A key new report-- by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the United Nations body responsible for ICT policy -- certainly pulls no punches in its best practice recommendations to global governments about ICT regulation.
It says "broadband access is no longer a luxury, but a necessity", and stresses the need for "proactive national broadband planning by every government".
The report says global governments need to "stimulate nationwide broadband deployments through adaptive and targeted regulations and out-of-the-box tools, leading to a new ladder of regulation".
The ITU report 'Trends in Telecommunication Reform 2010-2011', released in March, says "the advent of high-speed networks, and new kinds of content, also puts emphasis on the importance of the role of government and ICT regulators, in stimulating the demand for broadband and in the promotion of investment in infrastructure".
"Resolving disputes expeditiously in a competitive, complex and converged environment is another challenge for regulators," the report states.
The ITU says that, for markets to truly thrive, regulators need to "prove successful in keeping up with the pace of convergence and integration of ubiquitous networks, in particular through adapting their institutional structure and mandate, adopting cutting-edge best practices and embracing new tools such as innovative dispute resolution techniques".
The report maintains that, at the beginning of 2011, more than 80 per cent of markets worldwide, have separate ICT regulatory agencies, a total of 158 ICT regulators worldwide -- up from 106 just one decade ago.
It concludes that ICT markets around the world are becoming more competitive in just about every respect, from international gateway services to wireless local loop and 3G.
"In 2010, more than 93 per cent of countries worldwide allowed competition in the provision of Internet services, and 90 per cent in the provision of mobile cellular services.
A further 92 per cent have competitive 3G mobile broadband markets," the report said.
And this landmark report also highlights some amazing mobility statistics. It says that, worldwide, mobile cellular subscriptions now total more than 5.3 billion, including 940 million subscriptions to mobile broadband services -- a figure which is expected to reach one billion before mid-2011.
"Access to mobile networks is now available to 90 per cent of the world's population overall," the report says. "Of people living in rural areas, 80 per cent now have mobile cellular coverage."
According to the ITU, "ICTs are truly at the heart of everything we do".
ITU secretary-general Dr Hamadoun Touré says technology is reshaping the lives of everyone -- even those who still lack direct access themselves."
The report states that effective regulation has become crucial to economic growth across all sectors, and two broad themes have emerged; the ubiquity of ICTs, and the critical role of telecom/ICT regulators in creating an enabling digital environment.
"From climate change to health, to education and personal security; no discussion of major social issues is complete without close examination of the role of ICTs in creating, managing, and resolving these issues," the report states.
"Because ICTs touch all aspects of society, when setting sound policies and regulation the link between ICTs and major social issues like climate change, economic growth and digital lifestyles has to be taken into account," said Brahima Sanou, director of ITU's telecommunication development bureau. "More than ever, it is vital to consider the appropriate scope of the ICT regulator's mandate in creating an enabling digital world, a world where no citizen should be left out of the digital society."
But how are Asia governments -- particularly those in Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore -- meeting the ITU's best practice standards?
Key pointers to the thinking of the government of the Hong Kong Special Autonomous Region (HKSAR) were revealed in a late-March presentation, by the acting secretary for commerce and economic development, Gregory So, to the Special Meeting of the Legislative Council Finance Committee, on the policy areas of communications and technology. In an update of Hong Kong's Digital 21 strategy, So told the committee that the government's estimated non-recurrent expenditure of computerisation in 2011-12, amounted to HK$1.74 billion (US$575.11 million) - 45 per cent above the revised estimate of HK$1.2 billion (US$396.7 million) in this financial year.
"I believe the increased provision will create a lot of new business opportunities to the IT industry, and the estimated expenditure of the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer (OGCIO) will also increase by 14 per cent," he said.
So also outlined the HK government's commitment to cloud computing.
He stated that, over the next five years, "We will adopt the cloud computing model to re-provision the government's central IT infrastructure and services, enhance the overall agility of the government's IT capabilities and services, enhance operational efficiencies, reduce costs and reduce the government's carbon footprint and environmental impact".
He said Hong Kong's office of the government CIO (OGCIO) has formulated a pan-government IT strategy which sets out the major programmes to facilitate the transition to cloud computing.
So also gave notice of a new hosting infrastructure for e-government services.
"With its greener and more efficient equipment, the proposed new central hosting platform will be able to host 100 additional e-government services on top of the existing 118 ones," he said.
Prior to his departure from the office in (month?), the then head of the OGCIO, Jeremy Godfrey, said a variety of cloud-based apps, for internal use by government departments, including collaboration, records management, human resources management, as well as "some [form of] procurement [processes] would be rolled out over the next two to three years.
Godfrey said the OGCIO would position itself as a cloud service provider to other government departments, at a pace the departments would determine.
The Hong Kong government is also "exploring appropriate measures to facilitate the development of more high-end data centres in Hong Kong".So told the Special Meeting of the Legislative Council Finance Committee: "We will set up a one-stop portal for releasing information on data centres, strengthen the promotion of optimal use of existing industrial buildings and industrial sites, and explore the feasibility of other facilitative measures including the allocation of sites suitable for development into high-end data centres."
At the end of March, the HK government also launched an 18-month pilot scheme to make available geo-referenced public facilities data and real-time traffic data for free download and value-added re-use by the public. The relevant data are provided via a portal, entitled Data.One (www.gov.hk/Data.One).
The geo-referenced public facilities data include names, addresses and co-ordinates of public facilities such as government offices, hospitals, schools, country parks as well as recreational, cultural and sports venues. It also includes real-time traffic data of the main roads include the average traffic. "We believe that public sector information is not only a valuable source of reference, but may also generate valuable applications," said a spokesman for the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer.
"Facilitating value-added re-use of public sector information will be conducive to the development of Hong Kong as a knowledge-based economy. The data provided on Data. One are all downloadable and some are even in the XML format for convenient data transfer and processing by computers. The downloaded data can be used for academic researches or developing various innovative services or applications, such as mobile applications showing the road traffic situation."
Measures to strengthen ICT's role to help Malaysia achieve high income economy status were announced by Malaysia prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak in the 2011 budget.
Malaysia has set a target of 50 per cent broadband penetration by year-end and 75 per cent by 2015.
Najib said the Multimedia Development Corridor enters its third phase this year, with a focus on creation of an innovative digital economy to achieve the target of a high-income nation.
"To enhance the potential of the ICT industry, the RM119 million [US$38.57 million] MY Creative Content Programme will be implemented to encourage the development of local content creation, hosting local content and unlocking new channels for content," the prime minister said.
Another budget initiate was the extension of the investment allowance period for the last mile broadband service providers. Import duty and sales tax exemption on broadband equipment were also extended for two years until 2012.
In Malaysia, ordinary mobile phones are subject to 10 per cent sales tax but mobile phones, with various applications such as Internet and personal digital assistants (PDAs), are exempted from sales tax. In the 2011 budget, Malaysia decided to streamline tax treatment, by exempting all types of mobile phones from sales tax.
"This budget is a clear signal of the governments' seriousness about transforming the country's economic framework to meet the challenges of an Innovative Digital Economy," said government ICT agency Multimedia Development Corporation [MDeC] chief executive officer, Dato' Badlisham Ghazali.
"It is very good for the ICT sector because of the focused and strategic nature of the proposed measures which are aimed at strengthening the eco-system, nurturing talent and creating a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship.
"[These] measures under the MY Creative Content Programme are significant for the multimedia creative content industry," said Badlisham. "The allocated budget of RM119 million [US$38.57 million] will further spur the creation and hosting of local multimedia content. Today, the creative industry is still a relatively untapped but potentially lucrative trillion dollar industry and development of this sector must be further accelerated as a source of national growth and income."
"The governments' allocation for business outsourcing services is another area that bodes well for ICT," he said.
A window into the Lion City Singapore's focus on ICT was provided by the Singapore minister of information, communications and the arts (MICA), RADM (NS) Lui Tuck Yew, in a speech to the Committee of Supply 2011.
The minister showcased Singapore's progress on the Next Generation National Broadband Network -- the ultra-high speed optical fibre network which will be a core backbone of the Lion City's infocomm infrastructure. The Next Gen NBN is targeted at providing broadband access speeds of one gigabyte per second (Gbps) and beyond, between 10 to 100 times faster than public networks today.
Minister Lui said the network had achieved 60 per cent coverage nationwide at the end of 2010 and was on track to achieve 95 per cent coverage by mid-2012.
Commercial services were launched in September 2010 and the minister said that, to date, there are more than six service providers offering over 30 fibre-based broadband access plans.
"Today, several service providers have packaged their broadband access plans with value added services such as online storage, video chat, video search engines, music stores and Web hosting," minister Lui said. "We expect more innovative services to emerge. For example, high-definition video-conferencing and Internet protocol TV, or IPTV, will experience little or no lag time with the bandwidth afforded under Next Gen NBN."
He said higher speeds also allowed enterprises to re-engineer business processes for increased productivity.
"One example is the access to cloud services, where enterprises can buy services online on a 'pay-as-you-use' basis as and when they need them," Lui said. "This helps enterprises, especially the SMEs, reduce up-front infrastructure and software costs.
"For instance, StarHub has launched an electronic human resource management cloud service for businesses."
Singapore's Next Gen NBN will be complemented by the upcoming deployment of mobile 4G technology, which potentially offers speeds five to 10 times faster than 3G technologies.
"I understand that all mobile operators are currently conducting 4G trials, and we can expect deployment, I'm told, as early as end of this year. This would be timely as manufacturers would also have rolled out more 4G-enabled devices by then," minister Lui said.
The Minister told the Committee of Supply that trustworthiness has been Singapore's competitive differentiator.
He said Singapore's approach towards building a trusted infocomm ecosystem included the protection of consumer personal data, and the security of national infrastructure, which is guided by the national Infocomm Security Masterplan and complemented by initiatives like the National Authentication Framework, or NAF.
The NAF is on track for launch in the second half of this year and expects to service three million end-users and handle more than 200 million transactions annually by 2015.
Minister Lui said it will provide "a nationwide platform for strong authentication to safeguard against unauthorised access to sensitive information, such as those transmitted in banking, healthcare and government online services".
Ease of use
"Consumers can look forward to greater assurance and ease of using a single authentication device for multiple services, while businesses can enjoy cost savings from the use of a common platform," the minister said.
The minister said that the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA), SPRING Singapore and IRAS introduced the S$25 million (US$20.1 million) iSPRINT scheme in 2010, to help SMEs acquire and implement infocomm solutions.
By January 2011, more than 750 SMEs had been funded, generating a projected S$400 million (US$321.45 million) in value-add over the next three years.
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