Japan plans Internet, IT training for millions

"The most important priority is the rapid promotion of the IT revolution," said Taichi Sakaiya, minister of state, responsible for Economic Planning Agency, announcing the package to journalists. The government plans to spend 3.9 trillion yen ($US36.2 billion) on a package of measures that include free PC and Internet training for millions of people, high speed optical fibre Internet connections to schools and public halls and a revision of laws to ensure the IT society can flourish.

The IT plans has three major pillars: hardware, software and Internet content.

Regarding the hardware pillar, Sakaiya said, "The purpose is to make the Internet available everywhere. We will install the necessary systems and facilities at schools and public institutions and establish public terminals." On content, the minister said the government will work on creating interesting and enjoyable content that people can use.

"Another pillar is software. In order to achieve a position where anyone in Japan can manipulate the Internet, we will provide basic skills for everyone and sophisticated skills will be given to a great number of people," he said. By the end of 2001 the government hopes to have provided 5.5 million people with basic skills and an additional 1.5 million people with higher level skills at a cost of 100 billion yen.

Through other IT promotion efforts at schools and companies, the government expects an additional 5 million people will access the Internet at these locations to add 12 million people to Japan's Internet-using ranks by the end of next year. Combined with natural market growth, the government is aiming to have 50 million Internet users in Japan by the end of 2001 -- equivalent to approximately 40 per cent of the population.

Behind the focus on IT is Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori's "rebirth of Japan" plan. Recognising major changes in the world economy brought on by the increasing importance of IT and the knowledge-based businesses, the plan was outlined by Mori when he addressed the Japanese parliament during its most recent opening session in September. At the time he pledged to make Japan, over the next five years, "a nation that stands at the forefront of information and communications."

Famously, Mori had never touched a PC until early June when, campaigning at an elementary school near Tokyo, he was shown by students how to use one. Asked whether cabinet ministers were using the Internet and, if not, whether they intended to sign up for the free classes, Sakaiya declined to provide any details on Internet use among ministers but said, "Many of the cabinet ministers are very busy so I think they would not use the free courses but rather paid courses."

The measures outlined today are intended to both push forward the rebirth of Japan plan and also stimulate the economy, which the EPA says is still suffering from a flat consumption and severe employment conditions.

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