Urgent action needed on digital economy, ISC report

20 Dec 2002

Broadband, innovation and skills are identified by a new report as the three key challenges facing the Government in its efforts to transform Ireland into a digital economy.

In a 72-page document, Building the Knowledge Society, presented to Minister for the Information Society, Mary Hanafin TD, the Information Society Commission (ISC) also makes some 60 recommendations to Government covering areas it feels have been neglected or are progressing too slowly.

In the area of broadband, the recommendations include implementing public private partnerships (PPP) to integrate management of the planned metropolitan area networks or fibre rings to bring broadband to 19 towns around the country; consider using the laid fibre of semi-state bodies to meet policy objectives; providing the new regulatory agency, ComReg, with a clear policy framework and strategic direction; and stimulating demand for broadband services by aggregating public sector internet usage.

A number of other recommendations relate to the areas of skills and innovation. These include: introducing tax breaks to stimulate R&D within business; increasing the funding given to Science Foundation Ireland over the longer term; examining ways to accelerate the commercialisation of the results of publicly funded research; and developing an ICT training plan to boost computer literacy within society.

In the area of e-government, the report expresses concern about the delay in developing the Public Services Broker, the software engine that will enable the electronic delivery of government services, saying that it should be “accelerated significantly”. The report also notes that common technical standards need to be adopted by individual departments to enable the integration of services through the broker.

Commenting on the publication of the report, Dr Danny O’Hare, chairman of the ISC, said: “The overall message is straightforward: while we are making some progress, we are not doing well enough. We must be alert to the real danger that our recent success has made us complacent, and that we have not yet grasped the scale of the challenges and opportunities presented by the emergence of the global knowledge society.”

“In the key area of broadband connectivity, we are losing ground on our leading competitors. Levels of investment in research and development are improving, but the gap to leading countries remains significant. We are lagging, too, in terms of participation in adult education and training and embracing the lifelong learning challenge.

“We have already demonstrated our capacity to be a world leader. However, it is clear that new levels of commitment are needed if we are to develop and sustain a leadership position moving forward,” he concluded.

Speaking at the launch of the report, Minister Mary Hanafin said: “I greatly appreciate the valuable contribution of the ISC, which, in publishing this report, has captured how the information society agenda has developed, where it is at now, and where it is going. I note in particular its observations in relation to broadband, lifelong learning, and the necessity for innovation in public sector services delivery.”

By Brian Skelly