledged portal with 25 different services, under the Maharashtra Knowledge Corporation. Its goal is ICTs for agriculture. It has a network of infomediaries, offers information to farmers' queries, and promotes courses like a certificate course in good agricultural practices. They also have some half dozen CDs on mango cultivation, bio-fertilizers, mushroom cultivation, medicinal plants and dairy management.

• A special type of foot-operated PC-based communicating tool for children with cerebral palsy has been developed by the Industrial Design Centre of the Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai in cooperation with the Happy Hours Centre from suburban Khar. This special tool can be used as an effective communication device by children with physical disabilities, including those affected by cerebral palsy.

for rate-contracts where with Marathi (Gargi) fonts are compulsory on either platforms (proprietory or open source). The Maharashtra government buys an estimated 5,000 PCs annually.

Education and R&D initiatives

India-based Digital Learning Asia ( aims to take stock of the progress of Asian countries in utilizing ICTs to enhance the quality and reach of education to develop human capital that will respond to the needs of a globalized world.

Another attempt to make IT relevant in education is Laxman Mohanty and Neharika Vohra's A Guide For School Administrators, a book that recognizes the potential of ICTs to make the school curriculum more relevant and purposeful.

The Centre for Science, Development and Media Studies (, an NGO located at Noida near India's capital city of New Delhi, has been publishing what is probably the world's first ICT4D monthly. Founded in 1997, the Centre is 'committed to advocacy and developing solutions for underprivileged societies through the use of innovative and effective ICTs and Geographic Information Systems (GIS)'. The Centre used to be known as the Centre for Spatial Database Management and Solutions.

Changes have also been reported regarding the delayed plans for building the Simputer, a low-cost alternative to the personal computer that allows for sharable computing. Geodesic Information Systems (GIS), a Mumbai-based Internet product company, has acquired Bangalore-based PicoPeta Simputers, a company founded by the co-inventors of the Simputer. However, although the Simputer has been in the news in recent years in India, its delivery has been delayed because of a number of financial, technology obsolescence and production challenges.


India continues to be a land of contrasts. Positive trends like the lowering of bandwidth costs and mobile services are expanding access. Yet many hundreds of millions are totally untouched by the benefits of IT and cyberspace. Because of its size, even a small percentage of Indians getting access to the Internet could change its complexion and orientation. Moreover, India has become a 'poster boy' of sorts for ICT4D. However, ensuring wider coverage for the bulk of its 1.1 billion population is obviously still an unmet task.


1. On 16 November 2006, a long-awaited development materialized when the federal Indian Cabinet decided to grant non-profit organizations and educational institutions permission to set up community radio stations under certain terms (Press Information Bureau 2006). In an unrelated development, engineer Vickram Crishna wrote that a 'suitcase' radio station for very local broadcasting (within a radius of 400 m roughly) could be available for under USD 120.

2. For an overview of the official take on this project, see the annual report for 2005–06 of the Ministry of IT at


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Donny B.U. and Rapin Mudiardjo

Total population

222 million (2006)

GDP per capita

USD 1,663/year (IDR 15 million/year)

Key economic sectors

Manufacturing, Trade and Agriculture

Computers per 100 inhabitants


Fixed-line telephones


per 100 inhabitants


Mobile phone subscribers


per 100 inhabitants


Internet users per


100 inhabitants


Domain names registered


under .id


Broadband subscribers


per 100 inhabitants


Internet domestic bandwidth

Peak 1.46 Gbps (end 2006)

Internet international bandwidth

Peak 4 Gbps (end 2006)


Indonesia's population of 222 million, the fourth largest in the world, are scattered in more than 17,504 islands (7,387 named; 10,117 unnamed). Thus, the Indonesian government, through Presidential Decree No. 6 issued in 2001 and titled 'Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Development and Usability in Indonesia', has asserted the need to make optimal use of ICTs to reach the Indonesian public and to unify the nation.

However, although it is expanding, teledensity in Indonesia is still not enough to serve the entire population. Fixed telephone line teledensity is 14 million lines or about six lines for every 100 citizens. Mobile phone teledensity is higher at 66.5 million active numbers or 30 numbers for every 100 citizens in mid-2006. The average annual growth rate of mobile phone teledensity from 1999 to 2005 is 63.7 per cent.

According to the 2005 National Social Economic Survey conducted by the National Statistics Bureau, 7.7 million of 58.8 million households (13.11 per cent) have a telephone. Of this total, 6.6 million are located in urban areas. About 11.7 million households (19.9 per cent), 9 million of which are in the urban areas, have mobile phones. About 2.2 million households, or 3.68 per cent of the total 58.8 million households, have computers; 2 million of these households are located in the city. For every 100 households with a computer, only 27 have an Internet connection.

According to the Directorate General of Post and Telecommunication (Postel), there were about 25 million Internet users (about 11 persons for every 100 citizens) in Indonesia in 2006. However, the number of Internet subscribers is only 6 million, suggesting that most people access the Internet at work or at Internet kiosks. Between 2000 and 2004, only 6 million people (or 2.7 persons for every 100 citizens) used the Internet. Internet penetration increased when the government officially liberalized 2.4 GHz of wireless technology in January 2005. Private noncommercial use of the 2.4 GHz frequency without a license is allowed. However, operators must register with Postel, which will check whether the equipment used is standard. Internet service providers (ISPs) use the 2.4 GHz frequency not only as a last-mile infrastructure but also as a backbone network to haul Internet traffic over large distances.

ICT penetration increased further with the opening of cybercafés or Internet kiosks (locally known as warung Internet or warnet) in many Indonesian cities. There are about 4,000 warnet around the country, each with an average of 10 computers that can be used by turns for 12 hours (at an average of two hours per user).

The Indonesian Telecommunications Regulatory Body (Badan Regulasi Telekomunikasi Indonesia—BRTI) was formed in December 2003, which demonstrates the government's willingness to put in place the appropriate regulations to improve telecommunications infrastructure and services. Efforts to lower the cost of telecommunication and Internet bandwidth in Indonesia are being pursued. There is also a plan for fibre optic backbone development and the promotion of healthy competition among telecommunication businesses. These are expected to make quality ICT services available to all Indonesian citizens at an affordable cost.

Technology infrastructure

PT Telekomunikasi Indonesia (Telkom) launched the Telkom-2 satellite in November 2005. However, three to six more satellites with a 24-transponder capacity are still needed to connect every Indonesian region, consisting of about 43,000 villages, in one telecommunication infrastructure network, assuming a 64 Kbps connection (two voice channels and 32 Kbps Internet) for every village. PT Telkom is now preparing for the operation of the Telkom-3 satellite in 2009.

In February 2006, the government chose three telecommunication operators to provide 3G telecommunication services via a tender process. In October 2003, two other operators were granted a license to provide 3G services: PT Natrindo Telepon Selular (Natrindo) and Hutchison CP Telecommunications (formerly Cyber Access Communications). Two of the new operators, Telkomsel and Excelcomindo (XL), have built 3G infrastructure in several big cities. As of October 2006, XL estimated about 18,000 customers actively using 3G services. Telkomsel says there are 240,000 customers registered as 3G users. Telkomsel, which has the biggest cellular phone market share in Indonesia, has allocated about USD 300 million to build its 3G network. XL has allocated about USD 50–100 million while Indosat is ready to invest USD 200–300 million.

Currently under discussion is unified access licensing for telecommunication services. This means that the 'frequency used right fee' (Biaya Hak Penggunaan—BHP) between fixed wireless access (FWA), cellular and data communication operator, and fibre optic will be the same, which in turn means lower prices as competition among operators becomes more intense.

According to Onno Purbo, an Indonesian ICT expert, the cost of Internet bandwidth in Indonesia nowadays is about USD 3,000 per Mbps per month. Postel puts the bandwidth cost at around USD 5.07 per 100 Kbps. The Indonesia ISP Association states that the cost for 1 Mbps of bandwidth taken from satellites in other countries is around USD 3,000–4,000, while it costs up to USD 6,000 from local operators. The biggest component of Internet bandwidth pricing in Indonesia is the fee for the international backbone connection and local backbone access to the local Network Access Provider (NAP) network. This accounts for 60–80 per cent of the monthly income of ISPs. Although theoretically ISPs can use other NAPs, including those in other countries, which are cheaper, government regulation limits ISPs to purchasing bandwidth only from the local NAP.

Recently, there has been some discussion of Dirjen Postel allowing a minimum international bandwidth service application in implementing NAP service. The international bandwidth price can be reduced if the NAP operator can bargain with the foreign hub owner to get a cheaper price. To get that bargaining position, the NAP operator must purchase at least 45 Mbps of international bandwidth.

The fibre optic network for the national Internet backbone is only 12,000 kilometres, according to the Department of Communication and ICT. At least 35,000 kilometres of fibre optic network is needed to serve all islands in Indonesia. The government has announced a fibre optic network development project called Palapa Ring, which is estimated to cost USD 500 million to USD 1 billion. Palapa Ring is a 25,000-kilometre undersea cable network in an integrated ring shape spread out from Sumatra to West Papua. Every ring will transmit broadband access of about 300–10,000 Gbps. It is hoped that the Palapa Ring backbone network will significantly lower telecommunication and Internet costs. Sofyan Djalil, the Communication and ICT Minister, is aiming to make the Internet fee in Indonesia as cheap as in Singapore by mid-2007.

There are two national interconnections—Indonesia Internet exchange (IIX) and National Interconnection Exchange (NICE). Thus, inter-ISP traffic in Indonesia is no longer dependent on the international Internet interconnection.

According to the Association of Wireless-LAN Internet Indonesia (IndoWLI), the use of the 2.4 GHz frequency in 2006 was higher by 70 per cent compared to 2005 when the license for this frequency had just been released. However, according to IndoWLI, more than 50 per cent of 2.4 GHz users, which include government institutions and state-owned corporations, have violated regulations, using power beyond the maximum limit, using uncertified radio and refusing frequency arrangement by community.

The government and the Indonesia Telecommunication Regulatory Body BRTI are still deciding the frequency allocation for Broadband Wireless Access (BWA), also known as WiMax. Fearing interference, PT Telkom, one of Indonesia's satellite operators, is not in favour of a 3.5 GHz frequency for BWA. They say that 3.4 GHz is suitable only for satellite in S-Band and extended C-Band because Indonesia has a tropical climate with high rainfall. Indonesia is an archipelago, which makes satellite necessary for telecommunication.

On the other hand, the Indonesia Broadband Wireless Association (Abwindo) and all WiMax vendors are asking for a 3.5 GHz frequency because based on economies of scale, it will be cheaper to develop WiMax at 3.5 GHz than on the alternative frequency of 5.8 GHz (as in the US). The WiMax Forum is already issuing certification for equipment designed for a frequency of 3.5 GHz. WiMax with a 50 km reach is expected to be in position to substitute the Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) once a 3.5 GHz frequency is assigned by Postel.

The government is studying the feasibility of making the 3.5 GHz frequency available for both WiMax and satellite. If an agreement is not reached, the government will uphold satellite as the primary occupant of the 3.5 GHz frequency and relocate BWA to another frequency. If this happens, BWA operators will expect the government to provide compensation, such as investment cost compensation for the BWA infrastructure acquired for the 3.5 GHz frequency.

ICT and ICT-related industries

The Indonesian ICT market sector grew by 22.1 per cent in 2005 to about USD 1.7 billion. Of this about USD 0.5–0.75 billion came from the banking sector. The following sectors comprised the Indonesian ICT industry in 2006: 50 middle and large-scale computer companies, 5,000 computer assemblers, 154 middle and large software companies, 214 small software companies, 12 telecommunication tools companies and 150 animation companies.

The software companies are concentrated in Jakarta, Bandung, Surabaya and Medan. Some of the software products are finance applications, geographical information systems (GIS), inventory systems, executive information systems, office automation, animation, multimedia presentation, intranet/Internet, integrated LAN-WAN, and consultancy services. According to the General Directorate of Intellectual Property Rights, 133 applications for software copyright were made between 2002 and 2005. But as of August 2006, 104 software copyright were registered, suggesting that appreciation for IPR is a recent development.

ISPs comprise another ICT industry. As of 2005, 232 ISPs were registered with the Ditjen Postel (up from 50 in 1999). Several are members of the Indonesia Internet Service Providers Association (Asosiasi Penyelenggara Jaringan Internet Indonesia—APJII) which was founded in May 1996 and which has successfully campaigned for a national interconnection among ISPs in Indonesia to enable users to communicate easily regardless of the ISP, and at a lower price.

Internet kiosks, of which there are more than 2,500 not counting Internet kiosks managed by schools and universities, comprise a segment of the ICT industry in Indonesia. According to a study conducted by ICT Watch in September 2003, in general, Internet kiosks are not really profitable. To acquire an Internet backbone lane, an Internet kiosk needs at least 35 separate connections (hops). To have a proper bandwidth, an Internet kiosk needs to pay about IDR 4 million (about USD 453) a month. So only Internet kiosks with a minimum of 10–20 PCs charging about IDR 3,000–5,000 (USD 0.3–0.5) per hour and located around a campus, tend to be profitable. Many Internet kiosks are either just a hobby or are subsidized by another business of the owners. Internet kiosks face other problems, such as the high cost of Internet bandwidth, extortion, and pornography and other cyber crimes.

According to the Department of Communication and ICT, the level of PC ownership in Indonesia is very low at five million units for about 220 million citizens. On the other hand, the Indonesian Computer Business Association (Asosiasi Pengusaha Komputer Indonesia—APKOMINDO) states that PC sales have grown 20 per cent annually. In 2005, PC sales reached 1.2 million units; the projection for 2006 was 1.44 million units. Sixty-five per cent of the total PCs bought consists of local PCs; the rest are imported. The corporate sector is the biggest consumer, accounting for 30–35 per cent of the total market segment. Government accounts for 25 per cent of consumers; the retail sector and households comprise 10–15 per cent, while the educational institutions account for the rest. IDC research, on the other hand, states that the small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) sector is the biggest PC consumer with 34 per cent of the market share, followed by big companies, government, households and educational institutions.

Key ICT institutions

Several institutions and organizations are responsible for ICT development in Indonesia. They can be classified into three: regulator, industry and civil society. Coordination among the three groups is crucial to the development of ICT in the country.

National ICT Council

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono officially declared the formation of the National Information Communication and Technology Council on 11 November 2006. Its task is to formulate general policies and set the direction of strategic development using ICT. It is also responsible for coordinating the ICT development efforts of local and central government agencies, state-owned and private companies, ICT communities, entrepreneurs, professional institutes and the general public. The Council has authority over the implementation of ICT programmes across departments.

The Council has three years to accomplish its mission. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono himself heads the Steering Committee, with the Coordinating Economic Minister as head deputy. The Chairman on Duty is the Minister of ICT. Ten ministers or ministerial-level officers comprise the Council membership. There is also an Implementation Team which includes the Minister of ICT as ex-officio chairman and ICT experts as members. The Advisory Team consists of the Rectors of the Bandung Institute of Technology, University of Indonesia, Sepuluh November Institute of Technology and Gadjah Mada University. The Partner Team consists of all active participants in the ICT industry.

Regulator/Government agencies

Dirjen Postel (, along with the Indonesia Telecommunication Regulatory Body, is responsible for formulating and implementing ICT regulations and for standardizing the technical aspect of the telecommunication industry. Dirjen Postel includes the Directorate of Telecommunication, Directorate of Radio Frequency Spectrum Satellite Orbit, Directorate of Post and Telecommunication Standardize, and Directorate of International Post and Telecommunication Institutional.

The Indonesia Telecommunication Regulatory Body BRTI ( is an independent regulatory body that aims to protect the interest of telecommunication users and to foster competition in the telecommunication industry. It coordinates with Postel and reports to the Minister of Communication and ICT.

The Ministry of Research and Technology (Kementerian Riset dan Teknologi) ( has as one of its programmes the expansion of ICT infrastructure to foster economic activity. The priority areas include telecommunication development, Internet services, energy-saving and low-priced computers, digital technology and open source applications.

Finally, the Indonesia Security Incident Responses Team on Internet Infrastructure (ID-SIRTII) is tasked with ensuring network safety and security in accordance with Indonesian law. The team includes representatives of the Central Bank, academe, ICT experts and law enforcement. The team is also expected to assist the Minister of Communication and Information Technology in discharging the planning, coordinating, supervising and controlling functions of ID-SIRTII.


The Indonesia Infocomm Society (Masyarakat Telematika—MASTEL) ( is a non-profit institution that functions as a bridge between government and ICT industries. Focusing on telecommunication, multimedia and information technology, MASTEL has the support of about 12 associations in the ICT sector. It has 63 company members, about 215 individual members, 27 not-for-profit organization members and 14 special members.

The Indonesia Information Technology Federation (Federasi Teknologi Informasi Indonesia—FTII) ( consists of several associations in ICT-related and other fields striving for industrial development and the expansion and integration of information technology applications.

The Indonesia ISP Association APJII ( is the umbrella organization of several ISPs. It aims to develop the Internet network in Indonesia through affordable Internet service fees, management of the Indonesia-Network Information Center (ID-NIC) and Indonesia Internet eXchange (IIX), and negotiation of the telecommunication service infrastructure fees. APJII also provides Network Information Resources (NIR) to its members, gives advice to government, and organizes seminars and training programmes.

Civil society/Consumer groups

The Air Putih Foundation (Air Putih) ( started out as a group of humanitarian volunteers with knowledge of ICTs who wanted to open communication lines to Nangroe Aceh Darrusalam which became isolated after the 2004 tsunami. It now serves as an ICT Emergency Response Team mediating and accelerating the distribution of information for disaster management.

The Indonesia Telecommunication Users Group (IDTUG) ( is an independent organization serving as a bridge between consumers, operators and government and advocating for better telecommunication services in Indonesia. IDTUG is affiliated with the International Telecommunications Users Group (INTUG) based in Belgium.

The Center for ICT Studies Foundation ( is involved in humanitarian programmes in the ICT field, such as the Society Self-supporting Computer Laboratory for middle-to-low-income groups and Internet-based health campaigns. Also known as ICT Watch, the foundation undertakes communication programmes and research about the state of ICT4D in Indonesia.

The following organizations are also involved in the development of ICT in Indonesia:

• ICT Business Software Association of Indonesia (ASPILUKI—Asosiasi Piranti Lunak Telematika Indonesia).

• Business Computer Association of Indonesia (APKOMINDO—Asosiasi Pengusaha Komputer Indonesia).

• Higher Education on Information Technology and Computer Association (APTIKOM—Asosiasi Perguruan Tinggi Informatika dan Komputer).

• Internet Kiosk Association of Indonesia (AWARI—Asosiasi Warung Internet Indonesia).

• Wireless LAN Internet Association of Indonesia (IndoWLI—Indonesia Wireless LAN Internet).

• Cellular Provider Association of Indonesia (ATSI—Asosiasi Telepon Selular Indonesia).

• Broadband Wireless Association of Indonesia (ABWINDO—Asosiasi Broadband Wireless Indonesia).

• Satellite Association of Indonesia (ASSI—Asosiasi Satelit Indonesia).

• Telephone Kiosk Association of Indonesia (APWI—Asosiasi Pengusaha Warung Telepon Indonesia).

• Association of Telecommunication National Company Association (APNATEL—Asosiasi Perusahaan Nasional Telekomunikasi).

• Association of Community of Internet Center (APW Komitel—Asosiasi Pengusaha Warnet Komunitas Telematika).

Enabling policies and programmes

National information system

The development of the National Information System (Sistem Informasi Nasional—Sisfonas) was started in 2002 and is expected to reach completion in 2010. Under the system, the Department of Communication and ICT, through its Universal Service Obligation (USO) programme, aims to provide between 2006 and 2010 telecommunication services to 43,000 villages that are not yet reached by the telecommunication network. A comprehensive Sisfonas blueprint has been drawn up and it is expected to become the main standard in the business world. Thus, one of the main concerns among ICT experts is interoperability of government business processes, work schemes, content management, document management, information standards, back office applications, language, search engines, payment gateway, knowledge management and information scheme analysis.

e-Indonesia initiatives 2006

The May 2006 e-Indonesia Initiative Conference organized by the Indonesia ICT Institute, National Planning Body, and Department of Communication and ICT brought together in Bandung 500 academics, practitioners, government officials, IT observers and entrepreneurs. Among the conference recommendations to the government are:

• Encourage initiative and leadership in the development of inexpensive ICT infrastructure.

• Create the position of Chief Information Officer (CIO) in government institutions.

• Establish the single identity policy as soon as possible.

• Coordinate regulation functions of the Department of Communication and ICT and the Ministry of Research and Technology.

• Develop local human resources, especially for the Department of Communication and ICT, Department of National Education, Department of Labour and Ministry of Research and Technology.

Bandung High Tech Valley (BHTV)

The Bandung High Tech Valley (BHTV) is an initiative to foster technology-based businesses and industries in the Bandung region, which extends beyond Bandung city (the capital of West-Java, Indonesia) to the greater Bandung area. The BHTV initiative originated from the Ministry of Industry and Trade as a means to increase electronics exports. It was started in 1986 but was forgotten when Indonesia faced an economic crisis in 1997. It was subsequently restarted by some people in the Bandung Technology Institute (ITB).

BHTV has most of the ingredients for a successful technology area:

• During the Dutch occupation, Bandung was designed to host many government supporting institutions, including research centres. This is why many government agencies (especially those related to technology) have their headquarters in Bandung.

• Bandung is considered as a 'student city': many students from various parts of Indonesia are studying in Bandung.

• Universities operate technology research centres in Bandung.

• Bandung is known as a centre for the traditional and modern arts. Many musicians, bands, painters and other artists come from Bandung.

According to Budi Rahardjo, one of the BHTV founders, the only ingredient that is missing in Bandung is a technology-based multinational company that will attract and keep talented people (science and engineering graduates) in the region. Current BHTV initiatives are focused on helping small technology companies to start in Bandung and attracting multinational companies to invest in research and development in the region. A BHTV expo in which 70 companies participated was held in 2004. On 10 February 2006, the BHTV Foundation was established by four ITB faculty members to further oversee the development of BHTV.

Indonesian Higher Education Network (INHERENT)

The Indonesian Higher Education Network (INHERENT) aims to connect 32 institutions of higher education in Indonesia as part of a distance education programme. To establish a reliable connection among the universities, PT Telekomunikasi Indonesia (Telkom) built and maintained the backbone infrastructure for the 'Smart Campus' programme. Universities in the network receive a grant of more than IDR 500 million (USD 50,000) for network support from Ditjen Dikti. Universities serving as network hubs receive assistance in the form of equipment worth IDR 2 billion (USD 200,000). The university that is selected to develop e-learning content and the digital library could get a IDR 2.5 billion (USD 250,000) fund.

The long-term goal is to make all of the 200 universities in Indonesia part of INHERENT. However, different universities enjoy different connection speeds. In Java the connection uses a STM-1 infrastructure that provides 155 Mbps. In outer Java the connection speed is 8 Mbps. For Papua and Moluccas the connection speed is only 2 Mbps due to infrastructure limitations.

Digital content initiatives

There are about 20,000 third-level domains under the country code Top Level Domain (cc-TLD).id. About 1,000 new domain names are registered every month.

The Department of Communication and ICT has published guidelines for central and local government institutions regarding digital content distribution through the Internet. These include the Government Infrastructure Development Portal Guidance, Making Local Government Website Guidance, Management of Electronic Document System Guidance and Compose e-Government Development Master Plan Guidance. According to the Department of Communication and ICT, about 48 per cent of the 472 provinces and regencies/cities have a website.

A national magazine, Warta Ekonomi, gives an e-Government Award annually to government institutions that are evaluated on the following criteria: change process, leadership, e-government investment strategy, coordination with other parties and focus on social services. Websites are also evaluated in terms of design, content, accessibility and responsiveness. The 2005 winners, the fourth set since the contest was established, were the following: Yogyakarta— (Regency/City Administration), East Java— (Province Administration), Department of Public Works— (Department), and Institution of National Survey and Mapping Coordination— (Non-Department Government Institution).

The Indonesia ICT Institute also publishes infometric rankings of government websites using size, links and Web impact as criteria. The top 10 government websites are: DKI Jakarta Province website (, Surabaya City Administration—East Java (, East Java Province (, Bali Province (, Indonesian Bank (, Department of Industry and Commerce (, Bantul Regency Administration—Yogyakarta ( and West Kalimantan Province (

The national portal,, is managed by the Office of the Secretary of State and the Department of Communication and ICT. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono also has an official website,, which is managed by the Office of the Presidential Spokesperson and an independent editorial team. There is some debate among ICT experts about 'PresidenSBY' as the website's name (some think it is not formal enough for a presidential website) and the domain '.info' (the official state domain name is ''). The website contains information on the agenda and activities of the President. It has an English-language section and provides information services through SMS, audio streaming, podcast feed and syndicated news through RSS. Launched in February 2006, the website cost IDR 84 million (USD 8,400) to put up; its monthly maintenance costs amount to IDR 42 million (USD 4,200).

Online services

Many online services are available to the Indonesian public. One of these is e-banking services such as those provided for BCA clients ( and Bank Mandiri ( Some universities, such as Bina Nusantara University (, use integrated virtual management systems and online study materials. There are also many e-commerce websites, including computer store websites like Bhinneka ( and tourist service websites like ( Airline tickets can be bought online from Air Asia ( and Adam Air (

Also available is a Yellow Pages service on the Internet (, as well as various online media services such as Detikcom (, Kompas ( and Bisnis Indonesia (

Tax directorate serves tax payers better through IT

The Tax Information System (Sistim Informasi Pajak—SIP), which has been operational since 1990, is the 'oldest' IT application of the Directorate General of Tax. The plan is to gradually reduce and then replace this SIP application with the Integrated Tax Application System (Sistim Aplikasi Pajak Terpadu—SAPT) under the Directorate General of Tax Information System (Sistim Informasi Direktorat Jenderal Pajak—SIDJP). SAPT will be used by the Tax Area Office to handle large tax obligators (or large tax payers locally known as Wajib Pajak Besar). SIDJP will be used by the Tax Area Bureau to handle tax obligators such as state-owned corporations, foreign institutions or expatriates, foreign investment and company exchange. Both the SAPT and SIDJP are already being used in Jakarta.

According to, the Directorate General of Tax's information portal is very useful, providing an early warning service to tax obligators who have not paid their taxes or posted a Tax Payment Announcement Mail after specific dates. Other applications are an e-filling and e-registration application. Both of those applications also connect to SAPT, SIDJP and SIP through software bridges.

The use of IT by the Directorate General of Tax has already increased tax income collection. According to Taxation Director General Hadi Purnomo, the total income tax collected between 2001 (when the Directorate started using the Internet) and 2004 reached about IDR 660 quintillion, which is more than the total income tax of IDR 600 quintillion collected over 30 years before the Directorate started using the Internet.

IT applications at the Directorate include Yearly Announcement Mail (Surat Pemberitahuan Tahunan—SPT) with Tax Obligator ID Number (Nomor Pokok Wajib Pa jak—NPWP) and online tax obligator registration (e-Registration or e-Reg). Taxes can be paid through any payment channel, including e-banking. Thus, tax payers now enjoy the benefits of e-government, such as better service and information available 24 hours a day seven days a week. Hadi said that with IT, tax evasion is easier to detect and the taxation process is simpler, quicker and cheaper.

Open source and open content initiatives

Open source movement

The Indonesian Go Open Source! (IGOS) movement was launched on 30 June 2004 by the Ministry of Research and Technology, Ministry of Communication and Information Technology, Ministry of Justice and Human Rights and Ministry of National Education. It aims to:

• Promote the use of Open Source Software (OSS) in Indonesia;

• Prepare guidelines for the development and use of OSS in Indonesia;

• Establish a training centre, competency centre and open source-based business incubator centre in Indonesia; and

• Improve the government and society's ability, creativity and participation in the use of OSS.

Some of the open source applications developed by the Indonesian ICT community are Windows in Indonesian language (Windows Bahasa Indonesia—WinBi), BlankOn Linux Distro, IGOS Desktop and Application System and Waroeng IGOS for Internet Kiosk Client-Server Application.

Computer knowledge for free

IlmuKomputer.Com (IKC), which means computer knowledge, is a website that contains free material and lectures on computer technology in Bahasa. Free materials with Open License Content are available and ready to download in PDF and CD-ROM format. Established on 17 April 2003, IKC received a World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) award as one of 'The 21 Continental Best Practice Examples in the e-Learning Category.'

IKC materials were written by hundreds of volunteer contributors from cities in Indonesia and abroad. The materials include tutorial/lecture materials, translations, reviews and various practical advice. Online consultations are also available through Yahoo Messenger and virtual seminars.


Enda Nasution, who is known as the Father of Indonesian bloggers, estimates that there are currently 70,000–90,000 Indonesian blogs. Indonesian blogger communities may be built around a geographic area; an example is the community for bloggers from Semarang (Central Java). Other blogger communities have members from a wider area, such as the community.

In Indonesia, it is not only the young people who keep blogs. Prominent senior people who are known bloggers are former World Marketing Association President Hermawan Kartajaya, Minister of Defence Juwono Sudarsono and IT journalist Budi Putra. Books about blog-making techniques have been published and mainstream online media group detikINET ( frequently gather the blogger community to hold discussions or training sessions on how to make blogs for students, teachers, housewives and even activists.

A thousand books for the blind

The Thousand Books Project, spearheaded by the Mitra Netra Foundation (, is an opportunity for volunteers to transform popular books in Indonesia into e-books that can be read by blind people through the Mitra Netra intranet. To date, more than 280 people have joined the project. They encode the books on their own and then send the files by e-mail or post service to Mitra Netra which then edits the files and posts them on the Mitra Netra intranet. Blind people are able to 'read' the e-books using screen reader software. The Mitra Netra website contains a list of the available e-books, as well as books that are still being re-encoded. Volunteers include people from outside Indonesia.

National computer camp for the blind

On 23 November 2006, a competition titled 'The First National Computer Camp for the Blind' was organized by Yayasan Mitra Netra to encourage blind people to make use of computers. As many as 100 people with sight disability competed in poetry writing using Microsoft Word, calculating profit and loss using Microsoft Excel and browsing the Internet. Contestants used notebooks in which a screen reader software called Job Access with Speech (JAWS) was installed.

Education and capacity building

One of the obstacles to the success of the e-government initiatives in Indonesia is the lack of human resources adequately trained in the use of IT. Data from the Re-Registration of Government Employees in 2003 conducted by the National Government Employee Body show that only 27 per cent of the 3.6 million government employees completed college and 55.8 per cent of the total are 40–56 years old. This profile suggests a lack of skills necessary for IT-based government work as well as a lack of willingness to adopt IT-based changes.

According to the Human Resources Blue Book published in October 2003 by the Bandung Technology Institute and the Department of Industry and Commerce, by 2010 Indonesia will need about 327,813 personnel for the ICT industry. Around 32.5 million personnel are needed to support public services and other industries by 2008, according to the Department of Communication and ICT. However, based on calculations by the ICT and Computer Higher Education Association (APTIKOM), there are only 20,000 ICT graduates every year.

To address the need for trained ICT personnel, some ICT-related industry associations have formed the Indonesia National Work Competence Standard (Standar Kompetensi Kerja Nasional Indonesia— SKKNI) which lists 27 competencies for computer operators and 91 competencies for programmers.

Several educational institutions provide capacity building for ICT human resources. According to the latest research conducted by Tempo Data Research and Analysis, the top 10 universities with ICT programmes in 2006 are:

1. Bandung Technology Institute—Bandung (

2. Bina Nusantara University—Jakarta (

3. Gunadarma University—Jakarta (

4. University of Indonesia—Jakarta (

5. 10 November Technology Institute—Surabaya (

6. University of Gadjah Mada—Yogyakarta (

7. Tarumanegara University—Jakarta (

8. Trisakti University—Jakarta (

9. Telkom Technology College—Bandung (

10. Pelita Harapan University—Jakarta (

At its November 2006 National Congress, the Association of Higher Education on Information Technology and Computers APTIKOM in Bandung declared its support for the implementation of the e-Learning Joint Content Programme in 2007. The academic institutions that are members of APTIKOM are requested to offer online a minimum of one subject worth three credits as part of the e-learning programme. This means that students of one university can enrol in the online courses offered by other universities.

Research and development

VoIP is a main focus of ICT research and development in Indonesia. ICT Center, Jakarta ( successfully piloted the use of Maverick VoIP with a group of vocational high schoolteachers. The technology will soon be implemented

Multichannel learning by Bina Nusantara University

Bina Nusantara University (UBiNus) ( in Jakarta combines on-campus and off-campus course delivery methods in a programme called Multi Channel Learning (MCL). First implemented in 2002, the MCL programme offers 13 sessions in one semester, of which four are delivered via e-learning mode. Around 78 per cent of UBiNus courses can be accessed through the Internet (e-Indonesia Magazine, January 2006).

The MCL programme uses a learning management system (LMS) developed by UBiNus. Free Internet services are given to students living within a 5 km radius of the campus. There are hotspots at the Syahdan and Anggrek campuses providing a wireless connection to students with the appropriate PDAs or notebook computers. Classrooms are equipped with an LCD projector and a multimedia computer that is connected to the Internet.

On 25 July 2006, UBiNus signed a memorandum of understanding with the Department of Communication and ICT for the development and implementation of strategic communication and information technology for national development.

in more than 4,000 schools. Maverick VoIP technology can be used free of charge and interconnects easily with government and private telecommunication networks, whether fixed phone or mobile phone.

The liberalization of the 2.4 GHz band for Wi-Fi in 2005 stimulated the spread of VoIP activity. The liberalization of the 2.4 GHz band was the result of concerted efforts by the Indonesian ICT community, especially those who joined the mailing-list An innovation by the mailing-list moderators is the 'wajanbolic' and 'pancibolic' technology, a 2.4 GHz antenna made out of a wok or cooking pan and which can provide connection speeds of 11–54 Mbps within a 3–4 kilometre radius at a cost of only IDR 350,000 (USD 35). Using RT/RW-net technology, or metro LAN, households can connect at a speed of 100 Mbps Fast Ethernet for only IDR 200,000 (USD 20). With Wi-Fi, 24 hours of Internet access costs only about IDR 350,000 (USD 35) every month.

Several other R&D efforts in Indonesia are directed at making ICTs more accessible to rural communities. An example is the award-winning e-Pabelan telecentre.


Given the size of the Indonesian population and the relatively low ICT penetration rate at present, it is clear that Indonesia can become a huge market for ICTs in the future. For the moment, however, it ranks 60th among 65 countries in the 2005 e-Readiness Rankings published by the Economist Intelligence

Observing the price of chilli at the e-Pabelan telecentre

The National Development Planning Board (Badan Perencanaan Pembangunan Nasional—Bappenas), in coordination with UNDP, has put up six telecentres under the Partnership for e-Prosperity for the Poor (PePP) programme. One of the six, the telecentre in Pabelan, received the APEC Digital Opportunity Center (ADOC) Award for ICT Best Practice for Bridging the Digital Divide category in Taipei in July 2006. The e-Pabelan telecentre project, as it is called, bested similar programmes in Chile, the Philippines, Peru and Vietnam.

The e-Pabelan telecentre, which opened on 23 April 2004, is a 7 x 12 metre house providing Internet facilities for farmers. At the start of the project, 10 farmer groups of 15–25 farmers each used the Internet for two hours every day for 10 days. The farmers gathered information on the plant diseases that were afflicting their crops. The chilli farmers in Pabelan II orchard, Pabelan village, Mungkid sub-district, Magelang regency, Central Java used the Internet to find information on the market price of chilli. Armed with this information, they no longer get cheated by middlemen. The farmers also get online information on seeds, planting techniques, pests and pesticides and fertilizers.

The Islamic boarding students, called santri, of Pondok Pesantren Pabelan also make use of the telecentre. The facility charges the general public a fee of IDR 3,000/hour (USD 3) while farmers pay only IDR 1,000/hour (USD 1). Using the telecentre as a 'workshop', one santri won second place in a computer application competition by Microsoft and earned a training slot in South Korea.

Unit. Indonesia was ranked lowest in terms of the legal and policy environment and social and cultural environment.

The lack of appropriate legal and policy controls is underlined further by Indonesia's having been identified as one of three countries with the highest piracy rates in 2005 in a piracy study published by BSA and IDC Global Software. The 2005 piracy rate was 87 per cent, lower by only 1 per cent than the 2003 piracy rating. According to BSA, piracy is most rampant in the business sector, especially among small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The Indonesian government estimates a financial loss of around USD 280 million (about USD 31,758) every year because of piracy. Because of the weakness of law enforcement against piracy, Indonesia has been included in the United States Trade Representative (USTR) priority watch list, hampering trade with the US and making Indonesia vulnerable to sanctions from the World Trade Organization (WTO).

While it may not be fair to ask ICT producers and vendors to sell their products at prices lower than the prevailing price in developed country markets, the fact is that the purchasing power parity in Indonesia is much lower compared with that in developed countries. Thus, one finds that even in Internet kiosks, violations of intellectual property rights, such as use of pirated software are rampant. One reason is that the price of 10 sets of software, for use in an Internet kiosk equipped with 10 computers, could be as high as the price of the computers themselves.

The Indonesian government recognizes that Internet kiosks play an important role in promoting the benefits of using the Internet to the public. Presidential Decree No. 6 Year 2001, on ICT Development and Usability in Indonesia, points out that Internet kiosks could broaden the range and content of public information services, including medical and education services, serve as a public service centre in cities and villages, and provide e-commerce services for small and middle enterprises. One solution to software piracy in Internet kiosks is use of open source software. However, it is not easy to change the behaviour of businessmen and their customers.

The government continues to work towards increasing tele-density in Indonesia. At the Indonesia Infrastructure Conference and Exhibition (IICE) held in November 2006, the Department of Communication and ICT optimistically projected growth of telecommunication teledensity by as much as 20.1 per cent for fixed-lines, 26.7 per cent for mobile phones, 30.8 per cent for Internet use and 71 per cent for bandwidth by 2010. Clearly, much work needs to be done by government, the business community, academe and the ICT community in Indonesia for these projections to be realized.


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Masoud Davarinejad and Massood Saffari

Population (October 2006

70,490,262 (urban 69.9 per cent; rural 30.1


per cent)


USD 187.9 billion (current prices), USD 2,730


per capita

Key economic sectors

Petroleum & Gas (27 per cent), Agriculture

(per cent of GDP)

(10 per cent), Industry (16 per cent),


Services (47 per cent)

Computers per 100 inhabitants


Fixed-line telephones per

29.7 (20.34 million lines)

100 inhabitants


Mobile phones per

12.5 (8.51 million subscribers)

100 inhabitants


Internet users per 100

12 per 100 inhabitants (8.25 million



Domain names ('.ir')

46,442 as of December 2006



Broadband subscribers

0.38 (260,000 subscribers)

per 100 inhabitants


Internet domestic bandwidth

10,075 Mbps

Internet international

3,720 Mbps as of December 2006



Note: All figures are as of 22 March 2006 unless otherwise stated.

Technology infrastructure

From 2000 until the end of 2005, Iran witnessed large increases in infrastructure capacity and development of information technology. Privatization and competition in the telecommunications market were the main themes of the Third Five-Year Plan 2000–2004. Although the infrastructure was off limits to private investment and competition due to restrictions imposed by Article 44 of the Constitution, major investment attractions such as the second nationwide mobile license were auctioned, and service provision in data communications, the Internet and satellite communications was opened to the private and public sectors.

Official statistics at the end of 2005 show a remarkable increase in telecommunications growth indicators. One of the main contributing factors was the implementation of guidelines in the Third National Development Plan to downsize and thus improve the efficiency of government organizations and companies. This hazardous and bumpy yet life-saving path resulted in record achievements. There are 1.48 employees for maintenance of fixed telephony per 1,000 lines compared to 4.99 per 1,000 lines at the end of 1999. The number of fixed-line subscribers jumped to 20.34 million with a penetration rate of 29.7, and the number of mobile telephone subscribers went up to 8.51 million in 990 cites or almost 100 per cent nationwide. By July 2006, there were 21 million fixed-line subscribers and 10 million mobile phone subscribers.

Parallel efforts to increase digital switches and fixed-lines in urban areas provided one million transmission circuits at the end of 2005. This was due to the increase in the number of microwave stations and the upgrade of legacy transmission facilities utilizing digital radio links.

The use of fibre optics in the telecommunications backbone is fairly recent. Official figures provided by the Telecommunications Company of Iran (TCI) show that there was no fibre optic network in 1995, nearly 7,200 km of fibre optic network at the end of 1999 and 56,000 km in 2005. TCI reports that to minimize downtimes and boost the availability of the network, the whole network is designed as three interconnected DWDM loops with a capacity of 4 STM 64 and routes ending in Tehran with 8 STM 64.

The deployment of fibre optics in other infrastructure sectors has also gained momentum. The Iran Power Generation, Transmission & Distribution Management Company, known as TAVANIR, has reported the implementation of Optical Ground Wire (OPGW) and Power Line Communications (PLC) to 2,500 km, with plans to extend to 6,500 km. This network is intended mainly to connect the five dispatch centres scattered throughout the country and to trade the excess capacity with TCI for voice channels or other services. Iran Railways also benefits from a network consisting of coaxial cable and fibre optics for its signalling and messaging needs. The network is 2,500 km long.

Telecommunications facilities available till the latter half of the Third National Development Plan included High bit-rate Digital Subscriber Line (HDSL) links using leased lines and base band modems and spread spectrum wireless links which had gained popularity due to the fact that no license or payment of fees was required. At the same time, the Data Communication Company of Iran (DCI), which was established in 1991, finally gained momentum by providing high-speed HDSL links and E1 and fractional E1 connectivity to cope with the growing demand for data communications facilities. At the end of 2005, DCI, which was renamed the IT Company after the reorganization of the Ministry of PTT (MPTT) and TCI in 2004, reported a total of 106,104 high-speed ports.

Since 1969 satellite communication has been dedicated to providing international voice connection. The first trial to enable 300 rural areas to access the telephony system via satellite failed due to technical difficulties and design flaws. In 1988, attempts to provide data communications using VSAT terminals succeeded and TCI established its first hub in Bumehen, a city 20 km east of Tehran. In 2002, TCI had more than 900 VSATs installed. In the same period, the Central Bank of Iran was issued a license to provide satellite access solely to the banks and for banking applications only. By the end of 2004, they had more than 2,500 terminals installed and a plan to deploy another 1,500 within two years. In 2005, the Communication Regulatory Organization opened VSAT and satellite services to competition and issued four five-year licenses.

Between 2003 and 2005, in accordance with regulations set by the Supreme Council of Information Dissemination (HCID), MPTT issued to the private sector, hundreds of permits to provide Internet services and a few permits to provide gateway services to the Internet (known as ICP). Those providing the connectivity to the international gateways installed their own satellite facilities and acted in accordance with mutual contracts with their partners, mainly from Europe. Official reports indicate that there were 747 ISPs and 35 ICPs at the end of 2005 in Iran.

Among several regulated services opened for licensing to the private sector were data communications service provider licenses (known as PAP in the local market) which permit licensees to provide wired/wireless data communications services throughout the country. By the end of 2004, out of 26 applicants only 11 remained in the market, providing ADSL, G.HSDHL and high-speed wireless services to around 200,000 subscribers in more than 40 cities. Competition has reduced the price of Internet access to a monthly payment of USD 16 for a minimum package of 64/128 Kbps, including an ADSL modem or CPE (Customer Premises Equipment).

Increased use of the Internet bandwidth is partly due to international calls. Although there was no specific regulation for Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) in 1999, there was tacit approval among the middle management of the MPTT and DCI of VoIP for calls originating from Iran while terminating calls would not be permitted. By 2005, the increase in the number of minutes for terminating calls had reached about 600 million minutes or 57 per cent of the total incoming traffic to Iran. This forced MPTT to regulate the situation and finally issue temporary (renewable annually) permits for international calls originating from the country and to declare terminating calls as illegal. This in turn has created a grey market for what has been nicknamed 'smugglers of minutes'. These unwanted small entities use unlicensed satellite equipment to connect to their minute providers abroad using Internet protocols and dedicated routers. They are known to have made fortunes. In May 2005, the Communication Regulatory Commission (CRO) produced a comprehensive model named 'international voice services' to regulate the volatile market covering both origination and termination as well as transit calls, and a draft license was prepared for the regulatory commission to approve, which is still pending.

There is lack of agreement about the number of Internet users in Iran. Sanaray, the Software Export Research & Development Co., notes the number of Internet users as of December 2005 to be 7.35 million: 4.04 million (55 per cent) home use, 1.91 million (26 per cent) government use and 1.4 million (19 per cent) business use. Internet World Stats reported on 12 August 2006 the number of Internet users in Iran in mid-2005 to be around 7.5 million. Other sources, such as IT newsletters and blogs, estimate the number of Internet users in Iran to be between 5 and 15 million as of end 2005 to mid-2006. A report circulated by the Office of the Minister of CIT in August 2005 probably presents the most accurate estimate: 8.25 million with a penetration rate of 12 users per 100 inhabitants. One reason for the differences in reported numbers is the difference in definitions of Internet users: some do not count the mere use of e-mail, while others think including those who access the Internet at Internet cafés is double-counting. However, most studies agree that there are 2.5 million dial-up Internet subscribers in 316 cities (or 31.6 per cent of the 990 cities in the country).

Key institutions dealing with ICTs

Policymaking in information technology is multifaceted and requires coordination among several sectors that have different agendas and priorities. In Iran, the issue is compromised by concurrent councils and bodies each addressing a division within IT. These include the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT), the High Council of Informatics (HCI) which is affiliated with the Management and Planning Organization (MPO), the Supreme Council of IT within MCIT which is headed by the President, and the High Council of Information Dissemination (HCID) which is affiliated with the High Council of the Cultural Revolution. In addition to these official bodies, the High Council of Cyberspace Information Exchange Security (AFTA), which is under the Office of the President, has published general guidelines for ICT security.

HCI, composed of representatives of several key ministries and organizations, was the first body empowered by the Supreme Council of the Revolution in 1979 to make decisions on computer-related issues. During its first years of operation, HCI managed and settled claims and disputes between large international computer companies. It was not until 1990 that HCI played an active role in policymaking and guidance of the IT sector.

The Secretariat of HCI, the executive body that carries out the decisions of the HCI within the Planning and Budget Organization which was later renamed the Management and Planning Organization (MPO), was reconstituted and took the lead in developing the IT sector in Iran and in responding to the needs of the commercial market and the researchers by providing them with information and analysis of applied technologies, IT indicators and statistics, and insights into the need to implement professional standards. This laid the foundation for an era of interaction among key players.

In the years 2000–2002, when the High Council of Information Dissemination (HCID) and the Development of Information Technology Applications programme (TAKFA) began to take over policymaking in the IT sector, HCI's influence and policymaking role gradually faded away although its legal foundations and official status and duties remained unchanged.

HCID was established in 1998 as the main authority and policymaker in IT and Internet-related issues in Iran, in response to concerns expressed by the cultural authorities and influential religious figures regarding the presentation of explicit content over the new media, in particular the Internet. Its first move was to announce in 2001 the regulation of operations of the ISPs and the ICPs. An executive body was established to ensure that materials on the Internet did not undermine or violate accepted social norms of decency and modesty and national security. This body has been the object of much criticism from both its foes and friends.

Although the approach and rules set by HICD had a limiting impact on the growth of the Internet as intended at the outset, the efforts of educational institutes, research centres and universities, and the pioneer vanguard Internet service providers spurred the growth and spread of the Internet, which in turn resulted in an increase in the number of ISPs and ICPs. This made the Internet accessible around the country.

In 2003, a law stipulating the duties and powers of the MCIT was passed and a new council to govern IT in Iran was born. However, this did not eliminate the outdated, ineffective and redundant bodies and councils. The new Supreme Council of Information Technology (SCIT), chaired by the president and managed by the Minister of CIT, took over all aspects of IT policymaking but oversight of digital contents remained within the responsibility of the Supreme Council of Dissemination.

There is one regulatory body governing ICT development in Iran: the Communications Regulatory Commission (CRC) headed by the Minister of CIT and its executive body, the Communications Regulatory Organization (CRO). The CRC consists of government-appointed experts and senior officials of MCIT and other government bodies. It approves the rules and regulations for the development of the ICT sector. The CRO implements the rules and regulations approved by the CRC and is responsible for radio frequency management and planning. It has offices all over the country.

The institutions responsible for supporting and promoting ICT-related initiatives are the Hi-Tech Industries Center under the Ministry of Mines & Industries, the Electronics Fund for Research & Development (ESFRD) also under the Ministry of Mines & Industries, the Development of Information Technology Applications programme (TAKFA) and the Production and Management of Electronic Content initiative (TASMA) started by HCID in early 2006 to complement TAKFA. TAKFA, an initiative in 2001–04, was part of the National ICT Agenda of the President's special envoy in close collaboration with the secretariat of HCID.

ICT research is centred mainly in the Iran Telecommunications Research Center (ITRC), which is affiliated with MCIT, the Institute for Studies in Theoretical Physics & Mathematics (IPM), the Sharif Advanced Information and Communications Research Center and the Research Center of Informatics Industries.

Several NGOs have been active in ICT development in Iran for more than two decades. However, due to tight government control of the sector, they do not have a serious role in ICT development in the country. These NGOs include the Computer Guild Organization, Iran Informatics Companies Association, Sanaray Software Export Research & Development Co., Informatics Society of Iran, Computer Society of Iran and Union of Iranian Software Exporters.

Several legacy government organizations mandated to produce information and statistics and established before 1977, such as the Statistical Center of Iran, the National Cartographic Center and the National Remote Sensing Center, have been major users of large mainframe computers and are believed to be among the major contributors of digital data for the growth of other sectors and national planning. Also among such organizations are the Information Technology Company (ITC) affiliated with MCIT and the Iranian Information & Documentation Center (IRANDOC).

Digital content

Websites in the Persian language form part of non-Latin based digital content on the Internet. The number of Persian blogs is estimated to be around 800,000, of which one-eighth are registered with service providers like Persian Blog and Blogfa (Ziyaee-Parvar 2006). Other sources report the number of active blogs to be around 150,000. There is also a considerable volume of Persian content on Islamic-related issues available on the Internet. A large array of CD-ROMs on Islam and Iranian culture, basic education and history is likewise available in the market.

The DPI Law system, an online Web-based Persian search engine and data base established in 1999, has about 10 Gb of text and indexes that include all of the legislation, enacted laws, bylaws, government and ministerial decrees, important court rulings and regulations with cross-links, as well as references to obsolete, ineffective and amended paragraphs. However, because legal expertise is required for the evaluation of remarks and pronouncements, and because of lack of financial support, the website's operation and services have been reduced to a minimum since early 2006.

Tebyan, which is affiliated with the Islamic Development Organization, runs a website covering religion and related sciences and issues. It is expected to roll out the largest data centre in Iran by mid-2007.

TASMA, an acronym for 'Production and Management of Electronic Content' in Persian, was announced by HCID in 2006 as a substitute for the TAKFA programme in the promotion of digital content in Iran. This programme is part of a restructuring plan that led HCID to focus exclusively on Persian content and leave other IT-related issues to the Supreme Council of IT.

Use of the Persian language in computer applications, specifically typefaces on printers, keyboards and data entry systems, goes back to 1975 when IBM introduced Persian printing chains and slugs and banking applications used NCR Persian keyboards to generate bank statements and monthly reports in Persian. Through the joint efforts of SHCI and Sharif University of Technology, the Persian language is now a part of Unicode and portability of Persian data from any platform is assured.

Online services

Basic online services, such as downloading of forms to be filled in, signed and then mailed back to processing authorities, have been available to the public in Iran since 2000. However, it was not until 2003 that these basic online services were recognized and utilized by the few with access to the Internet. The lack of payment capability in these online services gravely limited their scope. In early 2003, very few websites offered electronic marketing. Only local cash or debit cards were accepted, as credit cards were not yet available. In the beginning, only locally available products, for which shipment was not an issue, were marketed, such as scarves, handicrafts and flower bouquets for feasts and funerals. Goleshahr was one of the few that pioneered in online sales in Iran; it has left the market to hundreds of newcomers.

The root Certificate Authority (CA) is now in place in Iran. Although many B2C websites are in service, shopping online is not yet popular. B2B services have not yet been developed.

Another online service is the publication of university entrance examination results. Millions log in to websites designed for this purpose, such as the Sanjesh Organization website. The period when examination results are published is characterized by the worst Internet traffic in Iran.

Most banks offer basic online services over the Internet, such as online statements of account. These services are also offered using fax and SMS. In some banks, individuals can now transfer funds between their accounts within a bank. The interbank network called SHETAB, which is affiliated with the Central Bank, provides connectivity and switching services for all of the 16 banks and credit institutes in Iran. SHETAB has gained momentum in the last two years, despite public dissatisfaction with the pricing scheme and its monopoly status. The Central Bank reports 18.542 million electronic cards issued as of September 2006, representing a 78 per cent increase from the end of 2005. The number of automated teller machines has grown 56 per cent in the same period to 7,630 nationwide. There were 115,537 point-of-sale terminals in use as of September 2006, a 210 per cent increase from the end of 2005 (Central Bank Payment Systems Bureau September 2006). Online payment of utility bills has gained popularity and account holders now require more sophisticated services from their banks. These services are being organized and advocated by the card companies associated with the banks. One factor in the late introduction of these services is said to be the incompetence of the IT bureaus of the utility companies.

The railways authority is among the few government agencies in Iran with IT plans and successful implementation of online services. Its Web-based services include presentation of detailed train schedules, reservation and sale of tickets.

Online reservation and sales of theatre tickets, CDs and DVDs, household appliances, and second-hand and used items sold by electronic thrift shops, as well as online student registration are becoming popular. However, no statistics on these services are available as of now.

ICT and ICT-related industries

Production of analog telephone switching centres in Iran goes back to 1969 when the Iran Telecommunications Manufacturing Company (ITMC) was founded in the city of Shiraz to produce switches for local, STD and transit switching centres for the telecommunications backbone. To guarantee the flow of technology and know-how, the German Siemens company was given 40 per cent of the shares of ITMC, and the MPTT and Bank of Industry and Mines a 30 per cent stake each. ITMC's nominal production capacity for analog switches was 30,000 subscriber lines. In 1990, a new production line for manufacturing digital switches was installed and production reached 260,000 subscriber lines. Later in 2003, as reported by TCI, production reached 2.5 million subscriber lines. ITMC has 70 per cent of the local market for fixed telephony switches.

In addition, there are private companies manufacturing digital telephone switches and pertinent software for small-capacity switching centres and PABX with less than 10,000 subscriber lines. Although there is a market for small switching centres below 10,000 subscribers in small cities and rural and industrial areas, these companies are unable to envision exporting their goods and they are always threatened by the active presence of major manufacturers. Thus, they are always seeking government protection to limit the import of telephones and other telecommunications equipment into the country.

Production of fibre optic cables started in 1994 in the city of Yazd with a capacity of 30,000 km of standard cable of different capacities.

The Syndicate of Telecommunications Industries has reported a membership of 50 major companies manufacturing antenna, telephone sets, small PBX, UHF/VHF radios and wireless handhelds, multiplexers, GSM BTS and antenna, copper cables and wires. The Iran IT Manufacturers Syndicate (IITMS), another strong union, has 52 members producing CRT and LCD monitors, power supplies and UPS, keyboards and other common computer peripherals such as mouse and speakers, PCs in CKD, simple SMD boards and computer accessories. Except for less than USD 10 million worth of exports, most target the Iranian market and lack competitive export capabilities.

Enabling policies and programmes

The Third National Five-Year Development Plan 2000–2004 was a landmark move for the privatization and liberalization of the telecommunications sector in Iran. Eleven licenses were granted to data communications service providers known as PAP, through which they provide ADSL and cellular wireless technologies; five licenses were issued to satellite service operators; six licenses were given to PSTN operators; and two licenses were issued to GSM mobile operators.

In July 2002, the government launched TAKFA (Development of Information Technology Applications programme, an acronym in Persian), which had seven major axes:

1. e-government;

2. education and digital skills development;

3. higher education, health, and medical therapy and training;

4. social services;

5. commerce and trade;

6. culture, arts, and Persian language and script in computer environments; and

7. ICT industry through SME empowerment, incubation centres and technology parks.

TAKFA encouraged major government agencies to review their existing plans and incorporate these seven initiatives. Agencies with plans that were fully in line with TAKFA's thrusts were granted a generous budget or subsidized finances. TAKFA initiated 110 major projects consisting of more than 5,000 sub-projects in almost all sectors. TAKFA also initiated several by-laws and decrees issued by the MPO and the President to minimize government spending and improve bureaucratic efficiency. However, TAKFA failed to produce a cohesive roadmap for sustainable growth of IT in Iran. A second phase for TAKFA is now under study.

The Fourth National Five-Year Development Plan 2005–09 envisions a knowledge-based economy in which the ICT sector, technology parks and incubators are to play a key role. Technology parks are exempted from state and local taxes and given other incentives to attract investors. The Plan highlights the following thrusts:

1. Systematic expansion of ICT applications towards the realization of a knowledge-based economy consistent with national development goals;

2. Development of human resources as a strategic priority in the expansion of ICT applications in order to create more 'value-creating' jobs;

3. Cultural development and creation of an empowering environment for creating maximum national synergy;

4. Implementing the necessary infrastructure for ICT development, including access network, security, laws and regulations, resources and facilities; and

5. Development of facilities and opportunities towards mobilization of the private sector.

Technology parks and incubator centres have been the centre of government attention since 1998 and their growth was considerable during the period of the Third Plan. There are now nine incubators authorized by the Ministry of Science and Technology. Pardis Technology Park (PTP), a major project, is located 20 km east of the capital city of Tehran, with an area of 38 hectares. The Park enjoys proximity to one of the largest telecommunications facilities in Iran, with major local and international fibre cables passing through it. PTP, which was started in 2001 as a government initiative, aims to create an environment for companies with similar missions to develop high-tech industries and to facilitate the flow of foreign investment and the transfer of technologies to its tenants. The full rollout has been rescheduled to early 2007. Out of 70 companies committed to joining PTP, 42 are in IT and telecommunications; the rest are engaged in automation, biotechnology, mechanics and chemistry. One of the major data centres in Iran is under construction at PTP. The techno-market, first conceptualized by PTP in Iran, aims to harbour a cyber market for the trading of know-how, innovative ideas and products. Having started off by building physical capacity, PTP has recently diverted attention to strategic planning and devising a clear business plan and a legal and financial framework.

Legal and regulatory environment

As previously mentioned, the Communications Regulatory Commission (CRC), consisting of seven members and headed by the Minister of MCIT and with the president of the Communications Regulatory Organization (CRO) as secretary, is empowered to restructure the telecommunications sector and to approve telecommunications regulations and by-laws. The CRO implements the policies and decisions of the CRC, issues licenses for telecommunication services, and allocates and manages the frequency spectrum. CRO is built on the former Directorate-General for Radio Communication, a major bureau within MPTT and the ITU contact point.

Unfortunately, due to ambiguities in interpretations of the Constitution, arbitration is not covered by existing laws and is a matter of voluntary engagement. Arbitration plays an important role in forming and guiding the telecommunications market.

Some of the important issues perceived to have a major impact on the growth of the software market have been addressed by the relevant councils. Copyright law, which has been in effect in Iran since 1990, is the most important in this regard. However, Iran has not yet joined any international agreements on copyright of foreign software, except for bilateral treaties in which a mutual copyright is also respected.

Tehran Software and IT Park

The Tehran Software and IT Park (TSITP) started out as an idea of the Tehran Municipality to capitalize on its 435 m tall telecommunications tower (called Milad Tower) and the surrounding 8 hectare (expandable to 15 hectares) park and forest. The MPTT, on the other hand, envisioned TSITP as a prestigious IT park with an attractive and flexible franchise to support the development of innovative and technology-driven enterprises. The Minister of PTT and the Mayor of Tehran signed a partnership agreement in January 2002, a five-member steering committee was appointed, and the study phase commenced on October 2002, with a budget and financial resources allocation by ITRC. The study recommended skipping over the Milad premises for a larger and more appropriate location.

TSITP was intended to upgrade Iran's access to technology, facilitate Iran's integration into the global economy, create a world-class environment that would attract innovative elites, pave the way for blending with the global wave of information technology, and prepare the ground for interaction between the local and world markets. As part of the consensus-building around TSITP's mission, a lot of effort was devoted to reaching a collective understanding of the country's current status and future directions for development. A pilot project, in the form of an elaborate IT tower in Tehran, was conceived to answer the short-term goals of TSITP and to provide the experience needed for the main project. In August 2004, concluding an international bid on the Internet, the main contract for the basic design and international promotion was granted to an experienced consultant from Ireland.

However, changes in the management of ITRC and the TSITP steering committee, changes in MCIT policies in mid-2003, and the change in government in July 2005 had an adverse impact on the project. In spite of the professional planning and strong inception of the project and its well-defined and documented outputs, the TSITP project has been practically shut down since mid-2004. The latest assessment indicates a grim future for the TSITP project.

The e-Commerce Law (also known as the digital signature law) was passed in 2004. However, due to lack of pertinent bylaws and decrees, the law has not yet become effective enough to govern e-commerce transactions in the country.

The Computer Crimes Act passed the preliminary approval process in the Parliament in September 2006, and its details are now being thrashed out by a special parliamentary committee. This act is in compliance with the Cyber Crimes Convention approved by the European Council in Budapest in 2001.

Education and capacity building

IT and computer engineering programmes are widely offered in Iranian universities and higher education institutes. Majority (68 per cent) of the students are enrolled in the bachelor's programmes, 28 per cent are enrolled in the post-diploma courses, and 4 per cent are enrolled in the Master's courses. The number of graduates in fields related to ICT is estimated to be more than 50,000 a year, while the annual intake of new students is more than 12,000.

Almost all of the universities and other higher education centres are connected to the Internet. Indeed, the universities were among the first in Iran to be connected to the Internet via the IPM facilities in 1995.

Computer courses have been part of the secondary school curriculum for many years now. More than 150,000 students take computer courses in different high school grades annually. There are also plans to connect up to 1,000 high schools to the Internet by mid-2007.

Following TAKFA guidelines, obtaining an ICDL certificate is now part of the qualification requirements for new government recruits and for promotion in the civil service. Many training institutes throughout the country provide ICDL training.

At present, there are few online schools and universities and distance learning centres. However, their number is expected to grow considerably.

Research and development

There are many small and medium-sized research and development institutes dealing with ICT in Iran. Those with a substantial impact on ICT development include: the Iran Telecommunications Research Center (ITRC) affiliated with MCIT, the Electronics Support Fund for Research & Development (ESFRD) affiliated with the Ministry of Mines & Industries, the Hi-Tech Industries Center also affiliated with the Ministry of Mines & Industries, the Sharif Advanced Information and Communications Research Center and the Research Center of Informatics Industries.

ITRC was established in 1970 by the University of Tehran and the Government of Japan (NTT). In 1979, the Revolutionary Council decided that for the sake of self-sufficiency the Center would be affiliated with MPTT. ITRC is the largest ICT research institute in Iran. Its projects include design and development of digital radios, transmission networks, antennae, satellite communications, cellular networks, fibre optics and laser switching and, more recently, ICT strategic planning and telecommunications consultancy services. One of ITRC's greatest contributions to ICT capacity building are many non-government communication companies that started out as ITRC research groups. However, in recent years ITRC's work has been criticized as lacking in direction and there is an ongoing debate regarding its mission and framework.

The ESFRD is a fund dedicated to supporting R&D in ICT and other fields in electronics. It was established in 1997–98 with a total paid-in capital of USD 30 million. Its goals are to promote entrepreneurship, software development, engineering services, international collaboration and export. ESFRD helps non-government ICT projects by means of inexpensive loans, guarantees and underwriting, information services and soon through venture capital investment.

With respect to open source software development, the High Council of Informatics in conjunction with TAKFA and the Sharif Advanced Information and Communications Research Center supported the development of the Persian Linux platform launched in early 2006.


TAKFA was probably the most highly publicized IT project in Iran in the past decade. It succeeded in making ICT an important agenda for the President and influenced major government bodies to spend on ICT. TAKFA spurred government authorities and a frail private sector to respond to the challenge of sustained growth in information technology with a comprehensive plan. However, experts have pointed out that lack of consistent strategies, cohesive plans and experienced consultants has doomed TAKFA's efforts.

Indeed, in July 2005 a new government was sworn in and IT is not in its new set of priorities. Some in the IT sector believe that the privatization and liberalization of the economy will not be sustained and a more government-centric development will emerge. Iran's telecommunications market has a very promising future, due mainly to the size of the population and the current penetration rate of mobile telephony and other telecommunications services. The growth of the national IP network backbone is also a contributing factor. However, recent upheavals and the partial reversal of privatization policies, as seen in the case of the second mobile operator, do not bode well for the continued growth of the telecommunications sector in Iran.


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Keisuke Kamimura and Adam Peake


128.08 million (ITU Database 2005)

GDP per capita

USD 35,756.532 (IMF Country statistics



Key economic sectors

Manufacturing, Services, Real Estate


(MIC 2003)

Computers per 100 inhabitants

54.15 (2005, ITU Database)

Fixed-line telephones per

45.89 (ITU Database 2005)

100 inhabitants


Mobile phone subscribers

73.97 (ITU Database 2005)

per 100 inhabitants


Internet users per 100

50.20 (ITU Database 2005)



Domain names registered

801,997 (JPRS 2006, March)

under .jp


Broadband penetration rate

19.0 (OECD, 2006 June)

per 100 inhabitants


Internet domestic bandwidth

139.2 Gbps (Monthly average, May 2006,



Internet international

68.5 Gbps (Monthly average, May 2006,



Notes: MIC is the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications. JPRS is the Japan Registry Services Co., Ltd.


The chapter on Japan in the 2005/2006 edition of Digital Review of Asia Pacific began with the slightly optimistic observation that the country might at last be emerging from more than a decade of economic stagnation. Since that chapter was written, the Japanese economy has continued on a long and slow recovery. The Cabinet Office Monthly Report for September 2006 described exports, imports, housing construction and public investment as 'flat'. However, corporate profits have been showing a year-on-year increase for 16 consecutive quarters, with the information, communication and electronics industries generally strong over this period. Real growth in 2005 was 2.7 per cent. Real GDP grew at an average of roughly 1 per cent yearly in the 1990s, compared to growth during the 1980s boom of about 4 per cent per year. The Japanese economy, the second largest in the world, is still not the driving force it once was, but we can hope that it is on the road to a sustained period of growth and prosperity (Japan Cabinet Office 2006).

All of the economic trends in the information and communications technology (ICT) industry for the first quarter of 2006 are positive. Shipments are generally up, prices are falling slightly although average household expenditure is increasing, and within the ICT industry, employment is increasing and salaries rising. The presence of the ICT industry has continued to increase and its impact on the Japanese economy as a whole is becoming greater. The last cycle of ICT growth that peaked during the period 2004–05 was based on increased ICT-related investment by corporations, as well as increasing and maturing use of the Internet and mobile phones by ordinary users. The growth cycle underway in the third quarter of 2006 is being driven particularly by demand for digital home appliances, although Internet and mobile communications remain strong in both business and home sectors, as does general growth in ICT production.

The ICT sector has been important to the recovery that has taken hold of the economy over the last few years. Information and communication devices and services are becoming pervasive in society. Mobile phones are near ubiquitous, and wired broadband is available in more than 50 per cent of households. Broadband, particularly technologies like Wi-Fi which is used in almost half of all broadband households, is changing the way people get their news and entertainment, as well as how they communicate and share information and ideas. With the pervasiveness of ICTs in Japanese society, we see a new phase in government policy shepherding the creation of a ubiquitous network society.

Technology infrastructure

Telecommunications and Internet

Broadband services in Japan are well known to be among the cheapest and fastest in the world. Open access policies have given rise to a very competitive broadband industry providing cheap, high-speed and innovative services that are available in most regions of the country. However, even after this success, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC) is concerned that the market could be turning to favor the incumbent telecommunications operator, NTT.

Liberalization of the Japanese telecommunications market began in 1984, and since that time, government policy has focused on introducing competition and reducing NTT's market power. Styles of regulation have changed over the years, but NTT still remains the dominant provider in most telecommunications sector markets. After 22 years of competition, the two NTT local companies, NTT East and NTT West, still hold over 91 per cent of contracts for subscriber telephones. The NTT companies handle approximately 75 per cent of all domestic calls. In the mobile phone market NTT DoCoMo is the leading provider with over 53 per cent of handset contracts. Only the broadband market is different—it is highly competitive.

The Japanese broadband market has been built around an open access regime where competitive providers have been able to use essential elements of NTT's network, particularly low-cost access to copper lines to homes and metropolitan fibre connections running between NTT exchanges and to other locations. These elements have been the basic building blocks of the networks of competitive ADSL providers. In less than four years, the number of broadband users has grown from 0.5 million in June 2002 to over 23 million at the end of March 2006. Over 14.5 million subscribe to ADSL service, and almost 5.5 million to fibre-to-the-home (FTTH). There are more FTTH subscribers in Japan than in all other countries combined. Cable TV companies provide broadband Internet to over 3.3 million users. Half of Japan's 46 million households subscribe to broadband service (Japan Statistics Bureau 2006).

The number of new FTTH subscribers (820,000 in all) during the 1st quarter of 2006 was the highest ever. As the overall increase in new broadband subscriptions was 930,000 for the quarter, FTTH is driving continued growth. The monthly increase of FTTH subscriptions has exceeded that of ADSL subscribers in each quarter since the 1st quarter of 2005. There were less than 37,000 new ADSL subscribers during the first three months of 2006, and in Tokyo and Osaka, the largest metropolitan areas, the number of ADSL subscriptions dropped as people switched to fibre.

The trend towards more FTTH subscribers brings with it some policy concerns. In the ADSL market the NTT group of companies provides 40 per cent of lines; in the FTTH market, they control 64 per cent of lines and their share is increasing as more people take up fibre. MIC wants the migration from ADSL to FTTH services to happen, but is concerned that while the majority of users migrating service to NTT FTTH are NTT ADSL subscribers, users of other ADSL providers are also migrating to NTT at faster rates than to the fibre services provided by other operators. If this migration pattern continues, the combined NTT companies may achieve the same level of market power in FTTH as they have in the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN). Thus, there is a risk of losing the powerful competition that has emerged in the ADSL market. With the convergence of fixed and mobile, and convergence of communications and broadcasting underway, concern about the NTT group's ongoing market dominance will be the subject of ongoing MIC competition reviews.

Broadband and broadcasting

All large broadband providers have begun video broadcasting services. Yahoo!BB, NTT and KDDI offer video download services for movies and television programmes, as well as live streaming television. For competitive reasons, and to ensure transmission quality, many of these services are available only to subscribers and downloads are kept within the company's network and control. Usen, the third largest FTTH provider, offers video services to its subscribers in this way, but also offers a free video broadcast service called Gyao, which is available to any Japanese Internet user.

People need to register to watch Gyao programming. The business model also dictates that the subscriber must be in Japan as Gyao finances its service through targeted advertising. Gyao programming includes movies, TV programmes, music and sports events, with live baseball proving popular. In August 2006, Gyao had 11 million registered users and total viewing hours exceeded 18 million. Advertising revenue has grown more slowly than expected, and Usen is struggling with JPY 160 billion (about USD 1.3 billion) in interest-bearing liabilities. However, Usen expects to see a profit on a monthly basis before the end of 2006.

Fixed-line phones, broadband and voice over IP (VoIP)

Fixed-line phone service covers 100 per cent of the Japanese population and both the number of customers and revenues are decreasing as people switch to newer and cheaper IP telephony services, or simply to mobile service.

There are three classes of IP-based telephony service currently in use in Japan: an IP exchange service known as 0AB/J IP telephony which has a guaranteed quality of service, 050 IP telephony with no guaranteed quality of service, and pure IP telephony such as Skype and similar services.

050 IP telephony is a service provided by an ISP in which the customer receives service via a broadband connection and VoIP adapter, and a telephone number with the prefix 050. Voice traffic in 050 IP telephony routes over a broadband connection and the ISP's network, and sometimes over the public Internet, and the quality of calls may vary depending on other traffic. 050 service might not include access to emergency calls and some other PSTN features.

0AB/J IP telephony is the potential replacement for traditional fixed-line phone. 0AB/J stands for the standard geographic prefix (for example, 03 for Tokyo), which will only be assigned to an IP telephony service that achieves the same quality of service and features as an ordinary fixed-line telephone. To get 0AB/J IP telephony, customers need broadband access and a VoIP adapter. Unlike 050 IP telephony, 0AB/J IP is provided by a network provider that underlies the user's ISP access network and the voice traffic of 0AB/J is routed through a managed network that provides the same quality of service as the standard PSTN telephone.

While the number of customers of standard fixed-line telephone is decreasing, the numbers of 050 and 0AB/J customers are increasing. In December 2003, there were 4.3 million IP telephony customers. The number more than doubled over two years, reaching 10 million in December 2005. As of March 2006, the standard PSTN telephone service had 50.6 million subscribers, 050 IP telephony had 10 million and 0AB/J IP telephony 1.4 million subscribers. Almost half of 050 subscribers are Yahoo!BB customers, although Yahoo!BB's share has declined over the past four quarters from over 55 per cent, while NTT's share has increased over the same period from 19 per cent to over 25 per cent. 0AB/J IP numbers tend to be used by FTTH customers, and during the first quarter of 2006, NTT East and West's share of 0AB/J IP numbers increased by 6.4 per cent to 69 per cent.

Mobile phones

Although the mobile phone subscription base is still growing, its growth has slowed significantly as the penetration rate has reached over 75 per cent of the population. As of September 2006, the total number of mobile phone subscribers was 93,812,400 and the number of personal handy phone system (PHS) subscribers was 4,879,500. The number of mobile phone subscribers increased only by 4.78 million or 5 per cent over the past 12 months (Telecommunications Carriers Association 2007).

The monthly average revenue per user (ARPU) for Japanese mobile subscribers is still probably the highest in the world, although it is decreasing steadily. In the 3rd Quarter of 2005, DoCoMo's 3G subscribers spent JPY 9,050/month (about USD 74/month) and 2G subscribers JPY 6,140 (about USD 50). The combined 2G/3G ARPU is JPY 7,050 (about USD 57.78). KDDI's combined 3G and 2G ARPU is JPY 7,190 (about USD 58.92), although its 3G subscribers spent an average of JPY 9,990 (about USD 81.87). These figures are going downwards due to the steady decline in prices for voice calls and increased competition as rapid growth in the number of users has slowed. Profit margins are much slimmer than in the past, although Japan still has some of the world's highest mobile call rates.

More than 80 million (that is, 81,346,000) mobile phones are able to use IP packet services, over 80 million have cameras, and approximately 57.2 million are 3G. The average turnover in phone handsets is about once per 12–18 months, and 16.2 million new phones were bought between April and July 2006. This high turnover of handsets is a good indicator that new services requiring the functionality of new phones have the opportunity to quickly achieve acceptable market penetration.

Willcom's PHS network coverage is almost nationwide, focusing on providing data access at speeds ranging from 64 Kbps to 402 Kbps rather than voice. Willcom's data services are significantly cheaper than those provided by 3G operators. Its network has better coverage and transmission speeds are more reliable. Willcom's service is popular with people who need reliable Internet access anywhere and at anytime.

Softbank is best known in Japan for revolutionizing the broadband ADSL market in 2002 through a price-slashing business strategy and introduction of new high-speed services. In 2005, Softbank received a license and spectrum to operate 3G services as part of a policy initiative to introduce new operators to the mobile market. Softbank had been widely expected to begin its new mobile service in mid-2007 with the same low-price and innovative service approach it used in the broadband sector four years earlier. The license was for W-CDMA, but Softbank had been testing handover between this 3G service to Wi-Fi and to Mobile WiMax. However, following Softbank's takeover of Vodafone for USD 15.5 billion, the new spectrum was returned to MIC and these technical innovations have been delayed. The high cost of acquiring Vodafone and the need to run an established network and provide service to existing customers has changed Softbank's business plan. Thus, the company's entry to the mobile market has not yet brought the much hoped for severe price competition.

Number portability was introduced on 24 October 2006 and the three major providers spent the earlier part of 2006 gearing up for the challenge. The total cost of switching providers is around JPY 5,000 (about USD 40.98). However, the three companies have introduced various discounts and offers to encourage users to switch. All have revamped their handset line-up: NTT DoCoMo introduced 14 new handsets in early October; KDDI announced 12 new models in August; and Softbank came out with 13 models in September.

Information provided by MIC flagged one problem facing number portability: 72 per cent of mobile phone users have never changed their phone e-mail addresses. This could be a barrier to change because e-mail addresses are not portable between providers. Downloaded content, such as ringtones, also cannot be transferred over to a new provider. On the other hand, reports in the Japanese media indicate that 10 million users have expressed interest in changing providers.

The potential for higher customer turnover should increase competition and trigger changes in market share. Softbank in particular is looking to number portability to boost its share of the market and has launched a series of new services linking its mobile customers to Yahoo! brand products and services. Through this linkage, Softbank is able to offer news, stock price information, some games and other content free of charge, unlike DoCoMo and KDDI where such services are subscription-based. However, an aggressive marketing campaign by Softbank in the lead-up to the launch of number portability may have violated laws prohibiting misleading advertising. KDDI filed a complaint about the advertisements with the Fair Trade Commission. Softbank's situation worsened when a systems error struck shortly after number portability began. System errors, customer complaints and the bad press that followed the misleading advertising campaign made number portability a setback rather than an opportunity for Softbank.

Until new services and price plans firm up, industry analysts expect KDDI's AU service, known for a range of music services not available from DoCoMo or Softbank, to gain the most customers in the early days of number portability.

Next generation networks

In 2004, the two leading telecommunications operators, NTT and KDDI, announced their intention to migrate from traditional PTSN phone networks to next generation network (NGN) technology. The migration will take place gradually. NTT began an NGN field trial in 2006 to demonstrate and verify the new network technology and its interoperability with other network operators and service providers. The company expects 30 million customers to subscribe to NGN services by 2012.

However, there are a number of potential policy concerns regarding NGN, particularly open access to NTT's infrastructure and interconnection with other operators. Operators other than NTT are not as positive about building NGN infrastructure and are concerned about whether the new infrastructure will be open to them and on what terms.

Key government institutions dealing with ICTs

As ICTs become common in all aspects of Japanese society, all branches of the government are involved to some degree in ICT policy formulation or implementation. Some of the key institutions are described below.

The IT Strategic Headquarters, established under the Cabinet and chaired by the Prime Minister aims to provide the necessary coordination among government agencies concerned with IT-related policy.

Mobile broadcasting

Phones capable of receiving high-quality digital TV broadcasts are the latest trend in mobile technologies. Japanese terrestrial digital broadcasts divide one channel into 13 segments–12 segments for high definition television (HDTV) and one segment for use by mobile devices. The mobile broadcast feature is known as 'one-seg' (one segment). The service provides high-quality digital images on small screens. Service officially began on 1 April 2006. Six hundred thousand one-seg phones were sold in the first three months of service. They receive ordinary digital TV broadcasts and are proving popular not only for niche viewing, such as horseracing, but also for general news, weather and some sports broadcasts. Marketing for Vodafone's first one-seg handset was targeted at the start of the 2006 World Cup.

Broadcasters cannot produce programmes especially for phones until after broadcasting deregulation in 2008, and the networks are using the period until then to develop new business and advertising income models that are different from those for terrestrial broadcasting. New regulations may also change the copyright structure: at present actors and producers receive no royalties for this new type of distribution. Organizers of major events may also try to sell broadcasting rights for one-seg.

To build an industry capable of demanding that new types of content be produced for it, and to compete with terrestrial broadcasters for rights to high-interest events, industry analysts say 20–30 million one-seg handsets will need to be in use by the time deregulation occurs in 2008. However, NTT DoCoCom's first one-seg phone, the P901iTV, was recalled after a few months of operation for a software upgrade to prevent people receiving TV broadcasts after they had quit DoCoMo service. The handset, which is rumoured to have cost DoCoMo as much as JPY 60,000 each but was heavily discounted to retailers for as little as JPY 20,000 to encourage initial sales, could continue to receive TV broadcasts after customers cancelled their subscription to DoCoMo. Apparently 20,000 people bought the phone and then immediately cancelled their DoCoMo service, taking advantage of the software glitch to use the phone as a low-cost mobile digital television.

One-seg is also used in car navigation systems and some PCs have one-seg tuners built in. Tuners are also available on USB devices. Japanese mobile music and video players that can display one-seg broadcasts are being sold, and the one-seg feature is something not even Apple's iPod can match.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC) has the overarching role both in policymaking and regulation of the telecommunications industry.

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) is responsible for the information economy, information services industry, information security and ICT development for small and medium-sized enterprises, in keeping with its mission of industry development.

The National Information Security Center (NISC), which was established in April 2005 under the Prime Minister's Cabinet, formulates and implements information security policy within the government in a coordinated and uniform manner. NISC has responsibilities in planning and policy, international coordination, intra-government information security, critical infrastructure protection and incident response.

Enabling policies and programmes

The Japanese government's current ICT policy can be traced to the e-Japan Strategy published by the IT Strategic Headquarters in 2001. Over the last five years, the Japanese government has gradually changed focus from the development of ubiquitous broadband infrastructure to the exploitation of the infrastructure to achieve social and economic benefits.

It is widely understood that the government has a firm commitment to achieving nationwide broadband infrastructure. While this is true, the role of the government has been limited to strategic oversight, and funding and actual deployment of infrastructure is the responsibility of the private sector. In the e-Japan Priority Policy Program 2006, the role of government is summarized as pointing to the future direction that Japan should take, to push deregulation and market competition forward, to motivate the private sector, to provide a minimum level of investment as well as safeguards against the digital divide, to ensure safety and security, and to optimize the operation of the government and public sector. With a few exceptions in research and development and infrastructure development in rural and remote areas, the government has not directly funded broadband take-up.

The e-Japan Strategy adopted in January 2001 sought to transform Japan into the 'most advanced IT nation within five years'. The Strategy was access- and infrastructure-oriented, although it did mention priority areas other than infrastructure, such as electronic commerce, human resource development and electronic government. Target figures (always-on Internet access to all citizens, high-speed Internet access for at least 30 million households and ultra-high-speed Internet access for 10 million households) were set for broadband penetration. The rapid take-up of ADSL service was attributed to open access policies regarding NTT's copper infrastructure, which resulted in the budget ADSL service of Yahoo!BB.

As it became clear that the objectives of the 2001 e-Japan Strategy were being met, e-Japan Strategy II was adopted in July 2003 to create an 'energetic, worry-free, exciting and convenient' society using information technology. Through e-Japan Strategy II, the government put more emphasis on the exploitation of the broadband infrastructure, focusing on seven areas: health, food, lifestyle, SME financing, knowledge, employment and public administration. In addition, the new Strategy aimed to further develop network infrastructure that could meet the demands of the coming information society. Among the key concepts introduced were ubiquitous network, security and reliability, and research and development in information technology.

Thus, another notable development during this period was the publication by MIC in December 2004 of the u-Japan policy. Unlike e-Japan, u-Japan is a ministerial policy, which means it has less impact beyond the ministry itself and it may be interpreted as a set of action plans that should be put into a Priority Policy Program. MIC made 'ubiquitous networks' the focus of the Japanese government's contribution to the Tunis Phase of the UN World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS).

e-Japan Strategy II also revamped relevant ICT laws, regulations and policy guidelines to ensure that unnecessary or outdated legal and administrative barriers did not hinder the growth of the ICT sector and use of ICTs. The reforms undertaken at this time were extensive, and new legislation has been unnecessary in the past 2–3 years.

Every year since 2003, the IT Policy Headquarters has updated the Priority Policy Program, which outlines the action plans of each government agency to achieve the objectives set forth in the e-Japan Strategy. In January 2006, the IT Strategic Headquarters made another policy move: it published the New IT Reform Strategy, the national strategy for 2006–10. The highlight of the Strategy is structural reform of the government and of the Japanese social and economic systems, while addressing user and citizen concerns such as accessibility, the digital divide, and security and safety, and emphasizing international contributions and competitiveness.

In line with the New IT Reform Strategy, MIC published a new set of policy priorities in August 2006, called the Next Generation Broadband Strategy 2010. MIC aims to bridge the remaining digital divide between urban and rural areas. By 2010, 100 per cent of Japanese local communities (cities, towns and villages) will be covered by broadband access and 90 per cent of Japanese households will be covered by ultra-high-speed broadband access.

Unlike the previous strategies which focused more or less on the technology, the New IT Reform Strategy aims more to achieve social reform based on the benefits of ICT. The Strategy seeks solutions to the problems Japan is facing now, such as the aging of society, revitalization of the economy and improvement of national competitiveness.

Intellectual property rights

In 2003, the Prime Minister convened a Strategic Council on Intellectual Property to discuss policy to strategically protect and utilize the results of intellectual activity, such as scholarly research and creative activity, thus enhancing the international competitiveness of Japanese industries. The Council published a national plan on intellectual property, called the Strategic Program for the Creation, Protection and Exploitation of Intellectual Property, which resulted in the enactment of the Basic Law on Intellectual Property of 2003.

The Strategic Council on Intellectual Property was later replaced by the Intellectual Property Policy Headquarters, which was established under the Cabinet. Every year the Policy Headquarters publishes an Intellectual Property Strategic Program that outlines action plans for each government agency to implement in the next fiscal year. In 2006, the following actions were identified to facilitate the development and distribution of digital content:

• Promotion of broadcast via IP multicast;

• Development of content protection systems with due consideration to users;

• Promotion of content delivery via the Internet;

• Content creation based on the reuse of existing content;

• Establishment of a content business market on the Internet;

• Network for information appliances; and

• Development of a rights management mechanism suitable for the distribution of broadband and digital content.

With regard to local language and culture, the Strategic Program also identifies the protection of the typeface design of computer fonts as an area that needs policy attention. Under the current interpretation of the copyright law, typeface design was considered to be out of the scope of intellectual property protection. The Strategic Program calls for the government to consider how to protect typeface design and take appropriate measures when necessary.

Digital content and life online

According to the Digital Content Association of Japan (DCAj), the Japanese media and content industry, which includes broadcast, sell video, film, music, video games, books, journals, and newspapers and other publication, had an estimated volume of JPY 13,681 billion in 2005 (about USD 112 million), including JPY 2,527 billion (about USD 20 million) for digital content.

Online music

Music sales have been shrinking since 2001. In 2005, the total sale of music content was JPY 614 billion (about USD 5 billion), which represents only 80 per cent of the sales in 2001. CDs and DVDs are selling less. On the other hand, online distribution of music via mobile phone and the Internet keeps growing. For example, mobile operator KDDI launched a full track download service in 2004, making over 110,000 songs available and selling 30 million downloads in December 2005. However, these and other new online sales outlets are not adequate to offset losses made by traditional brick-and-mortar music retailers.

The music industry argues that illegal music sharing by peer-to-peer applications, such as Winny, contributes to the loss of music sales. However, an empirical survey (Tanaka 2004) shows that there seem to be no positive correlations between the decrease in music sales and peer-to-peer file sharing, which nullifies the music industry's argument. During the first nine months of 2005, mobile music sales in Japan reached JPY 26 billion (about USD 213 million), accounting for 96 per cent of Japan's total digital sales.

Although online music sales were not unpopular in Japan, Apple's iTunes Music Store came to the Japanese market late. iTunes Music Store was first launched in the United States in April 2003, and rapidly expanded to some 20 countries worldwide. But the service did not reach Japan until August 2005, two years and four months later. The launch of the service was delayed due to negotiations with Japanese content holders. Interestingly, one of the biggest music labels in Japan, Sony Music Entertainment (SME), has not joined the iTunes service; it has its own channel for online music distribution called 'bitmusic'.

Social networking services (SNS)

It is not yet clear what people are using broadband for, but the recent popularity of social networking services is a significant broadband phenomenon. An OECD report (2006) quotes data from Technorati, an online blogging information company, indicating that 21 per cent of the blogs worldwide that Technorati tracks are based in Japan. According to a report by MIC (2005), the net number of Japanese blog users was estimated to be 1.65 million at the end of March 2005, of which 950,000 (57.6 per cent) are active users.

Social networking services (SNS) have grown rapidly since the MIC report was published. The biggest SNS in Japan, called 'mixi', had more than 5.7 million registered users when it made an initial public offering on the Tokyo Stock Exchange 'MOTHERS' in September 2006. The service had only 300,000 registered users a year-and-a-half ago. Mixi is an invitation-only service: to join you must be invited by someone who is already a member. Members provide online diaries, photo albums, shared bookmarks and customized news, as well as basic SNS functions such as personal profiles and testimonials, online communities and bulletin boards that help users connect to other users. Mixi earns about 80 per cent of its revenue from advertising carried on the site.

There are over 5,000 smaller SNS sites typically with 100–1,000 members. They are usually constructed around open source SNS software 'Open PNE', and are managed by individuals or small groups and some specialized small companies. These smaller SNS services can grow into very tight-knit communities. Furthermore, discussions among the millions of SNS users and the ideas they express are having a significant influence on Japanese society.

Online gaming

The popularity of online games has also been enabled by broadband. In mid-2006, there were an estimated 28 million online game players in Japan. Among heavy gamers, the MMORPG (Massively-Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game) Final Fantasy 11 is one of the most popular games with over half a million registered players and as many as 170,000 simultaneous users. Hangame, Japan's largest Internet game portal company, provides more than 150 kinds of online multiplayer games. The portal is modelled on its parent company NHN Corporation's successful operation in Korea. In September 2006, Hangame had 17 million registered players and could handle a maximum of 125,000 concurrent users, over 200 million page views a day, and e-mail from 200,000 registered users daily. Hangame describes itself as an online gaming community.

Portable games machines remain extremely popular and these are also increasingly network-enabled, either to connect between players' machines directly or to online game portals like Hangame. Nintendo DS has sold about 16 million units since it was launched at the end of 2004. A Wi-Fi connection function was introduced at the end of 2005 and the service has reached 1.3 million users and provided over 40 million game sessions since its launch.

Education and human resource development

Although as a whole, Japan has been able to produce a sufficient number of ICT professionals, there has been some mismatch between what universities have offered students in terms of ICT education and the ICT skills that the private sector expects from young university graduates. Japanese universities tend to educate students as generalists rather than as specialists and university graduates usually need to spend a considerable amount of time in re-training to acquire practical skills and knowledge after getting a job. Nikkei Computer, a major computer magazine for business readers, reported in December 2005 that only 37.3 per cent of some 2,300 ICT professionals surveyed by the magazine said they acquired their professional knowledge from university education and 26.5 per cent said they learned on their own. This finding points to a significant gap between the skills universities equip graduates with and the needs of industry. In June 2005, a report published by the Japan Federation of Economic Organization (Keidanren) (2005) pointed out that the gap between universities and business was even wider in the training of hig