Khoong Hock Yun, Assistant Chief Executive, Infocomm Development, IDA Singapore - Speech World Telecom Day, Mandarin Hotel Singapore, 17 May 2002

Khoong Hock Yun, Assistant Chief Executive, Infocomm Development, IDA Singapore - Speech
World Telecom Day, Mandarin Hotel
Singapore, 17 May 2002

Good morning, Mr Bath, President of ATiS, the Executive Committee,
Distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

We celebrate World Telecommunication Day on May 17th to commemorate the founding of the International Telecommunication Union or ITU in Paris in 1865. Since 1969, World Telecom Day has sought to increase the awareness of telecommunications and its vital role in improving the welfare of humanity. I would like to thanks ATIS for inviting me to be part of this commemorative event.

Being in this business, we all know that Infocomm technologies or ICT have been the impetus for many paradigm shifts, especially in the way we conduct our business, access information and even the way we interact and communicate with each other. The Internet, for example, has dramatically changed the way we share information, knowledge and experience. It has allowed us to cut across all geographical boundaries and access a wealth of knowledge resources globally.

Does how does ICT improve the welfare of humanity? A white paper on ICT Revolution written in Japan by the Ministry of Public Management, Home Affairs, Post and Communications concluded that ICT will not only bring about improved business efficiencies, and help us discover diverse lifestyles and cultures - but it will also allow us to dramatically increase our intellectual activities. The paper further likened the impact of the Internet Revolution to that of the Renaissance era in medieval Italy. Fundamentally, it was the awakening of an individual's intellectual activity that brought society out of the "Dark Ages" into a more human-centered modern civilization. In a manner of speaking, the ICT revolution brought about an "Era of Digital Renaissance". According to HP's Carly Fiorina, the Digital Renaissance is about empowering the individual and the customer.

But will a Digital Renaissance improve the welfare of the common man or woman? Interestingly, ICT has even made a significant impact to Fadma Bouadou, a local weaver in a small village called Taliounie in Morocco. To her ICT has helped her put more food on the table. Apparently the men's role in Fadma's village is only to "eat and sleep" and it is the women who work to bring home the bacon. While this may never change, at least not in the foreseeable future, Fadma has become more resourceful in earning a living and fending for herself and her family. She is part of a group of local weavers residing in Morocco. Thanks to the internet, they are now by-passing the middlemen and selling their pottery, carpets, fabrics, wood, glass and even jewelry handicraft in the global marketplace. In business development language, they have improved their margins and expanded their market reach. They do this through a site called Virtual Souk that is managed by the World Bank Institute. Therefore, the internet has empowered her and people like her to move beyond the limits of their cultural and physical constraints.

So how is Singapore doing in this Era of Digital Renaissance? Fortunately, Singapore has embraced the digital era and has been proactively equipping ourselves with the critical infrastructure, knowledge, capabilities, industries and bridging the digital divide. Singapore's informatization process started twenty years ago with the formation of the National Computer Board (NCB). NCB's implementation of three national IT Plans from 1981 - 1999 provided Singapore with some achievements that helped spur the development of a vibrant IT industry in Singapore. We started with the computerisation of the civil service. The IT2000 vision aimed to "transform Singapore into an Intelligent Island where the use of Information Technology is pervasive in every aspect be it work, home or play." We have expanded on that vision into the Infocomm21 masterplan, where we strive to be one of the top two Infocomm hubs in Asia, where Singapore will be a leading infocomm-savvy society with a pervasive e-lifestyle. Today, we have a nationwide broadband infrastructure that has over 99% coverage and over 950,000 Broadband users. Almost all schools, libraries and community centres have broadband access and over 300 commercial buildings are already broadband enabled. Singaporeans today, already use some form of Infocomm Technology. About 70% of households own a PC each, and over 60% have Internet access. With 75% of the population owning mobile phones, we have one of the highest mobile penetration in the world. Furthermore, a study by AT Kearny shows that we have one of the highest SMS usages in the world. Since the liberalization of the Telecoms Sector in April 2000, IDD rates have dropped by 60% and Broadband access costs by more than 5 times. Our submarine cable capacity has increased 400 times to 21 Tbps. Singapore is highly wired-up and Singaporeans are Infocomm-savvy. We are moving from a "Intelligent Island" to a "Connected Island".

But this is a journey. There will always be new challenges ahead. We need to continually empower Singaporeans to leverage on Infocomm Technology to realize their full potential. For some it could be a question of just getting access to basic Infocomm technologies whilst for others it is what you do with these technologies that truly makes the difference.

Enabling Access For Everyone

In June, Prime Minister Mr Goh Chok Tong stated that it is important for Singapore to build an "e-inclusive society. By that, he means that technology should be made accessible and affordable to all, regardless of race, language, social background or ability. He also said that every one should benefit from this Digital Revolution.

We will continue to enable access in 3 ways:

a. Firstly, ensuring that there is sufficient public access - and providing new and innovative ways of access.
b. Secondly, helping those with less financial means to have access.
c. And thirdly, making access more affordable for the masses, by continuing to promote a competitive telecoms environment and to leverage on new technologies where appropriate.

Today, public areas and libraries and most community centers have internet access. Singapore already has more than 40 Wireless LAN hotspots in cafes and shopping malls. We hope to have more of these hotspots all over the island. In addition, all the National Libraries have Broadband access so if you do not have internet or even broadband access, you can simply go to any public libraries to get it.

Secondly, in terms of helping those who cannot afford the access, over the past years, iDA has been managing the PC Re-Use Scheme with the support of 20 lead agencies like the Community Development Councils, Self Help Groups and Volunteer Work Organizations.The main objective of this scheme is to provide needy families with refurbished personal computers so that each one has the opportunities to learn IT skills. Each refurbished computer is bundled with 6 months of toll-free internet access .To date, 6200 needy families have benefited from this scheme and another 850 PCs have been deployed to help non-profit organizations set up IT Resource Centres.

We have also introduced the Mobile Phone Reuse Project which aims to equip the hearing impaired with donated mobile phones bundled with Short Message Service (SMS).

These are only 2 of the many efforts IDA puts in to help make ICT accessible to every Singaporeans so that they can reap its benefits and be part of this e-inclusive society.
i) The National IT Literacy Programme , ii) Enabling Skills

Thirdly, to make access more affordable to the masses, we also exploit other technology options to provide broadband access to the businesses and the consumers. The recent Powerline Communication (PLC) market trial by Singapore Power is significant in that it provides customers another access option besides xDSL, cable, ATM and fibre . If the market trial proves successful, consumers will be able to enjoy broadband access from virtually any room that has a power socket!

To encourage a competitive market, we have put in place safeguards to ensure that the local leased circuits are competitive relative to major Infocomm cities. This is done so that the local leased circuit costs will not be an impediment to the rolling out of innovative telecoms services in Singapore.

I am also pleased to announce that with effect from the 25th of April, iDA has designated the connection service at the submarine cable landing stations as an unbundled network element under the Telecoms Competition Code. This service offering, which was previously a wholesale service offered by SingTel, will now be made available under SingTel's Reference Interconnection Offer. This will allow FBOs to buy connection services to submarine cable capacity at cost thus lowering a significant component of their international leased circuit charges. Internet charges that have a large international leased circuits component will become more affordable for the business and consumers.

Equipping People With The Necessary IT Skills

While having basic and affordable ICT access is important, it is what you do with these technologies that truly makes the difference. So we need to equip the people with the necessary IT skills to exploit this access.

The National IT Literacy Programme targets the workers, homemakers and senior citizens and it aims to train 350,000 of them on basic computer and internet skills so that they can be more Infocomm-savvy and more employable. To date, 82,000 have been trained under this programme.

The Critical IT Resource Programme (CITREP) and the Strategic Manpower Conversion Programme (SMCP) target the professionals. CITREP provides financial support to train Infocomm specialists in critical areas urgently required by the industry. SMCP, on the other hand, assists non-IT professionals currently affected by the downturn of the economy to acquire new IT skills so that they can work as Infocomm professionals.

We are also encouraging the use of ICT in schools. Besides MOE's IT Masterplan, iDA has 8the FastTrack@School programme. The objective of which is to leverage on broadband to enhance the teaching and learning environment. We are working with 42 schools and 18 education service providers to develop interactive and multimedia content. For example, one of the schools, River Valley High has set up a "Virtual Physics Laboratory" where students can experiment with complex and expensive laboratory equipment online. Today, 1 out of 3 schools are incorporating the use of interactive multi-media in their curriculum.

To conclude, information technology offers immense possibilities for a country to move forward and leverage it as a key competitive tool for economic development. Singapore has moved forward quickly to embrace the era of the Digital Renaissance. For the individuals, making access easily attainable, affordable and pervasive and educating them on how best to exploit the technologies can empower them and enhance their lives and move them beyond the limits of their cultural and physical constraints. Having moved ahead, we can share our modest knowledge to help other countries around us to leverage ICT to bring similar benefits to other societies. And there is a large digital divide in the world. The opportunities are tremendous. The world is not static. We need to learn and innovate forwards exploiting ICT to improve the welfare of society. Just like what the exploitation of ICT did for Fadma and the other local weavers from Morocco!

I wish you a wonderful World Telecom Day.

Last updated on: 13 Mar 2023