Azerbaijani IT minister: Private sector development to positively impact ICT (INTERVIEW)

Azerbaijani IT minister: Private sector development to positively impact ICT (INTERVIEW)

Azerbaijan, Baku, Nov. 22 / Trend H. Valiyev /

Trend interviews Azerbaijani Communications and IT Minister Ali Abbasov on the eve of the BakuTel International Telecommunications and Information Technologies Exhibition and Conference.

Q: How do you assess the current trends of development on the telecommunications market in Azerbaijan?

A: There have been a number of positive trends in the field of information and communications technologies (ICT) in Azerbaijan over the last few years. This is a significant growth of the subscriber base of fixed and mobile communications operators, as well as the number of users of broadband services, next generation network mobile deployment, and other wireless technology development. Another point is information technologies development. Solutions for e-government and various e-applications, such as e-commerce and e-services, are widely used.

Azerbaijan pays active attention to forming an informational society and promotes the development of the ICT sector as a priority, as well as its impact on other sectors of our economy. Today, Azerbaijan carries out purposeful work to create conditions for free competition and market relations and to ensure private sector development. It is designed to have a positive impact on the ICT sector. The attractiveness of the sector has increased for foreign and local investors. As a result, the amount of investments directed toward the introduction of new technologies in the industry is increasing each year.

Q: What is the ministry's strategy for further developing the Internet market, namely to popularize broadband Internet among the population?

A: We are working to prepare a concept for developing broadband services. It is designed to serve as a qualitative leap in the field of services, to increase their types and to expand the applications of their use. Users will receive opportunities to use Internet resources. Introducing new technologies and increasing their use will also lead to lower prices on Internet access. A consistent decrease in tariffs has been observed in Azerbaijan over the past few years. Users may choose the Internet providers and tariff packages that meet their needs.

According to our estimates, Internet penetration in Azerbaijan has reached 45 percent. Regarding broadband Internet, the figure is estimated at 12 percent.

The modernization of telecommunications infrastructure is designed to play an important role in expanding broadband Internet and other non-traditional services.

Q: I would like to touch upon one of the major projects initiated by Azerbaijan. It deals with the project of constructing the East-West information superhighway. What key issues in regards to its implementation are worth mentioning this year?

A: As is well known, the U.N. General Assembly adopted a resolution on expanding access to the Internet through the high-speed Trans-Eurasian Information Superhighway in late 2009. Great support was expressed for the Azerbaijani initiative. This gives an international mandate to Azerbaijan as the project's country-coordinator. It is also a powerful tool for the project's further implementation.

Although the resolution is of an advisory nature, it reflects the political will of many of the countries that voted for it and are included in the information superhighway. These countries, proceeding from national interests and the interests of good neighborliness and prospects for development, will decide on their participation in this project on the basis of goodwill. Success will depend on the common efforts of all of these countries and concerned organizations. We hope that Azerbaijan, playing an active role in this project, will be able to involve other partners.

It is envisaged that the project will be implemented through a consortium. Every country, every operator can act as an investor. Moreover, it will be possible to attract investments from international financial institutions.

Today, major international investors and regional countries show great interest in the project. The project aims to connect a total of 20 countries and to play an important role in regional development. Its implementation will eliminate the existing "digital gap" between the countries of the Western European and Pacific regions.

Q: This year, considerable work was conducted on a project to launch Azerbaijan's first telecommunications satellite - Azerspace. What prospects does Azerbaijan have in terms of entering the world space market?

A: One can definitely say that this year was key for implementing this project. Important documents were signed with both the satellite's manufacturer - the U.S. Orbital Sciences Corporation, and the company that will handle its launching into orbit - the French Arianespace. The partnership for our orbital position was established with the Malaysian MEASAT satellite operator. The satellite will launch in late 2012.

Azerspace is intended to provide digital broadcasting, Internet and data transmission services, as well as VSAT multi-service networks, and other forms of communication. Azerspace's service area will include Europe, Central Asia and Africa.

The project will introduce new technologies in space, telecommunications and communications systems, develop a common information space, and provide informational independence.

Azerkosmos was established this year upon Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev's order.

It is responsible for launching the satellite into orbit and its further management and exploitation. I think that the implementation of the state program to form and develop our space industry, which was adopted by President Aliyev in 2009, will create the necessary conditions for developing this area in our country and delivering space services on the world market.

Q.: This year is significant in terms of adopting the second state "Electronic Azerbaijan" program. What work is being done in this direction?

A.: The state program on developing communications and IT in Azerbaijan for 2010-2012, also known as "Electronic Azerbaijan," which was approved by President Aliyev's decree, has determined the direction and tasks of the second phase of developing an informational society in Azerbaijan. This program was prepared in cooperation with many governmental agencies and includes a wide range of projects planned or implemented by these bodies, which cover almost all of the spheres of the socioeconomic life of our country. The Communications and IT Ministry, as the coordinator of the state program, formed a coordination council, including representatives from all of the implementing agencies, to ensure the effectiveness of activities. It should also be noted that, this year, the Cabinet of Ministers also approved a program of activity on the formation of an e-government. The participants of this program are also represented in the council. The list of the council's members is rather wide, and this will facilitate more effective cooperation for the implementation of the above documents.

Q.:  How do you assess the current level of informatization at government agencies? How much are they technically ready to implement modern management systems?

A.: Azerbaijan is actively working to build an e-government. We can say that this process involves the central executive bodies and there are already successful projects. I would like to note once again that this year the country adopted a program of activities to form an e-government, which will give a further impetus in this direction. The main purpose of forming an e-government is to improve the efficiency and transparency of governmental agencies, provide a more affordable, easy and convenient way of bringing together the population, businesses, public institutions and public authorities, and ensuring their active involvement in the governance process.

Today, the state is interested in this process. We can note that implemented projects are already showing the effectiveness of forming the e-government. Enabling the submission of tax declarations and statements, applications during admissions to public service or secondary and higher educational institutions, job searches via the Internet, providing opportunities for e-payment when it comes to various public services... These are all good examples of e-government projects.

Works are also underway to build an "e-signature" infrastructure, which will also positively affect the development of various e-services rendered to the population. In this process, the population is also an active participant. Its needs and abilities to use these services must be taken into account. It is gratifying that the results of the abovementioned projects are positive and show that there is a demand among the public. We hope that the formation of our e-government will successfully continue, and these opportunities will increase day-by-day.

Q: The development of the ICT sector, in a sense, also depends on the private sector. In many countries, a large part of research is funded by the private sector. How much venture capital do you think Azerbaijani science needs to implement new ideas? What steps can be taken to ensure progress in this direction?

A: Today, in our globalizing world, innovative development is the most promising form of mutual relations between a productive and scientific environment. Producers are interested in the most advanced technologies, products and services, the creation of which involves research potential. Consequently, in developed countries, the private sector is an active financier of this research. In particular, in the United States, about 80 percent of studies are funded by the private sector.

In Azerbaijan, for enhancing innovation and private sector development, and for increasing involvement in research activities, we plan to implement a project to create the Regional Innovation Zone (RIZ). According to preliminary studies, the ICT sector's revenues may exceed the revenues of the oil sector by 2022, and become the locomotive of Azerbaijan's economic development in the future.

Proposals for the establishment of the RIZ have been sent for consideration and approval to the relevant structures. One issue that is important for the success of such projects is providing the most favorable conditions for participants. A positive solution to these issues will create suitable conditions for attracting foreign companies and investors, and for the strengthening local companies and the export products that are manufactured in the RIZ.

There are five key directions of the project that will play an important role in its implementation. They include creating a data-center for information resources and rendering information services, developing human resources and small- and medium-sized businesses, attracting investments and developing our export capacity. We hope that the project will contribute to strengthening our country's economic might, and aid our integration into the global economy.

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