Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong Address - Opening Ceremony of the Asia Telecom 97
Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong
Address - Opening Ceremony of the Asia Telecom 97
Singapore, 9 June 1997
To all our overseas friends, I extend a very warm welcome to Singapore. The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has successfully organised the past three Asia Telecom events. I have no doubt that Asia Telecom 97 will be equally successful.
That this event has grown by leaps and bounds is a tribute to ITU and a testament to the potential of the Asia-Pacific telecommunication market. It also portends the vast, revolutionary changes that will sweep the communications industry worldwide.
New Communication Technology Changing the World
Since the dawn of history, communication has been crucial for a civilisation's growth and development. First, was physical communication, when early Man settled along rivers for greater access to one another. Next, smoke signals and drums were used to pass messages and stay in touch. Then came written mail, the Morse code, the telegraph, telex and telephone, enabling man to communicate faster and farther afield. Today, we have the radio, television, the fax, e-mail and the Internet.
What distinguishes today's development in communication from those in the past are not the inventions themselves. It is that the inventions will themselves accelerate the pace of innovation. This will require us to always and quickly adapt to new ways of doing things.
New communication technology has shrunk the world in distance and in time. What happens in one part of the world can be seen "live" the world over, whether it is a natural disaster, a war, a World Cup final or Tiger Woods winning his first US Masters. Telecommunication, computer and broadcasting technologies are converging. Micro electronics is making things smaller and more mobile. Satellite communication is transcending physical boundaries. The Internet World Wide Web continues to spread. The info-communications industry is undergoing sweeping and revolutionary changes at a rate never known in the history of man. The pace of technological change is accelerating, not abating.
What will be the results of these astounding and rapid technological advancements? Telecommunication networks that are faster and more powerful, able to transmit data in milliseconds. Global satellite systems that offer mobile personal communications services, enabling you to make a call, see who you are talking to, or access data in various forms, everywhere and anywhere in the world. You can do all this using small, highly portable handsets.
The Information Era Is Here
On their own, we may mistakenly see these changes like the many other advancements throughout history - they improve our lives, they provide us with additional comfort and convenience, but nothing more. But that would be wrong for these will not be simple advancements. The advancements which collectively usher in the information era will have a greater impact on our lives than the industrial and technological revolutions before it.
For the first time in the history of Man, the global village and the global marketplace are becoming a reality. Physical and social distances between the peoples of the world will be transcended. Our understanding of other lifestyles and cultures will grow as exposure and familiarity increase. But at the same time, traditional societies will come under pressure from this exposure and will have to cope with the influence of alien cultures and lifestyles. Economic competition will become more intense, as national boundaries are less able to offer protection. Countries that can compete will flourish. Those that are unable to keep up with the changes will lag behind in prosperity.
New balances and markers will have to be established to help define the new values and new realities of life in the information era. We cannot avoid or ignore this reality of radical change. We must make the effort to harness the new communication technologies to make life better and more meaningful for our peoples, whether we are a developed or developing country.
Singapore Must Keep Up With Technological Change
Singapore is a young society. Our survival and prosperity depend on our ability to adapt to the new world of the 21st Century and be of service to it. Singaporeans therefore have to embrace the new technology of the information age actively, and not just welcome it passively.
Knowledge and skills will be critical in the information era. Hence in 1992, Singapore drew up an IT2000 masterplan to turn Singapore into an Intelligent Island. Since then, we have invested heavily in state-of-the-art telecom and IT infrastructure, including computer networks that offer some of the most advanced info-communication systems in the world. But it is not merely the physical infrastructure that is crucial. It is the ability to continuously learn new skills as technologies advance, and to exploit these technologies and opportunities to the fullest. Hence, we have taken steps to raise computer and technology literacy at home, in schools and at the workplace.
The government took the lead in computerising its functions and services. Today, the entire government is networked, and government officers communicate by email. In the private sector, more than 60% of businesses with at least 10 employees are networked with their business partners. One in two persons has a telephone line. One in three households owns a computer. 280,000 use the Internet. While this gives us one of the highest IT literacy rates in the world, we do not think it is good enough for the challenges of tomorrow. So we allocate $2 billion to ensure that every child in school will have access to a computer within the next five years. Our computer literacy level will then be as high as that in the United States.
Singapore has also embarked on a national high-capacity network initiative - in your industry's parlance, a national information infrastructure - that will handle a wide ranging stream of multimedia traffic (voice, data, image, text and video) to the workplace, the home and schools. This network and services, initiated a year ago, is called Singapore ONE. Singapore ONE will transform Singapore into an Intelligent Island - a place where information technology enhances our quality of living, at work, at home and at play.
Today, I am taking advantage of Asia Telecom 97 to launch the pilot network and services for Singapore ONE. Some of its applications will be showcased at this Exhibition. They include tele-shopping, digital library, educational services, training and entertainment services, at speeds more than a hundred times faster, and of higher quality, than what is currently available over the Internet.
More than 400 homes will participate in the Singapore ONE pilot project. This will increase to more than 5,000 homes before the end of the year. By the end of 1998, ie within 18 months, all 800,000 households in Singapore will be able to connect to Singapore ONE. Businesses, schools and public areas will also be networked.
But a network is only as good as the applications that run on it. Singapore ONE is not just a high-bandwidth communication network. Over it must ride exciting and useful applications and services, some of which we have yet to imagine. Singapore ONE must empower people in Singapore to work efficiently and live comfortably in a "smart" environment, to facilitate the access and use of information to enhance their business, personal and family lives. On-line government services will be available on the network. Interactive multi-media educational materials will be accessible from PC terminals or TVs at home for self-paced learning. Singapore ONE can bring about a whole new way of accessing and transacting information for business, entertainment and education. In short, Singapore ONE is the start of a whole new way of working, living and learning.
For this to come true, our people must embrace technology and continue learning in order to keep up with technological changes. We have no choice. Unless we do so, we will be left behind. Already we are increasingly being exposed to technologies in our everyday life - the automated teller machine, smart cards, electronic road pricing, and so on. And more will come. The whole population - the young, the old, the workers, the housewives, must overcome our hesitation and fear of new technology. Only then can we fully exploit the advantages of technology and prosper in the global village that is beginning to take shape.
We are seeing the dawn of an exciting era. There are many issues that need discussion and deliberation. I congratulate the ITU for organising this exhibition and forum to enable ideas and new technologies to be shared. I wish all exhibitors and delegates a successful and rewarding week. To our visitors from overseas, I hope that you will find time in your busy schedule to go beyond telecommunications and enjoy your stay in our country.
It is now my pleasure to declare Asia Telecom 97 open.