Governments Must Close Global Digital Divide Through Policies, Incentives, Minister Says

Communications Minister Rudiantara speaking at the World Conference on Creative Economy in Nusa Dua, Bali, on Wednesday. (Photo courtesy of the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology)

Nusa Dua. Communications Minister Rudiantara said governments could close the global digital divide by acting as facilitators and accelerators, while implementing affirmative policies and providing incentives to support industry players.

Drawing on Indonesia's experience in developing its digital economy, these factors are crucial to the future of the country's digital economy, the minister said in his speech at the World Conference on Creative Economy in Nusa Dua, Bali, on Wednesday.

"Digitalization is growing rapidly but unevenly throughout the world, causing a global digital divide due to heterogenous development in information and communications technology," he said.

A 2018 report by the International Telecommunication Union showed that only 48 percent of the world's population currently has access to the internet.

While the Asia-Pacific region has the highest number of internet users in the world – at around 2.2 billion – it is also the region with the widest digital divide, as is evident from the fact that South Korea is ranked in second place in the International Telecommunication Union's ICT Development Index, while Afghanistan is ranked 159th out of 176 countries.

"Governments should shift their approach from 'regulator-heavy' to 'facilitator-heavy,'" Rudiantara said. He added that this included regulatory reforms, such as simplifying licensing requirements and speeding up licensing processes to make life easier for investors.

The minister said the Indonesian government adopted its role as facilitator through several affirmative policies on information and communications technology, such as the Palapa Ring Project, the country's 1,000 digital startups movement, and an ongoing initiative to digitalize small and medium enterprises.

The Palapa Ring project is part of the government's Indonesia Broadband Plan, which aims to connect 71 percent of residents in urban and 49 percent of those in rural areas to the internet by 2019.

Rudiantara said the project was "in the last mile of completion" and that residents of Papua, the country's easternmost province, were expected to enjoy the same level of internet access as their counterparts in the rest of the country.

"Also by mid-2019, over 500 district capitals and major cities on all Indonesia's major islands will be connected to the high-speed internet backbone," Rudiantara said, adding that the project was important to developing the country's creative and digital economies.

The government has so far also managed to achieve 82 percent of its target to take 8 million small and medium enterprises online by 2020, and to act as an accelerator of digital startups through its Next Indonesian Unicorn, or Nexticorn, program. To reach those targets, the ministry has been conducting a digital literacy program across the country, which is expected to be concluded by 2019.

"However, a global strategy is required to wholly manifest a global digital development," Rudiantara said.

He called on participants in this week's conference to contribute to the development of a digital economy that would benefit citizens across the globe.

Such efforts should focus on facilitating the needs of the younger generation and providing them with incentives to nurture creative thinking and innovation, as they are crucial to the development of the creative and digital economies, he said.

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