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Government initiative to develop high speed broadband Internet

After seven years since its introduction, swift action has been taken by the Sri Lankan Government to promote high speed broadband Internet services in the country. National Broadband Consultative Committee, a special committee that comprises of members from the Presidential Secretariat, TRCSL and ICTA has been appointed to work jointly to make this national initiative successful through a strategic process.

Broadband will place the world in Sri Lankans’ hands

Having identified the role of high speed broadband Internet especially in socio-economic development, the Government has decided to promote and integrate broadband Internet services in Sri Lanka's mainstream through a number of initiatives. Education, health, Government and other public services will get the priority in addition to a number of other services that may be needed for the well-being of the citizens through this national broadband initiative.

Government's leadership in broadband promotion

Broadband has been identified as the catalyst in modern socio-economic development. In all over the world especially the far eastern and the European countries measures have been taken to adopt high speed broadband services in their development process by placing broadband at the right place.

In every example where broadband is successful there is one thing in common. That is the involvement of the Government. Broadband spurs with the Government's leadership. By proving this many economies in the world achieved positive socio-economic growth in their respective countries through Government-backed broadband promotion initiatives.

This does not mean that the Government must become the facilitator. But the Government must become the leader in broadband promotion and development. Public must be educated about its benefits and viable solution must be created accordingly in the society by allowing public to access the high speed Internet regardless of their social standards. How Government guides education and health; broadband must also become a similar public utility service that driven by the Government.

The State or the Governments involvement and its leadership should not be limited to policy and guiding process. The Government should take the leadership in broadband through adoption. In this context all Government services and offices must be connected to the Internet using high speed broadband links by giving the opportunity to the public to access their services remotely. To get the maximum out of this, applications must also be developed along with the Internet services.

Having Internet service could be useless if citizens have not been provided with the correct applications to access the services online. Therefore applications must also be developed along with the Internet.

ICTA spearheads e-Government through LGN

As we know this has already begun in Sri Lanka through the initiative called e-Sri Lanka. ICTA, the Information Communication Technology Agency of Sri Lanka that comes under the Presidential Secretariat has been doing this through its e-Government initiative.

What ICTA has done during this four-year period is commendable. Today almost every Government institute has its own website hosted locally for the service of general public. Through the Local Government Network (LGN) all Government institutes are inter-connected using high bandwidth network by increasing the efficiency of the Government services to the optimal.

Schools will be provided with high speed Internet

The vast amount of Government's expenditures can be saved drastically while giving fast and high quality public service to the citizens in the country with the use of LGN. The transportation between inter organizations have come to a halt.

Bulky data now transferred between Government institutes using LGN network and that reduces printing cost and saves millions of State funds annually. In phase I, 325 Government institutes have been connected to the network and planning to connect another 150 in phase II. The Government Information Center known as GIC is another e-Government initiative implemented by the ICTA. Today any information related to Government services can be obtained by dialing 1919.

Innovation has begun

Young genies at ICTA have developed a train tracking system that tracks the exact location of the train in real time. Recently they planted this device on a train and tested its functionality before installing the system in other trains.

This revolutionized high-tech device will give valuable information about the train including its speed, outside temperature, time it takes to reach the other station.

Apart from providing real time information to the commuters, the railway department can use this system for its traffic operations by saving millions of rupees annually. In addition this system will increase the safety of train transportation by avoiding frequent train collusions that occurs in the country. This system will be introduced to the public application soon.

Electronic maps

Soon there will be an electronic map available for the public to find locations in the country. Under this project Colombo and major cities will be covered in phase one. Future will be added regularly to enhance its services.

Since these maps are based on electronic platforms they can be used to deliver a number of services to the public on-line. Real time and none real time information can also be provided to the public with great accuracy than in traditional maps that provides fixed information.

Being a web based map it has many advantages than the map printed on a paper. Unlike in a printed map this E-map could be updated regularly as any change takes place. If the real time feature is enabled, temporary road closures also could be displayed in the map with alternative routes and diversions that commuters should take in such an event. This flexibility is unmatched and suits the fast developing Colombo city.

If anyone needs to find a place or a road, the search window provides the key names instead of wasting precious time by going through lists of names normally we find in printed maps.

In reality once the E-map is developed it provides us the opportunity to add more features and interactive components to further enhance its content. One such feature is the real-time vehicular traffic monitoring service we could integrate in the E-map for the use of commuters. Monitoring cameras could also be fixed at major junctions for the monitoring and surveillance purposes by allowing commuters to see them live.

Maps of historical sites and cities with interactive facilities and real time information will come on-line soon to provide guidance to travellers. Hotel reservation and travel information required by the tourists will also be available in the map. Electronic map with rich details and interactive features is an essential utility service.

All these reflect the commitment and the efforts that have been taken by the Government towards the success of e-Government mechanism. The leadership provided by the tech savvy President materialized by the ICTA would have been the main reason for this success.

To build competence the majority of Government servants have also been trained to work in an IT environment. School teachers and students were also educated through tailor-made IT programs with the help of the Government. As a result of Government commitment to develop IT in schools more than 3,500 computer labs have been established in the island.

The 'School net' that funded by the Asian Development Bank connects the majority of school computer labs through their network using cutting edge technologies.

The long felt need- online payment has also been completed recently with the implementation of Lanka Gate by allowing Sri Lankans to pay online for the Government and other services that they transact over the Internet. The groundwork has been completed with flying colours. The Government institutes are now ready to serve citizens who may visit their websites using Internet.

The next step must begin. Citizens in the country must be provided with a cost effective high speed Internet service to access these sites to get their things done fast. By proving Government's commitment in IT development Sri Lankan Government has taken timely decision to take the leadership in broadband promotion with the intention of providing fast affordable Internet services to all Sri Lankans in the future. In this context National Broadband Consultative Committee has been appointed to accelerate the development of high speed broadband Internet services in Sri Lanka under the purview of the Presidential Secretairiat.

Mechanism to increase broadband penetration

Sri Lanka has a vibrant market. With five broadband operators and mixture of wired and wireless solutions broadband uptake seems to be growing at an even rate. However this growing rate has failed to deliver the anticipated development in access services so far.

Since there is no national initiative to take this message to the public, commercially oriented business models focused only the viable business models that generate profits. As a result of this many living in rural areas were left behind. Lack of connectivity and low quality broadband services has widened the digital gap instead of narrowing.

Public would never consider using Internet as long as they don't see any benefit in real life. The Government must discuss the benefits of Internet more frequently while hosting services and applications in the key areas of public utility services. This compels citizens to use Internet applications regularly. Once embark they realizes the benefits of Internet through experience.

Therefore public must be provided with the opportunity to experience the Internet to see its benefits through a practical mechanism. Constructively with this method public exposure and awareness can be increased effortlessly to a higher level within a short period of time than we anticipate. Lack of local content availability especially in Sinhala and Tamil would be one of the reasons to have low Internet usage in the country.

To counteract this situation; from entertainment to education programs must be brought in to the on-line platform soon.

In this context Government has decided to take some strategic measures in the future. Web hosting facilities will also be increased by allowing content developers to host their content affordably in local servers. Similarly to attract foreign clients to host their content in Sri Lanka a special strategy must be used. Small and medium entrepreneurs must be provided with grants by allowing them to enter in to the competitive business by implementing data centers Islandwide.

Government must become the mentor

However to allow public to access the Internet the Government should identify and remove all obstacles that hampers broadband development in the country. The national broadband Consultative Committee will be addressing these issues in the future to make an environment where broadband can grow vigorously. While helping operators to boost their business, this committee will be introducing a national broadband policy that takes our motherland forward in the next decade.

While facilitating public with affordable high speed Internet service, the operator must also be provided with an opportunity to sustain in the market to serve their subscribers in a better way. The difficulties may face by operators in the phase of providing affordable high speed broadband services to the nation; will also be addressed. By considering the growing demand in high speed Internet services, and also to run modern bandwidth hungry applications smoothly, broadband standardization will also be introducing to the country in the future.

Telecommunication Infrastructure development is vital for the smooth broadband role out in the country. Special projects will be carried out in rural areas where Internet services are not available for the use of the public.

New technologies based on wireless and Satellite, will be introduced in underserved areas with the intention of solving their long felt need. With this way digital divide can be minimized effectively by adding every citizen in this country to the main stream of development. This will convert rural society in to a knowledgeable society that regarded as the essence in human development. If we really want to take IT development in to the rural masses, they must be provided with the medium to access the information super highway like everyone does.

IT never develops without the presence of affordable high speed broadband Internet. Not limiting to popular slogans as stated in the 'Mahinda Chinthanaya'` a national initiative has been launched to serve Sri Lankans with an affordable high speed Internet that all could access. Soon Sri Lanka will be entering an era in data communication that takes our motherland forward over the platform based on data communication. We as members of National Broadband Consultative Committee are duty bonded to make this happen soon in Sri Lanka.

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