10 October 2006 - Speech By Mr Lee Hsien Loong, Prime Minister At the Innovationation Gala Dinner in Celebration of 25 Years of Infocomm and the National Infocomm Awards, Singapore Expo.
Speech by Mr Lee Hsien Loong, Prime Minister At the Innovationation Gala Dinner in Celebration of 25 Years of Infocomm and the National Infocomm Awards on 10 October 2006, Singapore Expo.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Introduction - 25 Years of Achievements
1. I am pleased to join you tonight to celebrate 25 years of infocomm development in Singapore. We have come a long way in exploiting IT, and making it a pervasive part of our lives. From having practically no IT industry, Singapore is now a global leader in e-Government and host to a thriving infocomm industry with nearly $40 billion in annual revenues. For this, we are grateful to our technology pioneers, including Dr Tony Tan, Mr Philip Yeo, Dr Tan Chin Nam, Mr Lim Swee Say and the late Robert Iau, who drove our IT transformation with vision, leadership and commitment.
2. In Singapore's early years, progress in the use of IT was slow. High cost was a consideration. For many years, the public sector owned only two mainframe computers - one in CPF Board and another in the Finance Ministry. Other ministries had to use the computer in MOF for their data processing work, and were not allowed to buy their own machines. In the private sector, companies relied largely on manual paper-and-pencil systems. We lagged far behind in the use of computers.
3. Fortunately, in the late 70s and early 80s we saw the potential of IT in accelerating Singapore's development, and decided that we had to systematically plan ahead and move quickly in this direction. Our efforts gathered momentum. To lead the national effort, we set up the National Computer Board (NCB) in 1981. NCB worked closely with various government agencies and private sector bodies. We familiarised the working population with computers, and helped to train a pool of IT professionals. We exposed our young to IT in schools, so that they would grow up totally at ease with using computers. When the internet took off in the 90s, we connected ourselves up to it, made broadband available nationwide, and pushed out more and more public services online.
4. These moves linked up Singapore into the global grid, and made us an information hub serving the region and beyond. Today, we are a location of choice for global outsourcing, and a test bed for companies to spearhead and adopt new technologies. For example, British Petroleum (BP) operates all over the world, but has only three data centres - Houston to look after America; London to look after Europe; and Singapore, which is their centre not just for Asia, but for "Most of The World". Singapore may not be the cheapest location worldwide, but we are in demand because of our excellent connectivity, reliability and stable business conditions.
5. Infocomm has transformed our economy and society, and become an integral part of our lives. With the strong IT foundation that we have built over the last 25 years, we are well positioned for the digital age.
Next Phase of Infocomm Development
6. Over the past year, the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) has sourced inputs from the private, public and people sectors to formulate a strategy to sharpen Singapore's infocomm and economic competitiveness in the next decade. Some 600 business leaders and senior executives were involved in this exercise to produce a new infocomm masterplan, Intelligent Nation 2015. Let me briefly describe some of the key components of the roadmap.
7. First, we will do more to improve our infocomm infrastructure. In the digital age, connectivity is paramount. We already have a robust network infrastructure, but it will need to be upgraded to meet the demands of tomorrow. Hence IDA is working with the industry to develop our Next-Generation National Infocomm Infrastructure. This consists of a new ultra-high-speed network linking every home and office, a wireless broadband network that allows Singaporeans to stay connected even while on the go, as well as supporting infrastructure for e-identity, e-payments and cyber-security.
8. When completed, this Next-Generation Infrastructure will be a critical enabler to build new capabilities and transform our industries. It will help to jumpstart an exciting host of new applications and high-growth sectors that rely on broadband - from immersive learning and high definition video, to telemedicine and grid computing. The possibilities are immense.
9. Second, we will promote R&D to strengthen our infocomm capabilities, especially in the area of interactive and digital media (IDM). Over the next five years, the Government will invest $500 million for R&D initiatives in this sector. One promising initiative is the collaboration with MIT's Comparative Media Studies Program, where more than 300 people from industry and academia in Singapore will have the opportunity to work with the best research minds in MIT.
10. Such R&D projects will not only benefit the infocomm or media sectors, but also other areas like education, where we are embarking on new projects to expand the frontiers of teaching and learning. For example, MOE and IDA are working on a joint programme to develop Schools of the Future, where infocomm will be integrated holistically into every aspect of the school environment to make learning come to life. We need to create new and creative infocomm products for a dynamic and rapidly changing world.
11. Third, we will continue to grow a strong and vibrant infocomm sector that will create many new jobs for Singaporeans. Many global infocomm technology players are already based here, ranging from research to product development to marketing. Home-grown infocomm companies like SingTel, NCS, Singapore Computer Systems, CrimsonLogic and Frontline are also doing well, and establishing themselves in the global marketplace.
12. New opportunities are opening up in Southeast Asia, China, India and the Middle East. These countries are keen to learn about our experience with e-Government. They have a high regard for our infocomm companies, not just because of the technology solutions we offer, but also because of the Singapore reputation for reliability, honesty and high standards. IDA will support promising local enterprises to grow globally, and to build capabilities to deliver large-scale projects.
13. Tonight, we recognise the next generation of infocomm leaders, whose innovation and enterprise have made them winners of this year's National Infocomm Awards. They will help to bring our infocomm industry forward, and propel Singapore into our next phase of infocomm development.
Digital Opportunities for All
14. As we move forward in the digital age, we must broaden the opportunities for all segments of the population to access and benefit from technology. We must create digital opportunities for all Singaporeans, and never allow a digital divide in our society.
15. Hence we will strive to make the Next-Generation Infocomm Infrastructure readily accessible to all Singaporeans. From January next year, when you are in public areas with high human traffic, such as the Business District, Downtown and HDB town centres, you will enjoy free wireless broadband connections. Three wireless operators have agreed to offer this free access for at least 2 years. Thereafter, access is expected to remain highly affordable. So with just your laptop or PDA, you can enjoy high speed connection to the internet, send out instant messages and check emails, and even make VOIP (voice-over-IP) calls.
16. In addition, we will provide more targeted assistance to help needy Singaporeans make full use of infocomm. For most Singaporeans, access to computers and broadband is no longer a luxury. Most school-going children have computers at home, but 14% of households still do not. IDA currently runs a "NEU PC" scheme that offers needy families PCs at highly subsidised prices. More than 20,000 families have benefited from this scheme over the last 6 years. Going forward, the Government will enhance this scheme to benefit more needy families. With this "NEU PC Plus" scheme, students from low-income families can look forward to a brand new computer for less than $300, bundled with 3 years of unlimited broadband access.
17. We are also paying attention to older Singaporeans and the disabled community. Infocomm can help them contribute meaningfully to society and stay connected with their family and friends. IDA will work closely with the grassroots organisations to help less tech-savvy senior citizens get connected to the internet. IDA is also working with MCYS, VWOs and industry partners to provide infocomm training for those with disabilities and create employment opportunities for them.
18. I am glad that infocomm companies and community organisations have strongly supported these schemes. For example, IDA and the infocomm industry are setting up an "iNspire Fund" to help needy students. For every dollar raised by the industry, IDA will match with two dollars. With many helping hands, we can reach out to more Singaporeans, and equip everyone to take full advantage of the digital opportunities that are opening up.
19. It was a leap of faith into the unknown when we took the infocomm plunge in 1981. The lesson from the last 25 years is that we must continue to track closely the changes around us, and respond promptly when opportunities emerge. By the time a trend becomes obvious to everyone, we may have already missed the boat. 25 years ago, we rose to the challenge of computerising the nation and exploiting IT. We need the same commitment, determination and resourcefulness for our next phase of infocomm development. Then we can seize the opportunities ahead and reap the digital dividends for Singapore.
1 Play, Touch and Learn at Innovationation
2 Two Years of Free Wi-Fi for Singapore (24.35KB)
3 Bridging Digital Divide (44.30KB)