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Sun 1 Oct 2006 04:00 AM

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KSA bid to widen internet access


Saudi Arabia’s government is looking at ambitious plans to extend internet access to all areas of the Kingdom by setting up a fund enabling ISPs to share the cost of the project.

The Saudi government has already invested US$800million in developing e-government services and has a target to put 150 services online by 2010.

To ensure all citizens can access these from anywhere in the Kingdom, it is looking at working with ISPs to help provide services in more remote — and less profitable — areas.

Fahad Al Hoymany, Minister’s advisor for IT and head of the e-government infrastructure department at the Saudi Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI), spoke to IT Weekly ahead of the Government and Technology (GT) Summit and Exhibition 2006, which takes place in Dubai last month.

Al Hoymany revealed that the government is currently in talks with service providers over proposals for them to share the costs of providing services to some areas.

It is currently considering the option of a fund which all service providers would contribute to, in order to pay for the extension of internet services across the country.

“The plan has already been issued which calls for the different service providers to, in a sense, chip in,” said Al Hoymany. “Rural areas are not very profitable for service providers,” he pointed out.

“So we have come up with a proposal to create a fund which the different service providers help in creating and funding. It will make it more profitable or at least they will be sharing the cost of providing services to places that are hard to reach,” he added.

Internet penetration across the Kingdom is very low; according to Al Hoymany, currently 13% to 15% of the population uses the internet.

In the United Nations’ Global E-Government Readiness Report 2005, Saudi Arabia was ranked 80th out of the UN’s 191 member states — 38 places below the UAE at 42nd place.

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