Seamless environment in Asean will stitch digital divide

Chairman of the Digital Bridge Task Force suggests that all governments should adopt a minimalist approach involving basic guidelines that allows the private sector manage itself and come up with their own rules.

Chairman of the Digital Bridge Task Force suggests that all governments should adopt a minimalist approach involving basic guidelines that allows the private sector manage itself and come up with their own rules.

MANILA (Manila Bulletin) - Former foreign affairs secretary Roberto Romulo, chairman of the EAsean Task Force is pushing for a greater involvement of the private sector in promoting e-commerce within the Asean countries. Romulo, the incoming chairman of the Digital Bridge Task Force of the Global Business Dialogue on E-Commerce (GBDe) stressed that there should a seamless environment at least in the original six members of the Asean to help address the 'digital divide.'

GBDe, an organization representing 72 of the world's leading companies involved in ecommerce, had created the Digital Bridge Task Force to help close the digital divide.

Romulo said the recent meeting of the Asean economic ministers in Thailand had agreed to sign the eAsean agreement in Singapore on November 24 during the Asean leaders' summit.

The agreement cited three major important areas to be addressed by the Asean governments - physical infrastructure such as telecommunications and access to Internet, the legal and regulatory environment and the human resource infrastructure. "These three key items should have to be seamless," Romulo said.

He stressed that in the legal and regulatory environment, all governments should adopt a minimalist approach involving basic guidelines that allows the private sector manage itself and come up with their own rules because Internet is being driven by the private sector worldwide.

Romulo told the Asean economic ministers that nothing is more significant than "getting our acts together in information technology."

"If we don't get our acts together and this is an acid test for Asean, the world will pass us by," said Romulo. He noted that Asean has lost its effectiveness since the financial crisis started years back.

The E-Asean Task Force is composed of one CEO (chief executive officer) from each country. Manuel Pangilinan, president and chief executive officer of the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company (PLDT) is the representative for the Philippines with Toby Monsod, assistant secretary of the Department of Trade and Industry.

Only three of the 10-member nations of the Asean have enacted e-commerce law - Singapore, the Philippines and Malaysia. Thailand has yet to approve its own e-commerce law.

Romulo said the Japanese government has initiated a program and decided to be the bridge of the digital divide problem through a $15 billion aid program, $3 billion of which would be in the form of grants.

Organizations like the World Bank, United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the World Economic Forum are looking at digital divide.

Earlier, members of the Group of 8 (G8) industrial nations have launched a program to address the digital divide called the Dot Force initiative that would help coordinate the information technology development efforts of the private sector, governments and multilateral institutions.

During the second annual meeting of the DBDe held recently in Miami, Florida, Romulo has outlined an aggressive agenda for additional progress in bridging the digital divide next year.

These include the interaction with national and regional entities involved in ecommerce policy development, the completion of the task force's 'clearinghouse' project that would identify the best practices from the various digital bridge projects undertaken by the BGDe members for replication with a policy module of model rules and standards on e-commerce.

BGDe would also identify and develop consensus views on policy elements of particular interest to emerging economies such as on information infrastructure.

"In considering these issues, we will be mindful of the need to integrate solutions to the digital divide to the wider development agenda of emerging economies in order that these can be made sustainable and be given the political priority they deserve," Romulo said.

He noted the danger of being enamored with technology for its own sake or for selling it as the panacea for all the world's problems instead of being the enabling tool that it really is.

GBDe was mentioned in the G-8 Okinawa Charter on Information Technology as one of the private sector groups that would be involved in the work of the Dot Force aside from the World Economic Forum.

As chairman of the Digital Bridges group, Romulo is expected to be the primary interface for GBDe with the Dot Force.

The E-Asean Task Force, an advisory body composed of high level members from both the government and private sector has earlier launched the Pilot Project Accreditation in all the 10-member Asean countries.

The project calls for the identification of projects and paradigms that could jumpstart the Asean Information Infrastructure (AII) and show immediate benefits to the Asean community.

It is part of the Asean's efforts to boost its presence in the global information economy. The list of selected pilot projects would be presented to the Asean Summit on November 24 in Singapore.

"We want to establish a strong Asean presence in the world of Internet and show the global community that we have viable profitmaking sites from our region," said Romulo.

These projects would be granted the e-Asean stamp of approval to be displayed on the chosen Internet sites as well as inclusion in the planned Asean master portal.

The accreditation would mean full support from Asean member-countries and the Task Force to Asean dialogue partners such as Japan, the United States, Canada, European Union and Australia.

The e-Asean Task Force was created by Asean in November 1999 to develop a broad and comprehensive action plan for an Asean e-space and allow the 10 member-countries to successfully compete in the global information economy.

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