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Monday, September 25, 2000

Japan in a mood to overtake USA

A BLUE-ribbon panel, that wants Japan to overtake the USA as high-speed information technology (IT) giant by 2005, approved the outline of a bill aimed at achieving that ambitious target, recently.

In addition, politicians said they were considering an "IT voucher" scheme under which, according to media reports, those aged 20 or over, would be eligible to receive vouchers worth about 6,000 yen ($55.93) to help defray the cost of courses in using computers and the Internet.

Officials will thrash out the details of their high-tech Bill by the next month so that the government could present the legislation to a session of the Parliament that begins on Thursday. "This is the basic legislation for the national strategy," Sony Corp Chairman Nobuyuki Idei, who heads the government panel, told reporters. "Japanís goals have become clear now."


The panel late last month urged the government to take steps , including laying a high-speed fibre optic network needed to promote the spread of the Internet ó needed to surpass the United States as an Internet powerhouse in five years.

The outline was full of lofty ideals, including the principle that Japanís info-tech strategy should be powered by the private sector and the role of authorities should mainly be limited to promoting fair competition.

But it was short on details. It may be pertinent to mention here that the US $ 1 is equal to107.28 yen.

It urged the revision of regulations blocking the way to the spread of electronic commerce and the promotion of "on line government" by 2003 to streamline the activities of the bureaucracy and smoothen the path for public-private interface.

The government says there are 733 regulations and 124 laws obstructing e-commerce. Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori has made Information Technology (IT) a key plank of his economic policies.

Some critics, though, suspect that plans to shift spending away from traditional public works projects, such as bridges and roads, to an information highway is in part a smoke-screen for the old-style pork barrel spending that has come under heavy fire from the public of late.

The planned Bill would require the government to identify high priority projects with clear goals and set time-frames to help Japan fully harness its info-tech potential.

The Internet has been relatively slow to catch on in Japan, with the high cost of telecommunications fees a key barrier, and many companies fear the lag is hampering their ability to compete.

The new legislation will call on the government to provide training for the average citizen in IT technology and to bolster the ranks of IT experts.

ó Reuters

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