MUCH for the ''Intelligent Island''.
just 250,000 broadband subscribers out of almost two million
Internet users here, the Infocomm Development Authority
of Singapore has declared that broadband usage has surpassed
its targets, and will cease subsidies to the industry on
April Fool's Day this year.
kidding. What happened to the dream of a wired nation?
ambitious uses of broadband have been limited
for reasons that are cultural, legal & social
rather than technological.
the IT2000 masterplan was unveiled in 1992, and Singapore
ONE initiated in 1996, we were meant to become the world's
first fully broadband-connected nation - a networked utopia
of interactive multimedia and e-commerce.
Bill Gates bought the sales pitch enough to mention it in
his 1996 book, The Road Ahead.
the hype: ''Video-on-demand'', ''distance learning'', ''tele-conferencing'',
''5.5 Mbps Internet access''?
say the least, broadband price and performance to date have
been less than satisfactory.
after April 1 this year, the set-up could cost households
hundreds of dollars apiece.
far cry from the cyber-topia we were promised?
this - South Korean Netizens already enjoy wider broadband
service at a fraction of our prices, according to NetValue.
research consultancy Frost and Sullivan projects that broadband
will hit 1.33 million users here by 2006 (''Booming Broadband'',
Business Times, March 5, 2001).
reach that target, the current customer base would have
to increase five-fold in the next five years.
like a tall order, given the present level of services and
five years is a whole generation when you're talking about
the wired world.
to salvage the broadband dream, some critical issues will
have to be resolved.
it the four Cs:
first is cost.
Household IT survey last year revealed that consumers are
still price-sensitive when it comes to getting online.
higher sign-up costs are going to turn away potential newcomers.
know fast Internet access must come at a premium, but clearly
prefer a flat-rate access charge - like that offered by
SCV's cable modem service - to a usage-based cost.
upcoming addition of PacNet to the flat-rate broadband market
is a long-overdue move that might just attract more users.
assuming we even need broadband.
all, why pay exorbitant rates when you can surf with a 56
kbps modem for the price of a phone call?
industry has yet to deliver killer-app local broadband content
worth users' dollars.
high-bandwidth eye-candy: The online services users truly
value - e-mail, news, shopping, banking, info searches -
are easily accessible with a dial-up modem; even on the
go with a laptop.
with Napster in legal trouble, users have one good reason
less to use broadband: Free software and music downloads.
more ambitious uses of broadband - such as telecommuting
and distance-learning - have been limited for reasons that
legal and social rather than technological.
security and privacy are still key issues, as is the preference
for human interaction.
the success of broadband is a chicken-and-egg matter.
dependent on the healthy growth of both content and customers
approach: bring in core tenants
to anchor broadband usage.
Government services - with nationwide application - could
jump-start broadband with truly useful content. E-government
has yet to take off in a big way.
a start, why not wire up Government offices, schools and
community clubs, adding 120,000 public servants, plus students
and communities, to the critical mass of users?
CDC, apparently, has caught on - they're planning to wire
up 70 RCs with Net access.
a good way to wire our nation - from the grassroots up,
with careful customer education and solid services, rather
than a top-down marketing campaign and techno hype.
better than letting our ''Intelligent Island'' dream go
the way of the dotcoms any day.