Mr Yeo Cheow Tong, Minister for Communications & Information Technology Opening Address - Opening Ceremony for CommunicAsia99

Mr Yeo Cheow Tong, Minister for Communications & Information Technology
Opening Address - Opening Ceremony for CommunicAsia99
Singapore, 22 June 1999

1. I am very happy to be here this morning, to officiate at this opening of CommunicAsia99. First, let me extend a very warm welcome to all the exhibitors and visiting friends. I hope you will find your visit to Singapore and participation in this event both fruitful and interesting.

2. Over the years, CommunicAsia has established itself as a trade show and conference of solid international standing. This year, about 900 companies from 40 countries will showcase an exciting array of new products, services, network systems and applications. As the host country, we are proud to contribute our share too. The Singapore Pavilion, co-ordinated by the Telecommunication Authority of Singapore (TAS), showcases innovations from our info-communications entrepreneurs.

3. Last year, CommunicAsia 98 was held under the pall cast by a gloomy economic climate. I am sure all of us are very happy that, this year, the seas are less choppy and there are signs that the region is beginning to recover. However, it is still too early to break out the champagne, as Asian economies have yet to recover fully. We will need to continue to look beyond the present crisis by anticipating problems, building new capabilities, and sharpening competitiveness in the globalised world. In short, the challenge faced by Asian economies is to ensure a sustainable full recovery, and to emerge stronger from this crisis.

4. In this regard, the convergence of information, telecommunication, consumer electronics, broadcasting and multimedia technologies is of great relevance to the long term growth of Asian economies. It opens up a whole new world of opportunities for us to innovate, and to create new products and processes, new applications and services, new markets and industry structures. In effect, the globalisation of trade and commerce, liberalisation in telecommunication and broadcasting industry, and the pervasiveness of the Internet, have made it possible for us to usher in a new era of what has been termed as the Digital Economy, or "Net Economy".

The Net Economy

5. As we move into the new millennium, the explosive proliferation of the Internet in our lives is transforming institutional structures. We cannot avoid the Information Age, as it is already upon us. Although the Internet offers an immense wealth of information, proper channels and infrastructure need to be put in-place if we are to harness its tremendous potential. Where it used to be enough to possess the basic know-how in one's area of expertise, the knowledge worker of today must be able to reach beyond conventional boundaries to seek the latest information, so as to make sounder decisions.

6. We must prepare ourselves for the transition to a knowledge-based economy and society. And we must also constantly review policies and regulatory frameworks to ensure their relevance and effectiveness in stimulating the growth of the industries. Service sectors should be liberalised as much and as quickly as possible. This will give consumers more choices of service providers, better quality and a wider range of services at more competitive prices. This would help enhance Singapore's position as a globally competitive business hub.

Liberalisation of the Internet Exchange Services

7. A resilient and effective information infrastructure would greatly strengthen Singapore's position as a regional business hub. As part of the initiatives to achieve this goal, I am pleased to announce that with immediate effect, TAS will liberalise the provision of International Internet Exchange Services in Singapore. Internet Exchanges are physical interconnection sites for Internet Access Service Providers (IASPs) to access the global Internet backbone and exchange traffic with one another. Such exhanges will enable IASPs' traffic to be aggregated before being sent via leased circuits to the US Internet backbone and the regional countries. They not only help to reduce the need for each IASP to set up its own direct links, but also translate into lower costs and more efficient bandwidth utilisation for service providers, and faster connection times for Internet users.

8. The move to allow more providers of Internet exchange services in Singapore will enhance Singapore's attractiveness as a portal for high-speed access to the Internet backbone. In addition, the Asian IASPs will also have more means to interconnect via Singapore and this will encourage the development of an intra-Asian Internet network. In the longer term, the establishment of regional Internet hubs and the increased build-up of Internet infrastructure within the Asia Pacific would accelerate the development of an Asia Pacific Information Infrastructure. TAS' move to open up the market for International Internet Exchange services in Singapore therefore represents yet another significant step towards achieving our goal of becoming an Internet Hub and Information Society.

ICT - The Key Driver of the Net Economy

9. Information and communications technology, or "ICT" in short, will be the key driver and transformer in the Net Economy and Information Society of the future. Besides serving as the enabling platform for all economic sectors to upgrade and grow, ICT itself will become a major growth sector in the Net Economy, creating new business and employment opportunities. For example, the ICT sectors in USA are already contributing more than 25% of its real economic growth. We can expect countries in various parts of the world to match or even exceed this level as the Net Economy continues its global outreach.

IT2000 - A Critical Foundation for the Net Economy

10. But while there are tremendous opportunities presented by the trend towards a Net Economy, the road there hold numerous challenges too. To succeed in the Net Economy, one needs strong foundations built up over many years. This comes about from having consistent policies and strategies, formulated from a long-term viewpoint, implemented persistently because of the many difficulties one is likely to encounter, and regularly reviewed and updated. In this regard, Singapore is fortunate to have embarked on a concerted IT strategy, twenty years ago. This involved encouraging society and the various sectors of the economy to use IT, investing in the necessary infrastructural support, developing a vibrant IT industry, and ultimately, transforming Singapore into an Intelligent Island.

11. Our IT strategy has enabled us to catch up with advances in Information Technology, and put us in a solid position to transit quickly and smoothly towards a Net Economy.

12. To illustrate, IT is now used extensively in every Ministry and Department to serve the general public better and more efficiently. By Year 2001, we aim to offer most public services over the Internet as "one-stop and non-stop" government services to the people. Over time, the concept of e-Citizen and e-Government will become a reality for the convenience of the public.

13. IT is also being deployed extensively in businesses and public places, making Singapore one of the most computerised nations in the world today. Our schools are highly IT-intensive. In fact, we project that 30% of school curriculum will be IT-based by Year 2002. Our courts and the legal community are active users of IT too. An Integrated Criminal Justice System, when ready, will link more than 30 agencies to enable efficient administration of justice.

14. The private sector is actively involved too. Electronic Data Interchange (EDI), together with Internet, is helping to streamline supply chain management in the manufacturing sector, as well as information exchange in the trading sector. Electronic commerce is growing fast, averaging S$400 million per month today. It is targeted to reach 50% of businesses by Year 2003.

15. As a result of all these multi-sectoral efforts over the last twenty years, Singapore is today ranked among the top IT economies and societies in the world. In its 1999 Information Society Index, International Data Corporation ranked Singapore the fourth most information-driven economy and society in the world today, after USA, Sweden and Finland. It further projected that Singapore would move up to number two position on its world ranking by Year 2002.

Singapore ONE - The National Information Infrastructure for the Net Economy

16. Notwithstanding the steady progress achieved so far, the rapid advances in ICT mean we need to keep on running and investing for the future. Two years ago, in order to lay the foundation for a new National Information Infrastructure for the Net Economy in the 21st century, we embarked on a bold initiative to build Singapore ONE, the acronym for 'One Network for Everyone'. Singapore ONE is one of the world's first nation-wide broadband infrastructure for interactive multimedia applications and services. The building of Singapore ONE reflects our philosophy of forward planning, and investing in cutting-edge technology and infrastructure well ahead of demand.

17. Today, just two years after its launch, Singapore ONE is accessible by 98% of all homes in Singapore. Over 60,000 users are enjoying some 170 broadband multimedia applications, and the number of users continues to grow. Besides homes and offices, Singapore ONE is now available in schools, tertiary institutions, public libraries, community centres, and even public kiosks being set up all over Singapore. The National Computer Board is working closely with the service providers and educational institutions to offer students special subscription to Singapore ONE. This will certainly help exploit the full potential of Singapore ONE for learning and teaching.

18. While we strive to grow the domestic user base, we also recognise the limitation of our small population, and therefore, market base. We have therefore taken steps to expand the market reach and consumer base of Singapore ONE beyond our shores. For a start, the National Computer Board recently launched a service called 'FastAsia' that offers selected Singapore ONE multimedia content to some 500,000 users in North American on the 'At Home' (@Home) network. Over time, we aim to extend our broadband links to other leading cities of the world, and participate actively in the evolution of a broadband global network.

19. With its nation-wide reach and fast-growing number of local and overseas users, Singapore ONE is an attractive test-bed for companies to experiment with innovative broadband services and products for the regional and global markets. We look forward to productively exploring the many unexplored territories in the Net Economy with our partners from over corners of the world.

ICT 21 Masterplan - The Roadmap for the Net Economy

20. Having come this far, where do we go from here? The implementation of telecommunication liberalisation policies, IT 2000 and Singapore ONE have enabled us to lay a solid foundation, one which will facilitate our transition into a Net Economy and Information Society. We will actively build upon this strong foundation. My ministry is in the midst of formulating the 'ICT21 Masterplan', to facilitate the development of ICT in Singapore over the next 10 years into a new era of an electronic world or e-world. Our vision is to transform Singapore into a dynamic and vibrant global ICT Capital with a thriving and prosperous Net Economy by the year 2010.

21. To succeed as a ICT Capital, we will have to be a leader in the creative exploitation of ICT in key aspects of economic and social activity. At the same time, we must develop into a premier ICT gateway to the region, as well as an active global node in the Global Information Infrastructure of the future. The ICT21 MasterPlan will therefore map out strategies to attain the following three key objectives:

First, to develop the ICT sector as the key sector of growth in Singapore's economy. Singapore's IT industry grew more than four-fold from S$2.7 billion in total revenue in 1991 to about S$12 billion in 1998. At the same time, the phased liberalisation of telecommunication services has led to keener competition and faster pace of innovation. We will build on the current capabilities of the IT and telecommunication industry, and nurture a ICT industry cluster out of the convergence of information, telecommunication, broadcasting, consumer electronics and multimedia technologies. We will encourage and assist global industry leaders and promising local enterprises to design, develop, and mass produce new products and services for the regional and global markets. This will position Singapore as a leading innovator and exporter of ICT products and services in the global marketplace.

Second, to use ICT as a common platform to boost the performance of Singapore's knowledge-based economy. As we strive to build new and better capabilities in every major economic sector, be it manufacturing, transport and communications, commerce and trade, finance and banking, and so on, we recognise that ICT has a critical role to play in these endeavours. We must learn to harness the full potential of ICT in each and every major economic sector, and help position Singapore as a strategic global hub for e-business, e-commerce and e-trade, e-learning and talent exchange, and e-services-on-demand.

Third, to leverage on ICT to enhance the quality of life and standard of living of Singaporeans in the Information Society of the future. Key initiatives such as Singapore ONE, e-Citizen and e-Government are aimed at delivering a whole range of online interactive services for public convenience. As we continue to improve the quality of supply with ICT, we also need to increase user demands. This we will achieve by creating a more conducive environment to boost literacy in ICT, connectivity and accessibility among our people regardless of age, language and education qualification. Our aim is to help all Singaporeans to take full advantage of and benefit from a new and emerging lifestyle in the new e-world and information society of the future.

22. The scope of ICT 21 will cover various aspects of cluster development, including building capabilities in technology, innovation, mass customisation, manpower and infrastructure development, and enterpreneurship. The formulation of ICT 21 will be a collaborative effort of the entire ICT community, involving the industry and professional bodies, research institutions, education institutions, TAS, NCB and relevant government agencies. We aim to complete the first cut ICT 21 masterplan and key action agenda by the end of the year, and have it ready for public release in the 1st quarter of Year 2000.


23. CommunicAsia offers an effective and useful platform for government and industry leaders to come together to discuss important issues on IT and telecommunications. In this regard, I am delighted to note that the APEC Telecommunications Working Group and Asia Pacific Telecommunity (APT) have taken the opportunity to hold back-to-back meetings alongside CommunicAsia. This brings together stakeholders in the regional info-communications industry to discuss pertinent regulatory, commercial and technical issues and challenges.

24. The APEC Telecommunications Working Group will meet on Mutual Recognition Agreement (MRA) arrangements for procedures governing the testing and certification of telecommunications equipment. The Asia Pacific Telecommunity is organising an inaugural Asia-Pacific Standardisation Programme to set in motion regional dialogue on the harmonisation of telecommunications standards across the Asia-Pacific. On behalf of the Singapore Government, I wish to express Singapore's support for these initiatives.

25. With that, let me end by wishing the organisers and exhibitors every success. To all delegates and visitors, I hope you will have a most fruitful conference and exhibition. It is now my pleasure to declare CommunicAsia99 and VRcomms Virtual Exhibition open.