Saturday, September 02, 2000

Japan urged to fix Internet access woes


Panel: Nation lagging U.S.

By Joji Sakurai
The Associated Press

        TOKYO — A panel of Japanese corporate heavyweights is asking the government for a complete overhaul of Japan's information infrastructure that would allow it to overtake the United States within five years in offering low-cost, high-speed Internet access.

        To address the concerns, the government's Information Technology Strategy Council — with Sony Corp. president Nobuyuki Idei as chairman — is drawing up a plan to better compete with Internet rivals through mammothinvestment in infrastructure and scuttling of laws that inhibit e-commerce.

        Despite the nation's technological prowess, high costs and legal restrictions have kept Japan from experiencing an Internet revolution — and officials are worried the new economy will pass the nation by.

        The council said that if steps are taken now, the Internet could lead Japan's bruised economy into a new era of superfast expansion.

        “Our country must aim to accomplish a new period of rapid economic growth by stimulating new businesses and existing industries, and overtaking the United States within five years as a major high-speed Internet nation,” the council said in a report posted on the Web site of the prime minister's office.

        In addition to Mr. Idei, other notables on the panel include Softbank Corp. President Masayoshi Son and Fujio Cho, president of Toyota Motors, which has recently expanded into the IT industry.

        The council said it is essential to cover Japan with fiber-optic lines that will permit the high-speed transmission necessary for growth of the Internet. It was scathing in its assessment of the current state of Japan's IT infrastructure.

        “There is hardly any high-speed infrastructure ... the connection speed is so slow that using costs are extremely high,” the report said. “In Japan, the IT industry's development is being obstructed ... The promotion of infotech has fallen way behind the United States.”

        The council cited more than 700 legal impediments to the growth of e-commerce, including the obligatory exchange of paper documents in Internet transactions.

        To jumpstart Japan's IT industry, the council recommended that laws to deregulate e-commerce be debated during this fall's special session of Parliament.

        The government panel said it would complete its proposal of specific measures to promote the Internet in Japan within two months.

        “The government's understanding is that it has to move fast,” Akira Fujimoto, an official in the information technology bureau of the prime minister's office, said Friday. “We are hoping to put together a concrete plan by the end of the year.”

       



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