Monday, April 14, 2008

Why Singapore Will Continue to Slip in Global Tech-Saviness Ranking

The following article appeared in the Straits Times 3 days ago:

April 11, 2008
S'pore drops to 5th place in tech-saviness ranking
By Alfred Siew , Tan Weizhen

FROM being the world's most tech-savvy nation, Singapore has dropped to 5th place.

It fell two notches on the Networked Readiness index, an annual ranking released on Wednesday by the World Economic Forum.

The index, which measures the impact of infocomm policies and usage in 127 economies, ranked Denmark as the most ready to take advantage of technology.

It is followed by Sweden, Switzerland, the United States and Singapore.

This is the lowest Singapore has ranked since topping the chart in 2005. It was second in 2006, and third in 2007.

In this year's ranking, the Republic was top in the quality of math and science education and the Government's vision of infocomm, areas in which it had done well in the past.

But it only scored 15th on the accessibility of digital content, a new indicator measuring whether content is widely available on platforms such as the Internet, mobile phones and cable television.

It was placed 115th for freedom of the press - one notch up from last year - and 99th for expenditure in education, another new indicator.

Dr Irene Mia, an editor of the report and senior economist at the World Economic Forum, said freedom of the press referred to how freely people could share opinions online, and the ranking was based on a survey of top businessmen in 130 countries.

... ...
The NRI ranking discussed above can be found in the World Economic Forum Global Information Technology Report 2007-2008.

I foresee this trend of Singapore slipping down the NRI rankings continuing, for several reasons.

1. Singapore isn't going to accelerate up the metrics of press freedom or accessibility of digital content, anytime soon.

Well, I really don't have to comment much here, do I?

Singapore is notorious for the suppression of political content and opposing opinions in its press, not just of the opposition but also of its own citizens. Reporters Without Borders' gives Singapore an abysmal ranking on its Press Freedom Index, and commentators from around the blogosphere have made comments to the same effect.

Seriously, now that the WEF has added this KPI to the NRI calculation, we're only going to keep falling.

2. Singapore is already far behind the world leaders in terms of broadband speed and pricing.

While world leaders such as Sweden, Korea, Japan and the U.S.A. are charging ahead with speeds up to 100Mbps, Singapore still lags behind with speeds much further behind and prices far higher for the similar quality of broadband speed. Full details found in "Next-Gen Broadband Around the World"

3. The Government is trying too hard to accelerate broadband development, and the efficacy of its plans are not clear.

Much noise has been made about the Infocomm Development Authority's grand plans for Singapore's Next Generation National Broadband Network. The Government is trying to deploy broadband speeds of 100mbps starting from 2010 (which, by then, will probably be far behind the world leaders, who are already testing speeds of up to 1Gbps).

However, unlike many other successful models where the builders of the broadband infrastructure are vertically integrated companies, Singapore is trying to break up the network so that it is operated by several companies. This involves "structural separation" of a NetCo and "operational separation" of an OpCo (these are technical terms and you can find out more here).

For those who do not have the time to find out what these complexities mean, suffice to say that the plans have received criticism from several quarters. For instance, an informed commentator has remarked,
"This effective double layer of separation appears to be the most extreme requirement of any NGN regulatory regime in the world and will likely prove controversial with those in the industry who say that separating out network design from the operator of its electronics is likely to lead to massive inefficiencies and friction."
(see "Singapore's Shock Structural Separation Policy for NGN" and "Singapore's Separation Plan Defies Logic." [Commsday])

4. The incumbent telcos are closely Government-linked, and realistically, we don't expect Lee Hsien Loong's government to hurt Ho Ching's investments.

The Mr Lee is the PM of the Government. The IDA is a department of the Government.

Mdm Ho is the CEO of Temasek Holdings. Temasek has a major stake in SingTel, which holds the monopoly over Singapore's copper access network and has the most to lose if the NGN separation plans are taken to their extreme.

Do we expect PM Lee to hurt his wife in this regard? I seriously don't think so.

Even if the Next-Gen NBN plans come to fruition, politics is going to play a major, major role in hampering the execution of those plans.


Well, we can see that reasons 1, 3 and 4 are political. Indeed, as with many things in Singapore, politics gets in the way of how things develop.

And as far as Tech-Saviness is concerned, I simply don't see how this will change in the near future.

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