70% of Azerbaijan's population is Internet users
Minister of Communications and Information Technologies Ali Abbasov gave an interview to Trend on the outcomes of the year.
- Mr Minister, how do you assess the development rate of Azerbaijan's ICT sector, what achievements have been received in this direction in recent years and what are public priorities for ICT sector at the present stage of the country's development?
-The development of information and communication technologies (ICT), as well as all areas of social and economic life in the country, is always in the spotlight. Over the last period, the ICT sector in the country extended twice every three years, and for the past 8-10 years, average annual growth in this area was 25-30 per cent.
According to the International Telecommunication Union, over last 10 years Azerbaijan is on the list of countries with most rapidly growing sector for ICT. In 2011, growth in the sector was 13 percent, and its volume reached AZN1.4 billion. For the 9 months of 2012 in the sector received profits of AZN1.1 billion was received and the growth rate was 18.2 percent. Private sector accounted for 80 percent of the profit. For the first time in the CIS space all populated areas in Azerbaijan were supplied with telephones, fixed telephone network has been fully transferred into electronic form, and a single numbering system was introduced in the country. One public and two private fiber-optic backbone networks covering the entire country, were built, the total capacity of international Internet channels were increased several times and reached 200 Gb / s, and a number of regional information servers were deployed in the country, as a result of which Azerbaijan has become an exporter of Internet services in the region. Today, 70 percent of Azerbaijan's population is Internet users, 50 percent – broadband users and it is two times more than the world average. Figures in the field of mobile communications are at high level. Currently, there are 110 mobile phone for every 100 people in Azerbaijan, the country has started implementing the latest technology 4G.
The priorities and objectives of the ministry are to ensure the rapid growth of the ICT sector in coming years. Priority goals are to improve the capacity of production and export of ICT products, application of innovation, attraction of local and foreign investment, the development of broadband internet services, including the organization of services on an "optics to homes”, complete the transition to digital broadcasting, strengthening security and the expansion of e-government.
- How does ICT sector develop and what about the share of this sphere in total GDP?
- ICT sector in Azerbaijan, as a sphere of economy, and as a sphere of serving the general socio-economic development of the country, is developing dynamically and share of revenues generated by the sector is roughly 3.5 percent in GDP and 7.2 percent in non-oil GDP.
- How do you assess the e-readiness level of state agencies in Azerbaijan? What efforts are to be made for dynamic transition to e-government?
-In accordance with the presidential decree # 429 of May 23, 2011 "On some measures in the sphere of provision of e-services by state agencies”, provision of e-services by the central executive authorities was provided. These services cover economic and social, scientific, cultural and other spheres of public life.
With the view of organizing the use of electronic government services through the principle of "single window”, the Ministry of Communications and Information Technologies (MCIT) has established a portal of "electronic government” where 36 structures have already joined and are providing 168 e-services through the portal. As of 2012, 28 government agencies were granted nearly 2,800 electronic signatures by the National Certification Services Center that are operating under the ministry. The use of an electronic signature has created conditions to increase the use of electronic services, provide better and safer services. Today, many of the services provided by state agencies in direct contact with the public, and payments intended for these services are provided in electronic form. A good example of this is receiving applications and required documents online for the online registration of business activity, electronic submission of tax and customs declarations, issuance of documents confirming the rights to real estate, retirement destination, receiving of targeted social benefits, installation of telephone and connection to the Internet.
For the general organization and development of e-services in the country, in the first place, the integration of the information systems and services of the central executive authorities into e-government infrastructure should be completed fully. Thereafter, the local authorities and municipalities should begin widespread use of electronic services. Moreover, necessary measures should be taken to eliminate "digital divide” between regions and population groups, to improve citizens' ICT literacy and their access to e-services.
-Transition to digital television in 2013 is of great importance today. It is undeniable that digital television has more advantages than analogue one. Thus, how do you think, in the event of suspension of analogue broadcast, ordinary user will be able to accept the digital content? What are you planning to make ordinary users ready for the new changes? Will low income strata of the population be able to get decoders free of charge?
-87 percent of the country's population have been provided with digital TV as a result of measures taken by the Ministry of Communications and Information Technologies in connection with the transition to digital broadcasting in the territory of the Republic of Azerbaijan in accordance with the "Program for development and application of digital broadcasting DVB-T in the territory of Azerbaijan”, according to the decision of the Cabinet of Ministers № 26 dated 10 February 2011. "In accordance with this program, in 2013, analogue TV broadcasting will be suspended and transition to digital broadcasting will be provided fully.
For the full readiness of the population to digital broadcasting, the MCIT distributes educational information in the media and work is continued in this direction. At the same time, local producers and entrepreneurs were informed not to deliver to the country TVs that do not support digital TVs. Today, sales of digital televisions and decoders for digital broadcasting were organized in Baku city as well as in the regions of the country. The request has been submitted to the government for providing the low income strata of the population with decoders.
-How do you asses Azerbaijan's potential as a scientific center in the region? How is the construction of silicon valley going in Azerbaijan? Can you tell us, what way has Azerbaijan chosen or will choose in the construction of regional innovation zone or IT industry zone?
-Development of science in Azerbaijan is one of the priorities of the state policy. In this direction our development goals and targets are varied. These objectives are reflected in the "National Strategy for the Advancing Science.”One of the main pillars in the development of science is just information technologies. Thus, the development of science is directly associated with the development of information technologies. The rapid development of information technologies and implemented important projects will allow us to maintain and strengthen our leading position in the region in this field.
The role of the project Regional Innovation Zone (RIZ) is great in the development of the ICT sector in Azerbaijan. Creation of RIZ will serve the development of small and medium enterprises, human resources, electronic equipment and expansion of software. Besides, with the use of favorable conditions will increase the interest of not only local, but also foreign companies to this sphere and will significantly increase the production of IT product. The interest of foreign companies in Azerbaijan is high. Thus, today 10 out of the 20 top-rated ICT companies such as Microsoft, Cisco Systems, Hewlett Packard, IBM, Apple Computer, Intel, Oracle, Google, Nokia-Siemens Networks, Ericsson operate in Azerbaijan, and are actively involved in various projects in the country. One of the main benefits of the project of RIZ in Azerbaijan is a broad study of both positive and negative experiences in the creation of such zones in the world.
One of the measures aimed at creating a regional innovation zone in ICT field, is the presidential decree "On creation of the High-Tech Park”. High-Tech Park was created in order to ensure sustainable economic growth and competitiveness, expansion of information and communication technologies based on the achievements of modern science and technologies, research and development of modern complex for the development of new information technologies, and necessary work in this direction is under way.
- What priority tasks is the ministry going to implement in the near future?
- Priority issues set before the ministry are: development of broadband Internet services, implementation of TASIM project, creation of automated radiomonitoring system, working out of low orbit optical satellite and launching it, introduction of high technologies, expansion of introduction of 3G and 4G services, expansion of financial services etc.