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Enriching Lives in an E-Society

Dr Lee Boon Yang, Minister of Information, Communications and the Arts Speech - Launch of E-Celebrations 2003 and Opening of The Infocomm Xperience, The Singapore Science Centre

Dr Lee Boon Yang, Minister of Information, Communications and the Arts
Speech - Launch of E-Celebrations 2003 and Opening of The Infocomm Xperience, The Singapore Science Centre
Singapore, 21 Jun 2003

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, I am delighted with the opportunity to join you for the launch of e-Celebrations.

E-Celebrations - Work, Learn and Play

e-Celebrations is part of our effort to demonstrate the benefits and values of infocomm technologies to our lives. Through e-Celebrations, Singaporeans will be able to experience how infocomm technologies can enhance our quality of life, speed up daily transactions, elevate our productivity at work and help us to forge ahead in a knowledge-based economy. IDA, as the lead organiser, works with many industry and community partners to mount the e-Celebrations campaign.

This year's focus is on using infocomm technology to balance our lifestyle. Today's lifestyle can be hectic where one has to juggle family, work and still find time to upgrade our one's skills and acquire new knowledge. It might sound rather formidable and intimidating. Yet if we look more closely at the many innovative infocomm products and services available in the market, we soon realise that they can in fact help us to achieve a more balanced lifestyle.

With broadband connectivity, some people found that they could work from home. Last Sunday (The Sunday Times Jun 15 2003), Mr Richard Lim of the ST wrote about his conversion from a skeptic to a believer in the attractions and benefits of working from home with the help of infocomm technologies. This became very important during the recent outbreak of SARS in Singapore when some executives had to self-quarantine themselves at home after travelling to SARS-affected areas. The 10 -days they spent at home were not wasted. They were able to tele-commute. Others have relied on broadband access to undertake remote learning with lessons from the Internet. Yet others have cut down on shopping trips by making purchases online from the convenience of home.

For those looking for interesting and enjoyable hobbies, there is a host of innovative digital products and services waiting for you to try out. Digital photography is one good example. You may have taken many photographs at a family celebration. Using the photo editing software that comes with your digital camera, you can easily add simple effects to enhance the quality of the photos. Next, you upload the photos using an online photo album service available on the Internet. Finally, you send an email to invite your relatives to browse through your online album and download the photos that they like. Sounds complicated? Not really, it is actually quite simple and great fun.

This year's e-Celebrations campaign1 will stretch over four months. Each month will have a special theme. July will be the Security and Trust Month. The idea is to address every business and citizen's fundamental need for security. Activities will focus on explaining security protocols for on-line transactions and gaining trust and confidence in the safeguards in place. August will be the Telecommuting Month, to demonstrate an alternative and cost-effective way to work and learn. Then in November we will have the Q-Busting Month which is geared to helping people to save time and money during the festive period. And, finally in March 2004, the Digital Fun Month will give participants the opportunity to try out the latest digital gadgets and have fun being a digital artist, photographer or movie producer. At the end of these four months, we hope that many Singaporeans would have had a chance to participate in a hands-on way in one or more of the activities and gained a better insight into the potential of infocomm to help them cope with the faster pace of life and more challenging workplaces.

Indeed, Singapore has been considered as quite advanced in the use and application of infocomm technologies. In a 2002 survey of 75 countries, the World Economic Forum rated Singapore as the nation with the most-wired government and as the most effective in promoting the use of IT among its citizens. Singaporeans are also among the most connected in the world. The use of infocomm technologies in Singapore households ranks among the highest in the world. Today, there is at least one computer in more than 69% of our homes. Internet penetration in households has grown from 50% in 2000 to almost 60% today. Broadband penetration has reached 24%, and its growth is picking up momentum.

Singaporeans also have one of the world's highest mobile penetration rates, at 79%. We have come a long way from the early days of the "brick phone" which could double up in an emergency as a personal protection weapon. Today, young and old are into the latest scaled down colour-coordinated handphones; some with built-in radios and cameras. They have access to hands free Bluetooth and always-on GPRS technologies for instant data downloads on the go. Many people are also eagerly awaiting the rollout of 3G services which will be available next year. According to a recent consumer awareness and satisfaction survey on telecomms services commissioned by IDA, 75% of respondents felt that there were was a wide variety of international calls and Internet access services. 90% were satisfied with the quality of international call services and almost 80% were satisfied with the quality of broadband access services.

Mobile Number Portability

However these consumer indicators should not lull us into complacency. If anything, the telecomms sector is one of the fastest moving industries in the world. As a result, the IDA has to constantly study the market practices to ensure that there is fair competition in the provision of services to consumers. The IDA as the telecomms regulator has to review and assess a variety of issues and look for ways to improve services to consumers and at the same time ensureing that the policy intent of a competitive telecomm market is a reality on the ground.

One area which the IDA has studied for some time is the question of providing Mobile Number Portability (MNP) services to mobile phone subscribers. Currently, when a mobile phone user switches to a new operator but wants to retain his mobile number, he has to pay a one-time registration fee and monthly recurrent MNP fees. Despite such recurrent charges, the users cannot enjoy full MNP because only voice calls can be forwarded and not SMS. In other countries such as Hong Kong and the UK, consumers are able to enjoy full MNP without having to pay continuing charges. Levying monthly charges for MNP could become a barrier to switching service provider and restrict a consumer's choices.

After careful study and consultations with the mobile phone companies, the IDA has concluded that it is time to change the current practice. Consumers will be pleased to know that starting from 1 August 2003, mobile phone users no longer need to pay a monthly fee for Mobile Number Portability (MNP) service. IDA has mandated that while mobile operators may charge a one-time administrative fee for MNP service they should not levy a monthly charge for the service. In addition, IDA has also required operators to allow ported mobile phone users to receive SMS at their retained mobile numbers by 1 October 2003. Currently, this is not possible due to technical constraints. The mobile operators will upgrade their MNP systems to overcome these constraints.

These new MNP requirements will give consumers more freedom and flexibility to choose the mobile phone services and products that best serve their needs. It will remove what could be a hindrance to consumers switching operators and therefore generate further competition in the mobile market to benefit all consumers.

Demonstrating Corporate Citizenship

Coming back to e-Celebrations, besides our public education efforts, it is equally important that organizations participate in building a Connected Singapore. We need to nurture the growth of connected "corporate citizens". Today, I am pleased to announce the launch of the e-Inclusion Corporate Sponsorship Programme otherwise to be known as e-Clasp2. Through this programme, we aim to form more partnerships with the industry to make more infocomm products and services easily available to our citizens so as to enrich their lives. Both infocomm and non-infocomm industries will be invited to play an active part in building an e-Inclusive society for Singapore. As an e-Clasp sponsor, an organization can contribute cash or provide free hardware, software or even services such as broadband and mobile subscription to enable eligible recipients to enjoy the benefits of an e-lifestyle.

We already have a number of corporations actively supporting this programme. For example, under the Neu PC Programme3 Microsoft has donated $8.5 million worth of their software to low-income homes, while SingTel has contributed $500,000. A new sponsor to the programme, PacNet, has committed half a million dollars worth of Internet connectivity to these families. Hewlett Packard is another example. When the People's Association was setting up the first three e-Clubs, HP sponsored equipment to help them provide basic infocomm literacy training and enable easy access to the Internet for residents staying close by.

In the coming year, I look forward to more companies demonstrating their corporate citizenship by participating in e-Clasp. Your participation will benefit many people, including senior citizens, students, and needy families.

Conclusion: A Connected Singapore for Everyone

Today's launch of e-Celebrations 2003 represents a continuation of our efforts in establishing a connected Singapore. We want to build an e-Inclusive society to bridge the digital divide. By harnessing the powers of infocomm, we can enrich lives and make new things possible for every business and citizen and ultimately, the nation.

I urge all Singaporeans and corporate citizens to join hands with the IDA to e-power the nation. The basic building blocks are already in place: Infocomm connectivity, Infocomm literacy training, and a myriad of innovative Infocomm products and services. I am confident that with our sustained effort by government and corporations, we will be able to tap the full powers of infocomm technologies to build a better Singapore.

On this note, I want to congratulate the Singapore Science Centre on the opening of the Infocomm Xperience and I wish everyone an enjoyable Xperience in exploring the exhibition.

It is now my pleasure to declare the launch of e-Celebrations 2003: Connect - Unleash - Realise. Thank you.

Notes to Editors:

Please refer to the attachments for more information on :

1 E-Celebrations 2003 Thematic Months (43.00KB)

2 eCLASP (2.23MB)

3 NEU PC Programme (39.50KB)