|Issue:||Europe II 2007|
|Topic:||ICT – the shaping of Bulgariaís future|
|Author:||Dr Plamen Vatchov|
|Title:||Chairman, State Agency for Information Technology and Communications|
|Organisation:||Republic of Bulgaria|
Dr Plamen Vatchov is Chairman of the State Agency for Information Technology and Communications of the Republic of Bulgaria. During his long career, Dr Vatchov has served in a wide variety of highly responsible positions, including as a member of the Scientific Council of the Institute for Technical Cybernetics and Robotics; as the Deputy Director of the Institute for Technical Cybernetics and Robotics of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences; the General Director of Micro Processing Systems; Managing Director of Bulvar Electronics, Ltd; Director of Information Technology, Overgas Holding; and Deputy Director Operations of Cabletel. Dr Vatchov started his career as an engineer at the Central Computing Institute in Sofia. Dr Vatchov is also an Associate Professor in Technical Sciences at the Higher Commission for Attestation and an Assistant Professor at the Technical University in Moscow. He is specialised in microprocessor devices, management and quality management. Dr Vatchov is currently a member of the Academic Council of the International University, and a member of the Balkan Academy of Sciences, as well as of the Federation of the Scientific and Technical Unions in Bulgaria, and the Union of Scientists in Bulgaria. Dr Vatchov obtained both his M.Sc. in Industrial Electronics and his PhD in Technical Sciences from the Moscow Power Engineering Institute.
Bulgaria has made great strides in both fixed and mobile penetration and bringing broadband Internet connections to the population, but coverage is still uneven. Broadband is available on 97 per cent of the telephone lines in Sofia but, overall, only 11 per cent of Bulgariaís citizens have broadband. Bulgariaís government created a special agency to build and implement a modern telecommunications infrastructure in accordance with EU policies and to integrate the country into the global economy and the information society.
Information and Communication Technologies, ICT, are constantly changing the world we live in. The Internet, the World Wide Web and the rich variety of smart devices and electronic services accessible through pervasive networks, have now become an integral part of our life, although their very existence would have seemed extraordinary just a generation ago. The challenge for Bulgaria is to embrace the digital age and become a society, founded on a genuine knowledge-based economy. The way in which we manage this transition will improve our quality of life, state governance, working environment and the overall competitiveness of our industries and services. The EUís Lisbon Strategy, which aims to make Europe a modern, dynamic knowledge-based economy, lays emphasis on ICT as a central factor to boosting productivity, competitiveness and employment. The first substantial initiative taken under the renewed Lisbon agenda, launched by the European Commission in June 2005, is i2010 ñ A European Information Society for Growth and Employment. It addresses the main challenges and developments in the information society and media sectors up to 2010, promotes an open and competitive digital economy, and emphasises ICT as a driver of inclusion and quality of life. Correspondingly, the development and wide deployment of ICT is a top priority of the Bulgarian Government. As a member state of the European Union, Bulgaria pursues an information society development policy within the political framework set by ëi2010í. For this purpose, at the end of 2005 the Bulgarian Government established the State Agency for Information Technologies and Communications, SAITS, with the Council of Ministers as the policy-maker in the field of information technologies, telecommunications and postal services. The agency was also assigned the task of managing the critical government telecommunication infrastructure. The ëState Policy for Accelerated Development of Information Society in Bulgariaí aims at building a fully inclusive information society based on the widespread use of ICT in public services (administrative, educational, health services, etc.), small- and medium-sized enterprises, SMEs, research infrastructure and households. The availability of a modern, secure and widely accessible ICT infrastructure is considered to be the enabler for the achievement of this ambitious goal. ICT Infrastructure in Bulgaria Bulgariaís fully liberalised electronic communications market is facilitating the fast development of its ICT infrastructure and services. Bulgaria has a high level of fixed telephone line household penetration (74 per cent by the end of 2005). Fixed telephone services are provided by 21 operators. The penetration of mobile services, delivered by three mobile operators, is 80 per cent. In addition to voice and data transmission, they provide high-speed mobile access to various applications, including the Internet, mobile office services, e-banking, dedicated corporate networks, and the like. There are three licensed UMTS operators, 819 public telecommunication cable networks for radio and TV broadcasting, and 345 data transmission public networks operating in the country. The access to Internet is improving continuously. Today, 30 per cent of Bulgarian citizens above 15 years of age use the Internet, including over 80 per cent of the countryís secondary school students. The National High-speed Research Network, members of which are all of the universities and research institutes in the country, is connected to the European Research and Educational Network, GEANT, with a transmission capacity of 2.5 Gbps. The plans call for an increase in capacity to 10 Gbps in the near future. Bulgaria is still facing the challenge of bridging the broadband gap. Broadband Internet access has improved since ADSL was introduced in 2004, but there are substantial territorial disparities in its penetration. For example, in the Sofia City Region 97 per cent of the telephone lines allow ADSL, but on average only 11 per cent of Bulgarian citizens have access to high-speed Internet through broadband connections. ICT for government In 2001, the Administration of the Council of Ministers started implementing a project to build a National State Administration Network based on asynchronous transfer mode, ATM. The optical backbone has now been completed and a number of ATM networks connect the countryís administrative structure; throughout the territory, 27 regional centres have been put into operation. Currently 593 buildings (access nodes) and 1,100 administrative sites are covered by the national network. About 700km of fibre-optic cables have been laid in urban areas. Intercity connectivity between Sofia, Pazardjik and Plovdiv has been built up. However, the existing telecommunication networks of the Council of Ministers and the line ministries are, for the most part, not yet fully interoperable, reliable or secure, and are underdeveloped at the regional and local levels. In 2006, the State Agency for Information Technologies and Communications was assigned by the Council of Ministers to build and develop a National State Network, NSN – a highly reliable and secure telecommunication infrastructure. The NSN is planning to integrate the telecommunication networks of line ministries, regional and local authorities into a unified single platform based on IP/MPLS, Internet Protocol/Multiprotocol Label Switching, technology. It is being designed to preserve the userís informational sovereignty, provide autonomous management and eliminate any form of illegal access to the information being transmitted. The platform will also provide connectivity and services to the defence and interior networks. The high-speed fibre-optic backbone network will be supported by powerful computers with a large volume of disk memory (file clusters). They will store the common databases for the needs of all the central administration institutions, their branches, and regional and municipal councils, and will, as well, store the information needed to serve our citizens. The computer system and disk storage will also be used as spare storage spaces for important and critical information needed for the functioning of the state administration. The unified network platform will offer pervasive availability, a variety of wired and wireless connectivity options, and a large number of compatible end devices, applications and features that will be made available for flexible and secure delivery of intelligent services. The NSN will make it possible to achieve the national objectives regarding the availability of communication services for the government institutions at all levels. The network will also facilitate the expansion of some projects being implemented by SAITS, including the i-Centers Project to provide public Internet access points throughout Bulgariaís territory; and the Innovation Centre Project, the task of which is to improve the interoperability and security of the information systems in the state administration. In order to complement the effective regulation of the electronic communications market – and the efficient management of spectrum – substantial, well-focused public investment in broadband infrastructure is planned for those regions where the market fails to provide the expected response. The state administrationís ICT infrastructure will also contribute to the creation of the nationís information technology infrastructure as an integral part of the Single European Information Space – the first pillar of the EU ëi2010í initiative. Bulgariaís membership of the European Union provides a variety of new opportunities to be exploited. Among them is the use of European Union, EU, funds for promoting the social and economic development of the country and its cohesion with other member states. Bulgariaís National Development Plan for the 2007-2013 period envisages financial support by the EU, as well as state budget funding for the deployment of broadband infrastructure in economically underdeveloped regions and rural areas. The purpose is to overcome regional disparities in broadband penetration and provide access to modern electronic services, and digital content for the citizens and businesses throughout the entire country. In order to ensure demand, the plan envisions interventions to promote ICT supported education and learning, ICT inclusion of disadvantaged groups, modernisation of the research and innovation infrastructure, ICT adoption and use by SMEs and the development of rich digital content and electronic services for economic and societal needs. Such a holistic approach will secure a basis for the provision of better, user-friendly public electronic services that will radically improve the stateís governance, as well as the educational, healthcare and welfare systems in Bulgaria. The countryís research and innovation system will, likewise, be enhanced. Enterprises will be able to adopt ICT to create new work and business models for better performance and competitiveness. A boost will be given to the growth of innovative online services and companies, and to the development of e-commerce and e-business. Numerous new high-quality jobs will be offered on the labour market. Providing the necessary modern, reliable and secure ICT infrastructure is but one of a series of very important steps. Together, they will make possible the successful integration of the Bulgarian economy into the European and the global knowledge-based networked economy, and help create a fully inclusive, citizen-centred information society. Undoubtedly, Bulgaria has to make a great effort on its way to the front of the highly competitive European and world markets, but I truly believe that we Bulgarians have the potential and the resources needed to turn it into one of the most attractive places to work and live.