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From Intelligent Island to Global Infocomm Capital

Lam Chuan Leong, Chairman, IDA Singapore - Keynote Address CIAPR Forum, Shanghai International Convention Centre

Lam Chuan Leong, Chairman, IDA Singapore - Keynote Address
CIAPR Forum, Shanghai International Convention Centre

China, 24 May 2001

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

Thank you very much for giving me this opportunity to share with you some aspects of Singapore's approach to and experience in what is referred to in this Conference as the "Informatization Process".

In the course of civilization, very few technological innovations rightly deserve to be called "revolutionary". The Agriculture Revolution is one of them. It freed humans from the dependency upon the vagaries of hunting and led to enormous growth in the human population. The Industrial Revolution substituted mechanical power for human or animal muscles. It thereby ushered in an era of great growth in material wealth and new manufactured products of unprecedented size and scale.

We are now barely into the Information Revolution. Whilst the concept of the Information Revolution is not entirely new, the last few years of technological developments have yielded more concrete insights into what this new technology is capable of.

It is abundantly clear that the Information Revolution has shrunk distances or even rendered distances irrelevant. We see this in the development of call-centres located in for example India but serving customers faraway in the US or Europe.

We see this in the way information have connected the world's capital and financial markets, bringing them more in line almost instantaneously and eliminating arbitrage opportunities and inefficiencies. We see this in the way companies are marketing their products globally and at the same time sourcing their inputs worldwide at the lowest cost.

All these are made possible because of the advances of information technology coupled with telecommunications and the pervasive presence of the Internet which brought low-cost worldwide communications available to the mass public for the first time in history.

At another level, we are beginning to see the ability to control machines through information. Now, when we turn the steering wheel of a car, a series of levers and gears move the front wheels of the car to turn it. Soon, all we need will be a mouse-like device or a gear stick to send digital signals or information to a motor to turn the wheels instead. This ability, sometimes called "fly-by-wire", because it was first applied in aircraft controls, holds great promise in the development of ever more sophisticated, intelligent remotely-controlled machines with very profound implications for our industrial processes and even consumer products.

The Information Revolution promises to yield rich economic dividends to those individuals and countries that manage to ride the crest of this wave to prosperity. Those who cannot exploit the new technology will be left behind in economic stagnation. Hence, the challenge of "the digital divide". From now on, sustained economic growth requires that nations "informatize" their society pervasively and as quickly as possible.

The realisation of this economic need led the Singapore government as early as 1980 to begin to harness information technology for government and industry through a series of three national plans.

The first plan covering the period 1981 to 1985 focussed on 3 objectives: to computerize the Civil Service, to develop an indigenous IT industry, and to build a supply of local IT manpower.

The second plan from 1986 to 1991 moved on to the integration of computer and communications technologies to enable electronic data interchange across government departments and industry. Large databases of information such as our Law Statutes were compiled and made available to business and the public on-line through portals such as the LawNet and the MediNet. Similarly, TradeNet and CORENet allowed trade documents or building plans to be submitted electronically for approval thus cutting down paper use and waiting time. Today, one-third of Singaporeans filed their Income Tax returns on-line.

The third plan from 1992 to 1999 was more ambitious. It aims to transform Singapore into an "Intelligent Island", a vision whereby IT would be available everywhere; in the home, in offices, schools, and factories. A broadband information infrastructure was planned to cover the whole of Singapore.

By the middle of 1998, that nation-wide broadband information "highway" had been achieved. More than 99% of the island can access broadband via ADSL, cable or ATM. All Universities and polytechnic colleges are wired with campus-wide networks and broadband and, in some cases, wireless access.

By 1999, a radical convergence in the technologies of computing, telecoms and broadcasting was taking place. The distinction between information as data, voice, and images is blurring. Companies are re-positioning their products, offering new ones, merging with one another or even changing industry!

To meet the challenges and opportunities posed by this convergence, the Singapore government formed the Infocomm Development Authority out of the merger of the National Computer Board and the Telecommunications Authority of Singapore in Dec 1999. The word "Infocomm" may not be quite in the pages of the more conservative dictionaries yet, but it was chosen because it symbolises the merger of the two technologies, Information and Communications.

The IDA set out to formulate a new five-year plan called "Infocomm 21".

The vision of Infocomm 21 is to develop Singapore into a vibrant and dynamic global Infocomm Hub with a thriving and prosperous e-Economy and a pervasive and infocomm-savvy e-Society. A most significant element in this vision of the Infocomm Hub is the concept of total involvement by the whole society in Singapore in the process. The People, the Private Sector, the Public (that is Government) Sector have all to be involved in making this Hub happen. We call this process the 3P's approach - referring to the People, Private and Public Sectors.

One key step towards the building the Infocomm Hub, was the full liberalisation of the telecommunications sector in April 2000. All restrictions on foreign equity holdings were removed. We issued over 200 telecommunications licenses for facilities-based and service-based operators. Over the next 5 years, their capital expenditure is estimated to be almost US$0.5 billion. The free, competition telecommunications market has brought about steep reductions in the telecommunications costs and spurred substantial growth in usage of telecommunications services.

Meanwhile, measures were put in place to increase Singapore's global reach through high-speed international Internet connectivity, government to government linkages, hosting of content, and helping companies access international markets. Today, Singapore has over 45 Mbps direct Internet links with all the key cities in the Asia Pacific and over 1 Gbps direct Internet links with the US.

Programmes were implemented to attract leading Infocomm players to set up business in Singapore with emphasis on key sectors such as Telecommunications, Wireless, Digital Media, Software and IT Services, and Internet Data Centres.

These programmes facilitate industry development by providing a platform for companies to participate in specific projects including pilot projects. There are also programmes to facilitate market access development with joint marketing and research efforts and assistance to jumpstart the development of innovative technologies and services.

As for the Government or Public Sector, our strategy is aimed at making it one of the best e-Government in the world through the on-line delivery of the widest range of high-quality services to the people and businesses in Singapore. A key feature of this plan is to provide integrated services that cut across all government agencies. Thus a person can expect a comprehensive range of services at the same portal even though those services may be provided by different government agencies. We call such a service "user-centric" rather than "agency-centric". This is the electronic equivalent of the "one-stop service" concept. An e-Government Action Plan was launched in the year 2000; a sum of nearly US$1 billion was set aside for this purpose.

For the People Sector, our vision is to develop Singapore into an infocomm-savvy society with a pervasive e-lifestyle. We already have 60% PC and Internet penetration rates, but we believe that it is necessary to continue our efforts to bridge the digital divide. Regardless of social standing, income level, age group, ability or ethnic group, everyone in Singapore should have the opportunity to benefit from the new economy and access to Infocomm Technology.

We do this by offering basic training in IT literacy and Internet use to workers, housewives, the unemployed, retired or disabled so that they will not be disadvantaged or excluded from the new e-Society. We help the more needy acquire computers by recycling old PC's that are collected from government agencies, offices or members of the public. These PC's are refurbished by grassroot associations, volunteers and self-help groups and given out free or at a nominal fee. The National Trade Union Congress has an "Easy PC Plan" to help members purchase a new PC for less than US$1 a day over 3 years.

As a result of these efforts, Singapore today has attained a high standard of E-Readiness. The Economist Intelligence Unit Report dated may 2001 ranked Singapore the Top Location in Asia in E-Readiness. Globally, amongst 60 countries, Singapore ranked seventh.

Having reached this point, it is natural to ask where do we go from here. We believe that the key growth areas in the near term will be Broadband especially Wireless Broadband and e-commerce.

Broadband accessibility has reached near universal coverage in Singapore. Growth has been rapid to reach 300,000 users today. There are about 300 Industry players involved in the business development and implementation of broadband services from content and applications development to delivery.

We expect that demand for broadband will continue to grow. Wireless broadband will also grow quickly when people value the mobility that comes with wireless. We have therefore just allocated 3-G spectrum licences to 3 telco operators. We have launched a "Wired with Wireless" Programme to promote private sector initiatives in wireless development.

For e-commerce, we aim to grow Singapore into a trusted global e-business hub in the Asia Pacific region for both B2B and B2C. Singapore's on-line B2B transactions totalled approximately US$21 billion in 1999.

IDA is promoting the growth of e-commerce by encouraging the use of security technologies such as the Public Key Infrastructure for encryption and authentication. Another task is to set out a clear and transparent policy and legal framework for e-commerce. The Electronic Transactions Act for example was put in place to recognise electronic records and signatures. Other legal and regulatory issues being addressed include data privacy and intellectual property rights protection.

These are the various plans that Singapore has put in place over the last 2 decades to ready itself for the e-Economy. Over this period, our private sector companies, including spin-off companies from key projects, have built up experience and skill sets that are valuable for the infocomm industry. Some of them are here today. I hope that they will have the opportunity to explore further business ventures with our friends and colleagues from China or elsewhere. We also welcome industry players to come to Singapore individually or in joint ventures with our companies to exploit the opportunities in Singapore or in the region. This is in line with our vision of Singapore as one of the key global Infocomm Hubs.

On that note, may I warmly welcome you to join us tomorrow at the Grand Hyatt for the Singapore Day Symposium. That event will provide you with more information and networking opportunities with some of the Singapore companies and organisations which have participated in transforming Singapore from an "Intelligent Island" to a global Infocomm hub!

Thank you very much for your kind attention.

Title Date of Issue
Presentation Slides (2.67MB) 24 May 2001