Monday, May 18, 2009

Photoblog of Bahrain

These are views from the hotel in the Seef area, a fast rising area of offices and malls.

I had an informal dinner with some members of the board of the Bahrain Internet Society. They in cooperation with the Women's rights association had just received a grant from the government to set up an ICT/Internet training course for women

The night of the dinner at the Raddison Diplomat. All jurors received a gift and a certificate.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

BPN 1348 The scope of eGovernment

I am back from Bahrain. It was not because of the sand storm on Thursday, but the assignment to chair the 2009 eGovernment Excellence Award jury was completed. The jury reached a final winners list on Wednesday evening.

The jury deliberations were over, but the Bahraini have a nice tradition of thanking the jury members. An official dinner was arranged on Thursday evening. All the jury members, the staff and the officials of the eGovernment Agency were present. The dinner was presided over by sheik Ahmed Bin Ateyat Allah Al Khalifa, the minister of Cabinet Affairs. Once the sheik had arrived, a few speeches were made. I was asked by the eGovernment Agency to say some words (see photograph). Of course, thanks were in order for organising the jury event as part of the eGovernment Contest. After that a ceremony, which looked like graduation day, was started up. Everyone was called up to come forward and receive a certificate and a gift in red velvet (red and white are the colours of the flag of the Kingdom of Bahrain).

Looking back at the second edition, it certainly was different from last year. The electronic jury system was different and the jury members worked remotely. So contrary to last year I did not see the jurors often. In fact I saw them at the opening session and on decision day. I received telephone calls and messages with questions at the office of the eGovernment Agency or at the hotel. It led to a morning message and a daily wrap up message.

There was some joking about my presence in Bahrain. Last year I stayed here three weeks. This year I have stayed there two weeks. So a prediction was made jokingly saying that next year it would be just one week or worse Skype.

It was also interesting to have an Omani lady and two Saudi officials in the jury. As they are preparing eGovernment contest in their respective countries, they got an experience through participation in the jury from the inside out. The Saudi plan to have a national contest in November, while the Omani lady has been charged with the organisation of a national contest as well as a GCC (consortium of Gulf countries) contest. Both have asked to assist them in starting up the contest. Besides at the end of the dinner, Bahraini officials asked whether I was available for the third issue, which solicited the remark, that I only need an apartment in Bahrain and a jallabah.

During the dinner we got into a discussion about the scope of eGovernment. Was it just a cost reduction exercise using the citizen as a data typist or was it to make government more accountable and transparent? Of course all elements are involved. And it is not only the scope but also the state of art of eGovernment. Governments which have just adapted eGovernment are less mature than the governments using a portal with a lot of information and eServices, thus letting citizens browse for information and have him/her do payments online from their home at their own convenience. Of course, it also saves on people handling manual transactions. Transparency of course comes when one can check public spending as well as the voting behaviour in connection with payments. Of course the US and many EU countries have a certain degree of transparency. One of the beautiful examples of creating transparency is the US site Money and Politics by Maplight, which was a winner in the 2007 World Summit Award edition.

Blogp Posting Number: 1348


Sunday, May 10, 2009

BPN 1347 World Summit Award Gala RESCHEDULED

The World Summit Award Gala has been rescheduled to September 4th 2009. The venue will be in Monterrey, Mexico. The Gala was scheduled for June 12th in Monterrey, Mexico, but was rescheduled due to the Mexican flu.

Thanks to the generous invitation of the WSA Mexican partner under the leadership of Mr. Ramon Alberto Garza of Indigomedia, WSA will hold its Gala events to promote the world's best e-Content in the City of Monterrey.

This will be the forth time that WSA will select, showcase and celebrate the most outstanding local e-Content and innovative internet applications.

The four day celebrations in Mexico will provide a unique opportunity to meet and connect with WSA winners, ICT experts, business leaders, multimedia producers and creatives as well as government and business leaders who will be giving their recognition to the showcased best practice examples. In addition, the World Summit Youth Award (WSYA) will focus on the use of the Internet and mobile applications to put the UN’s Millennium Development Goals into Action.

Blog Posting Number: 1347

Tags: econtent, multimedia contest

Saturday, May 09, 2009

BPN 1346 Bahrain eGov Jury half way

It is weekend in Bahrain. Today is the second day of the weekend and it is very quiet on the roads, as far as I can see from my hotel room. After breakfast I took some pictures from the 10th floor, where the swimming pool is. Yesterday I took a dip and stayed on the sun deck and I might do so again after the lunch outside the hotel with a friend.

We are now half way with the jury deliberations. The jury members are busy evaluating all the entries. In the past week, I have gone through all the entries and made sure that they qualify for the contest. The rules have been tightened since last year. This has been done to avoid winners of last year in the same category, as the contest is more a demonstration of applications than a competitive contest. In total 100 entries have been registered, but after cleaning up the list of entries there were 63 entries left. However evaluating all these 63 entries is no small task.

The jury will decide on the list of winners by May 13, with an option to continue on May 14. Winners of the current edition of the awards will be announced at the Award ceremony at the eve of the start of the eGov Forum in Manama on 25.05.2009. This year there will also be a catalogue of the winners with a summary of the entry and the jury judgment.

Blog Posting Number: 1346

Tags: e-Government

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

BPN 1345 eGovernment contests in the Gulf

I am in Bahrain since late Sunday evening after a KLM flight from Amsterdam. The route has been changed from Amsterdam to Kuwait via Bahrain; the route used to go to Bahrain to Abu Dabi or Dubai. At the airport there was a welcome committee. Later I was told that at the airport heat sensors have been installed to detect heat, i.c. body temperature, in case of Mexican flu. All I saw was an official with plastic gloves behind the customs picking out people from the crowd.

I have been invited by the e-Government Agency to chair the jury for the second edition of the e-Gov Excellence Award contest. So far I have been talking to the people involved, reading the documents and going into the entries.

Last year the agency started the contest and everything had to be done from scratch. Yet on the evening before the opening of international e-Gov Forum, the awards were presented and everyone was happy: the agency that it was all over and the jury that they had finished in time. It was decided straight away that there would be a second edition of the e-Gov Excellence Award contest and the international e-Gov Forum and the agency has not wasted the time for preparing the second round. Many things have changed such as contest rules, but also the composition of the jury; besides a very interesting category was added and a jury system developed.

The rules for the contest have happily been refined. If the same rules of last year had been applied there was the risk that the same winners would snatch away the awards. By changing the rules, entrants are limited in their participation and receiving awards; on the other hand there will be more competition and a broader distribution of awards.

The composition of the jury was surprising. Last year the jury was composed of Bahraini and people from India, working in Bahrain, This year there are Bahraini, two Saudi, an Omani lady and two people from India, working in Bahrain. I love this open attitude. The Saudi and the Oman lady have been invited as they are also planning an e-Gov contest in their respective countries; besides Oman has offered to organise the e-Gov contest for the Gulf States by December. I met the Omani lady, Fatma, last year in Muscat, when I presented a two-day workshop there.

Interesting is also the addition of a new category, not for the ministries or governmental agencies, but for the citizens. They can deliver an eConcept for the government and the winner in this category might see his idea realised; a budget has been set aside for this purpose. I was happy to see that the category had receive a good number of entries. I still have to go through them to see how inspiring they are.

Last year the jury requested to evaluate the submissions remotely, either from their working place or from home. This year the eGoverment Agency has developed a full grown system, taking in the submissions electronically, allowing jurors to access the sites, reading the submitted material and supporting documents and recording the scoring. It looks an interesting system, which aroused already interest with the jurors, despite some teething problems. Also the remote judging will have to be proven. I will be on duty to answer questions.

The second edition of the e-Gov Excellence Award has taken a step forward in the Gulf region and in using technology for judging.

Blog Posting Number:1345

Tags: eGovernment

Friday, May 01, 2009

Buziaulane 4 years online

The blog Buziaulane was started on May 1st, 2005. In these 4 years it has published 1344 postings or 336 postings a year.

BPN 1344 FTMH - Finland’s national fiber strategy

To address Finland’s broadband needs, the Ministry of Transport and Communications as early as 2004 set up a national broadband strategy (NBS) which focused on rolling out broadband while promoting competition between networks. In February 2005 - with regional availability of broadband at about 96% (largely due to efforts by municipalities and regional councils) - the government revised the NBS objectives to focus on the type of connection, the creation of content, and the development of wireless connections. The NBS envisaged that all subscribers would be able to access at least 1Mb/s by the end of 2009, with the most common service offering being at least 8Mb/s.

This has proved under-ambitious, since much of Finland is now blessed with some of the fastest broadband in Europe. DSL is commonly available at up to 20Mb/s, while the major cablecos have significantly upgraded their networks using DOSCIS 3.0 technology to provide services at up to 100Mb/s: during 2008 TeliaSonera upgraded its entire bidirectional cable network, Elisa’s network provides 100Mb/s to some 250,000 households, while Welho provides a similar service across Greater Helsinki, and plans to increase data rates to 200Mb/s in coming years.

As developments have moved on so quickly, a further revision of the NBS was adopted in December 2008. The new national Broadband Action Plan has concentrated on funding broadband networks in remote areas, acknowledging that the State had thus far made little significant investment in public telecom infrastructure. The plan was also a response to the announcements by several telcos that they intended to cut back services in their fixed telecom network across wide areas of the country to concentrate on the more profitable urban zones. Technically, gaps in the national network have been filled by Digita’s @450 network, which makes use of the frequency band released by the discontinued NMT 450 services. Nevertheless, although customers can have wireless connections in lieu of fixed-line services, which can meet current basic communication needs, these are inadequate in the medium to long term.

The Broadband Action Plan is truly ambitious, even within Europe where there is a growing consensus among governments and regulators that with FttH as the accepted end-game for national broadband networks it is better for policy makers to flow with the stream rather than be borne down by it, as disadvantaged late-comers. Finland aims to deliver 100Mb/s fiber-based broadband for all citizens by 2015, a significant improvement on the minimum 1Mb/s envisaged in 2004. The government has committed itself to fund up to a third of the investment needed where areas where there is little commercial incentive. It is estimated that the cost to provision these areas would reach some 200 million Euro, of which the government could pay a maximum of 67 million Euro with the remainder to come from operators, municipalities and financial support from the EU.

The government has adopted a pragmatic approach to finance its share of the burden. The State’s contribution would come from auctioning frequencies in the 2.5 - 2.69 GHz band (scheduled for November 2009), with any shortfall (i.e. if the auction revenue fell below an estimated 73.6 million Euro) being met by compensatory payments collected from telcos based on the number of their broadband subscriptions. The regulator estimated that telcos would contribute 0.2% of net sales based on total combined net revenue of 4.475 billion Euro in 2007, and 0.1% of net sales based on estimated revenue for 2010. Given that revenues collected as compensatory payment would be used to upgrade the telecoms networks, these would in turn flow back to telcos which had upgraded their networks.

An important consideration for the fiber network is that at least 99% of residences and businesses will be within two kilometers of the network. This can be either the fixed-line fiber network, or one based on LTE (a note on LTE in Finland: the country is one of Europe’s leaders in this sector as well. In April 2009 the regulator allocated additional frequencies in the 1.8GHz band to TeliaSonera, Elisa and DNA to enable them to build mobile networks based on LTE, the first country in Europe to allow the use of such low frequencies for this technology). In other words, Finland is provisioning most urban areas with FttH while guaranteeing fiber in the ‘middle mile’, from the backbone network to within a reasonable distance of most rural households. It is then up to householders to pay for the last mile connection. To ease this cost burden, the government has proposed amending the Income Tax Act so that the domestic help credit in the 2009 budget is extended to cover the installation and maintenance of telecoms services and equipment.

As for costing fiber, the regulator estimated that most homes even in non-built up could be served for between 2,000 Euro and 3,000 Euro each, with some of the more remote areas costing upwards of 10,000 Euro each. These are roughly the same costs to provision houses with electricity.

The government’s vision for its citizens is as equally pragmatic and forward-thinking as its approach to delivering these services. It does not dwell on whether the average household now needs 100Mb/s connections, but rather looks forward to the economic stimulus provided by numerous entrepreneurs who will be able to develop and provide new services on a network able to handle them. The existence of these services will in turn stimulate further demand for high-speed connections.

For more information, see separate reports by

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