Friday, August 3, 2007


Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) are universally acknowledged as powerful tools for development.
In Fiji, growth in internet usage from 2000 to March 2007 was 833.3 per cent.
This means more people are "going on line" and they needed to be exposed to internet-related issues.
For example, women in Nausori have embraced ICT to sell their products online. By accumulating email addresses from government offices, they sold their products directly to email recipients.
Pacific Islands Chapter of the Internet Society (PICISOC) vice chairman Frank Martin, who conducted a workshop for the media yesterday, said ICTs were not only essential to social development and economic growth but were critical to the development of good governance.
They can be effective vehicles for the maintenance of security and vital for sustainable development.
"In the Pacific, ICTs are the key to ending the tyranny of distance, he said.
He said in the Pacific region those who accessed telecommunications and the internet were faced with slower speeds and much higher costs than in the developed world.
"There is inequality in ICT access with women, youth and the disadvantaged being among the most excluded groups even though ICT is a significant tool for social and economic empowerment."
Mr Martin said in order to make good use of ICTs to foster education, health and administration as well as improve communications, a rapid expansion of telecommunications and a reduction in their costs was urgently required throughout the Pacific.
The Pacific's problems are caused by large distances, small scale, scattered populations and markets as well as a low level of investments in telecommunications and human resources.
"All these problems can be addressed and the development of ICTs accelerated by selection of appropriate mechanisms for cooperation market integration and provision of services on a regional basis."
He said small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) were a significant and vital sector in the Pacific economy.
ICTs have the potential to globally expand the markets for SMEs, shrink their costs and remove their isolation related problems.
To use this potential requires improved financial access to ICTs, more access to customers within the region, and better legal and financial environments.
Numerous studies have highlighted the potential of and impediments to ICTs for every Pacific islander. The Communication Action Plan (CAP) and Pacific Islands Information and Communications Technologies Policy and Strategic Plan (PIIP) have recently made clear recommendations on actions required for ICTs to reach potential in the region.
However, because of the challenges such as scale, institutional capacity and isolation, countries have been less than successful in following the recommendations.
"The ability to develop ICTs and use them at the business and consumer ends needs significant improvement."
Mr Martin said the challenge by leaders to develop new regional institutional arrangements, through the Pacific Plan and the dynamic technological and commercial environments of the 21st Century offers countries in the region fresh opportunities.
"They can pool existing resources more effectively and accelerate the introduction of infrastructure that would support the use of ICTs in education, health, trade, commerce, security, governance and meet the social needs of the communities.
The regional digital strategy based on the CAP and PIIPP established the following priorities: Improving access to communications technology; reducing costs; establishing higher bandwidth to the global ICT bone; removing inappropriate regulatory environments in order to foster higher levels of investment; strengthening ICT skills.
He said broadcasting which simultaneously used local, regional and global content has been a largely neglected area of ICTs in the Pacific.
"Newer technologies through the internet, audio streaming, community FM broadcasting and digital satellite radio offers means to better achieve coverage, improve the content in broadcasting and to improve on independent, traditional and community media."
He said so far countries in the region have been unable to fully use this cost effective mass ICT, with its potential to provide high quality education, health and other services as well as entertainment. The digital strategy aims to expand the opportunities that convergence and digitalisation offer to broadcasting services through private, non-State agencies and government channels.
Mr Martin said in the Pacific with its range of scale and other diversity there was a demand for thinking globally while acting locally.
"The essence of the digital strategy will be identifying those areas where synergies exist in regulation, market or standards and promoting regional solutions while identifying the needs for local action and providing support to local agencies."
Regional principles recognise: The provision of reliable, competitive and low priced telecommunication, and that ICT services are crucial to the sustainable social and economic development of Forum Island Countries; the Pacific is hampered by large distances, small markets and scattered populations; and that forum island countries have limited technical capacity.
He said there was a need for increased efforts to be made to implement regional, sub-regional or multi country solutions to problems in the telecommunications and ICT sector through: The management of regional public goods such as spectrum; regulatory regimes; a regional interconnection regime; harmonised laws; human resources development, and liberalisation of the regulatory environment.
Mr Martin said there was a need for a central responsibility of government to telecommunications to be established and administered by independent regulatory authorities.
"Telecommunications and ICT services should be open to competition and regulatory barriers to domestic and international providers should be removed to allow for competition in international voice, domestic fixed line, mobile, broadband, data, internet, satellite and other services. There should be transparent and competitive tendering practices within a well regulated environment, where it is deemed markets are too small to sustain more than one operator as well as the removal of regulatory barriers to the unbundling of services." He said telecommunications and ICT services should wherever possible operate on a sustainable commercial basis with consideration of privatising government-owned services and service levels should reflect demand while the price reflected the cost of delivery.
"Where appropriate legislated monopolies should be removed with a view to increasing competition and that clear lines of responsibility for shareholders, board and managements are defined.
"Where telecommunications and ICT providers remain in government ownership and required to perform commercial activities, they should be adequately capitalised," he said.