Saudi government in moves to spread net

ISPs asked to join countrywide project

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By  Published  September 1, 2006

Saudi Arabia’s government is looking at ambitious plans to extend internet access to all areas of the Kingdom by setting up a fund enabling internet service providers (ISPs) to share the cost of the project, IT Weekly can reveal.

The Saudi government has already invested US$800million in developing e-government services and has a target to put 150 services online by 2010. To ensure all citizens can access these from anywhere in the Kingdom, it is looking at working with ISPs to help provide services in more remote — and less profitable — areas.

Fahad Al Hoymany, Minister’s advisor for IT and head of the e-government infrastructure department at the Saudi Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI), spoke to IT Weekly ahead of the Government and Technology (GT) Summit and Exhibition 2006, which takes place in Dubai this week.

Al Hoymany revealed that the government is currently in talks with service providers over proposals for them to share the costs of providing services to some areas. It is currently considering the option of a fund which all service providers would contribute to, in order to pay for the extension of internet services across the country.

“The plan has already been issued which calls for the different service providers to, in a sense, chip in,” said Al Hoymany. “Rural areas are not very profitable for service providers,” he pointed out.

“So we have come up with a proposal to create a fund which the different service providers help in creating and funding. It will make it more profitable or at least they will be sharing the cost of providing services to places that are hard to reach,” he went on to say.

“It’s underway — it’s not finished yet but the plan is there and the discussion is there on how to go about it,” he added.

The country’s massive investment in e-government will also include awareness campaigns and establishing frameworks and standards for the creation of digital services. It aims to automate 150 services by 2010 with plans to eventually automate 650 more and will start by automating six chosen services in an initial pilot project.

“The main element of the strategy is that it sets a target that by the end of 2010 everyone in the Kingdom will be able to enjoy, from anywhere at any time, world class government services,” said Al Hoymany.

One of the obstacles that the Saudi Government could face in establishing e-government across the country is that internet penetration across the Kingdom is very low. According to Al Hoymany, currently just 13 to 15% of the population actually uses the internet.

In the United Nations’ Global E-Government Readiness Report 2005, Saudi was ranked 80th out of the UN’s 191 member states — 38 places below the UAE at 42nd place.

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