|Issue:||Asia-Pacific I 2007|
|Topic:||A sustainable ICT platform for Indonesia’s future|
|Author:||Dr Sofyan A. Djalil and Dr Alexander Rusli|
|Title:||Dr Sofyan A. Djalil, Minister for Communications and Information Technology, and Dr Alexander Rusli, Advisor to the Minister|
|Organisation:||Republic of Indonesia|
Dr Sofyan A. Djalil is the Minister for Communication and Information Technology of the Republic of Indonesia. Dr Djalil was appointed to this position in 2004, under the administration of the President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. The Minister, Mr Djalil, has a PhD in Law, specializing in capital markets. Mr Djalil graduated from the Fletcher School of Diplomacy, and still lectures part time for postgraduate studies at Padjajaran University where he teaches numerous subjects related to the field of capital markets.
Dr Alexander Rusli is an Advisor to the Minister for Communication and Information Technology of the Republic of Indonesia. Dr Rusli has held the role of Advisor to the Minister for two administrations. Prior to that Dr Rusli was a researcher and lecturer at the University of Indonesia. In the past, Dr Rusli lectured at the Curtin University of Technology in Australia. He still lectures part time about information systems – particularly strategic information systems planning at the University of Indonesia’s School of Computing Science. Dr Rusli holds a PhD in Information Systems.
The economic development of Indonesia, with its 17,000 islands and 230 million people, will depend heavily upon information and communication technology. The Government of Indonesia has been working to establish an appropriate regulatory framework, to build an encompassing network infrastructure and to develop a sustainable ICT platform for national development. The population’s lack of ICT awareness, including within the government, the lack of a mature ICT industry and local language content and complex questions of individual accessibility present significant challenges.
The growth of Indonesia’s use of information and communication technology (ICT) has long been anticipated. Given the geographical nature of Indonesia, an archipelago that spans over 17,000 islands, with a population of more than 230 million people, it makes good sense for Indonesia to rely heavily on ICT as a tool for connectivity, information dissemination, management and governance. When the current government assumed office, it faced the challenge of making changes to the government departments responsible for ICT. At that time, broadcasting and information technology (IT) applications were under one ministry and telecommunications under another. This model did not reflect the evolving nature of the ICT industry, which is moving towards convergence. Despite resistance to combining the functions under one ministry, a combined ministry was created that now acts as policy-maker and regulator for the ICT industry in Indonesia. The new ministry is called the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology. Other challenges included inconsistent regulations, highlighted by the merger of the ministries and the high price of telecommunications – especially for Internet access. The uneven distribution of ICT access, concentrated almost exclusively in the major cities, was another cause for concern. The government also had to contend with the generalised lack of ICT awareness, including within the government, and the lack of an ICT industry mature enough to support sustainable growth. The concern about whether ICT should be a national priority, often questioned in the early ’90s, is no longer in question. In the early ’90s, there were serious debates about whether Indonesia should allocate resources for ICT when there were, arguably, other high priority issues that the country could not ignore lightly. Today, this debate is no longer relevant, since there is a widespread consensus that ICT is an imperative priority if the nation is to grow and become part of the global Information Society. Indonesia, or any nation, that does not invest in ICT will soon be left behind the rest of the world. Before discussing the need to create the basis for sustainable development, it is important to describe the approach that the Indonesian government has taken to address its infrastructure needs. There is considerable debate between the demand vs supply approach to developing infrastructure. Some governments have taken the ‘supply approach’. It is arguably more costly, since the infrastructure may not be fully utilized immediately. Nevertheless, the supply approach tends to provide people with access opportunities they otherwise would not have, at a more affordable price. On the other hand, the ‘demand approach’ calls for stimulating the perceived needs of the country’s population through massive campaigns to educate the people to the benefits of participation in the information society. To sustain an ICT platform for Indonesia, the first thing to resolve is ICT accessibility. The concept is quite straight forward – people cannot be included in any undertaking they are not able to access. Full ICT accessibility for the entire population requires addressing more than just the question of physical access to the devices and communications facilities. To guarantee full ICT capability or enablement, we must address the problems of individual capabilities – education, physical infirmities or even age-related barriers that prevent a person from accessing or interacting with electronically delivered information or services. In addition, guaranteeing ICT accessibility so that users can truly benefit from online information and services means providing content developed in response to local needs, suitable for access in the user’s native language and at the local literacy level. The Government of Indonesia launched its Palapa Ring Project in 2006. The Palapa Ring Project is implementing a plan for an extensive fibre-optic network – built along the paths traced by the country’s waterways, railroads and interstate highways – to connect all of Indonesia’s cities. In the future, ‘information highways’ will connect all Indonesian cities. These, in turn, will be connected locally by wired and wireless last mile access networks to every home, office, school and hospital and – through the World Wide Web – to millions of individuals and institutions around the world. Building such a broadband infrastructure, putting it in place, is only a first step. The reason behind developing an ICT platform is to ensure economic development and quality of life, and has little to do with technology per se. In short, it is about organizing one’s community to reinvent itself for the new, global, knowledge economy, the information society. Cities must prepare their citizens to take ownership of their communities and educate the next-generation of leaders and workers to meet the new global challenges. The challenge here is to build the infrastructure by harnessing market mechanisms. The Indonesian government recognizes that healthy competition within the Indonesian telecommunications industry is the best way to encourage sustainable infrastructure growth. The Indonesian Telecommunications Law No. 36 of 1999 was structured based upon this philosophy. For Indonesia, creating a healthy, competitive environment remains a challenge. In some areas, this is not yet economically viable, but we believe it is only a matter of time before economic activities in most of these regions are developed enough to support a competitive telecommunications sector. This problem is being address by programmes such us the USO (Universal Service Obligation) programme. The USO programme is a government-facilitated process to encourage the development of infrastructure in regions not considered economically attractive, through the redistribution of a small portion of the telecommunication operators’ revenues. The use of ICT in government applications is a powerful and effective way to create demand for ICT and provide a foundation for sustainable development. The government of Indonesia, through its presence in more than 400 regional governments, can be used to encourage the natural, existing demand for ICT. Proper governmental coordination can promote the productive channelling of demand to local ICT industries; that will facilitate the creation of a local supply and demand ecosystem. To create a sustainable ICT environment for Indonesia, empowering the community and private sector is the key to success. First, the effort to balance the transition of Indonesia from an agrarian to an industrial economy within the context of the knowledge economy should not be seen simply as an effort to deploy technology. The transition must be implemented within the context of enabling people to use technology. More importantly, it will be a question of discovering how we can deploy technology and use it as an effective catalyst to transform our nation’s economy and society. Second, Indonesia needs a renewed understanding of the importance of collaboration within the context of competition to reach our objective of creating a sustainable national ICT sector. Competition – cable vs telephone, wired vs wireless communications firms, and so forth – is the key to the telecommunications industry’s success in this new environment but cooperation between government and industry, and within the industry itself, is equally essential. The sharing of resources is important, particularly in areas not considered highly competitive. In non-competitive areas – basic infrastructure, for example – it is in the national interest to share these resources. ICT sustainability cannot be built without the active participation and cooperation of all of its stakeholders. Last, there are lessons to be learned about empowerment and shared governance. Respecting this principle, all the stakeholders, including individual citizens, will have a voice in the dialogue and discussions about the needs of their community and region. Indeed, they should even have a voice in establishing a governance structure that allows them to participate in the decisions that are made. To this end, the worlds of education, academia, science, technology, business and government need to be engaged in a perpetual discussion and exchange of views. Businesses and society are naturally looking for ways to apply advances in technology, but they need government support in the form of regulations suitable for the nation’s current situation. It makes good business sense to include as many constituents as possible in the technology planning process. It is a big step toward engaging citizens and residents from every part of our society in the process. Given the current speed of technological development, a cyclical participative process is the best way for governments to keep their laws and regulations relevant to the needs of their citizens. The Indonesian government is going all out to ensure the successful implementation of ICT to support the nation’s development. The new frontier, the digital community, gives countries opportunities never before possible. Just last week, the Government of Indonesia took an important step by forming the National ICT Council. The Council’s objective is to accelerate the development and use of ICT to encourage the nation’s socio-economic growth. The Council, lead personally by the President of Indonesia, is intended to make sure that any impediment to the full and effective use of ICT throughout the government departments will be quickly and suitably resolved. The principles set forth by the Indonesian Government – the country’s ICT strategy – guide our efforts to reduce the digital divide and establish a sustainable ICT platform for the future.