John Horvath on 27 Nov 2000 21:28:41 -0000

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[Nettime-bold] Closing the information technology gap

[The following is from a EC document which deals with the French EU
presidency and their attempts at implementing the "information society."
Ironically, no mention is made of minitel which, although crude by
present standards (unless you compare it to the back-to-the-future-
technology called WAP), at least deserves at least a word or two.


From: Euroabstracts, Volume 38, Number 4, European Commission, 2000.
Pp 12-3.

Closing the information technology gap

The new information and communications technologIes (ICTs) are the
driving force behind the "new economy" upon which many hopes are placed,
particularly in terms of competitiveness and employment. They also pose
major challenges to society as a whole, particularly in education,
culture and governance. Two years ago, the French government launched an
energetic policy to mobilise pubIic and private sectors and propel
France into the information society. It is working.

In 1997 France was some way behind in the use of information
technologies, as was shown by the small numbers of households with
persanal computers or Internet connections. This was perhaps the result
of inadequate provision orquality services on the new networks and
inadequate support for SMEs and innovative enterprises in this sector,
as well as France's weak computer culture.

But the changes brought about by convergence have affected many sectors:
telecommunications, audio-visual, publishing multimedia, infornnation
technology and advertising, inter alia. This is all borne out by a work
called "information technoIogy and the information society - a
statistical survey". Given the rate of change in the ICTs, this
compilation by the French industry ministry of the main statistical
indicators available on this wide range or activities might be thought a
little dated (1998). Nevertheless it still enables one to gauge the
take-up rates of these new techniques by France's businesses and

Need to catch up

It is the telecommnunications equipment, television and printed circuit
makers who are one of France's best performing industrial sectors but
there is a weakness in computers and their peripherals, hi-fis and video
recorders. As far as the spread of new technologies is concerned, France
is still lagging some way behind its northern European neighbours: in
1998 Internet penetration into French HouseHolds stood at a mere 2.4%,
with fewer than half of SMEs connected to the net; there were 560
French commercial sites on the web (2%). France was however more
advanced in the mobile telephony sector (10 million subscribers) and
in the television market, with 7.5 milILon subscribers to pay TV (cable
or satellite). The French audio-visual industry was growing at 9% per

For the last two years the French government has made preparing for
France's entry into the information society a policy priority. The
stakes are high indeed, as the brochure "La France dons a Societe de
l'information - 1999" published by the Prime Minister's office,
explains. Information and communication technologies are today a lever
for growth and employment, and their use underpins the growth of the
whole economy. However, sight must not be lost of their implications for
national solidarity, the diffusion of knowledge and culture, education
and training and for bringing citizens and public services closer

Fast work

An ambitious action programme, PAGSI (Governmental Action Programme for
the Information Society) has therefore been set up, with six priority
areas: education, culture, the modernisation of public services,
enterprises and electronic trading, research and innovation and the
changes to the legal tramework required.

After a year 7O% of the objectives have been achieved and a new phase
was proposed for 1999-2000.The accent was put on areas such as the
development of educational and cultural multimedia content, universal
access to technologies and networks (with the support of local
duthol-ities), and ongoing work on electronic administration. Last July,
the government also announced that it intended to invest FRF 3 billion
(EUR 450) million) in training for IT piofessionats and FRF 1 billion
EUR (150 million) in research to prepare for the next generation of
lCTs. This second action phase (2000-2003) is intended to push France
still further forward into the era of new technologies.

As well as its necessary involvement in supporting the development of
the most competitive and harmonious information society possible, the
state also has to consider its own organisation and its role in this new

As the Telecommunications Schools Group explains in its collective work
"Nouvelles technologies - nouvel etat", globalisation, the
internationalisation of trade, the European integration process, the
advent of a network economy and a network society, represent a
considerable challenge to a state with as centralising and regulatory -
not to say paternalistic - a reputation as France. Furthermore, the need
to respect the convergence criteria for European economic and monetary
union requires the state to set up a highly detailed accounting system
and the information systems that support it. In addition a wide-ranging
operation to reform and modernise the state was launched in 1995, which
set objectives for the government and its staff regarding
simplification, accessibility, service quality and closeness to the
citizen. To maxinisse its effectiveness it was vital to monitor and
evaluate this modernisation process before, during and after the
implementation of public policies.

Citizens on line

New communication technologies played a major role in this. Increasing
the effi- ciency of the state's internal and external operations, among
other things by net-working within and between the various departments,
is given pride of place in the government action programme (PAGSI). The
government has also improved services to individuals and businesses by
opening up a broad range of on-line services to public access using
digital data, administrative forms and "teleprocedures". A workshop was
held to discuss the issue of publishing public data over the Internet,
Diffusion des donnees publiques et revoIution numerique. Held within the
Commis- sariat General du Plan the workshop recommended that basic
public data should be digitised and made available, while a certain
degree of flexibility should be retained, and private sector
partnerships brought in for "non-essential data".

Finally network technologies are opening up new routes of exercising
democratic control. Government and parliamentary websites are making the
principle of transparency in public affairs a reality - for the
'cyber-citizen' at least.

This digital environment does however raise a number of major legal
issues, and the French government has taken the lead in guaranteeing the
security of systems and data, in stepping up protection for data
concerning citizens' private lives and in maintaining the conditions for
fair competition.

Pubic support for the infosphere?

Another report drawn up by the Commissariat General du plan,
"L'infosphere strategies des medians et role de l'etat", sets out the
reasoning behind a recent measure which aims to help media enterprises
and citizens to get the most out of the torrent of digital content
which, as a result of convergence, is now gushing from a multitude of
media and terminals. This new media environment is here dubbed the
"infosphere". The report's first section describes ths strategies,
options and economic models which underlie the activities of enterprises
and media as they play the global game to capture the stock of
subscriptions and control the flow of services and content. It is the
state's role in this context to defend pluralism, diversity, quality and
accessibility of content, which are all held to be fundamental
liberties. The report recommends a tough approach, involving new types
of action by the public authorities, but which should not threaten the
development of this industry through over-regulation. A whole range of
incentives (tax breaks, support for R&D, export credits) and more
flexibility in anti-trust measures could be considered.

In the world of information and entertainment, there is a real
opportunity for French and European companies and creative talents to
occupy new niches despite the pre- dominance ofthe American industry. A
resolutely optimistic message, with a touch of foresight about it, when
we consider the recent alliances which have kept the media pages filled.

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