President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Good afternoon!
At these meetings of the State Council we always take up the most important issues for the development of our country. Among these is the question of the information society in the Russian Federation. I don’t want to lapse into banalities, but it is clear that in the 21st century everyone is betting on the development of information and communication technologies. Everyone agrees on this.
Russia cannot boast that it has reached an extraordinarily advanced level in this kind of technology. But we certainly have all the prerequisites to achieve a breakthrough in this area.
As everyone knows, information in the information society is a product for mass consumption and a powerful economic resource. Moreover, the information sector itself is in an economic sense growing much faster than other sectors, and sometimes seems completely self-contained vis-а-vis other projects. The development of such technologies directly affects advances in science and technology, the efficiency of public administration and even the political system by increasing access to political institutions, and thus extending democracy.
All these factors must be taken into account when formulating our respective programmes. For these reasons, a couple of years ago we adopted a new version of the federal target programme called Electronic Russia, along with a number of other measures. And in February this year we approved a document called Strategy for the Information Society in the Russian Federation.
Our telecommunications market is also dynamic. Demand for equipment and services is rising steadily. Of course in general terms we can now say that business and the public sector are now using more information and communication systems in their work and, most importantly, that this represents a substantive change.
In total volume of orders for software development Russia was third in the world last year (behind India and China). And we also laid the foundations for a certain amount of infrastructure.
However, we still face a number of challenges. And that is why we are having this meeting today to discuss what we need to do together.
First of all, we have been talking about electronic government for a significant number of years, if we take into account the speed with which things happen in this sector. No one disagrees with the idea of e-government, and everyone agrees that information technology will facilitate an increase in the transparency of government services and help reduce corruption, but in fact almost nothing has changed. It is true that there are some encouraging signs. Here in Karelia we have been looking at a number of good examples of electronic government in action. But this is only the beginning. Virtually nowhere can citizens make a declaration directly from their jobs or from home, or conclude a contract, or simply find out the status of some document that they have sent to government authorities. While, naturally, advances in this area would help eliminate bureaucratic obstacles and reduce corruption.
There has been no real movement in the implementation of interdepartmental electronic documents either, or in the formation of so-called online procurement. There is no single system for keeping track of research and development activities funded by the state.
One reason for this state of affairs is the very low level of computer literacy on the part of public and municipal employees. This is not the only reason: there are also financial and organisational ones. But it is the most difficult to deal with because it involves people’s mentality. And it is precisely these people who should be leading the way in this area. I am talking about our colleagues, government employees. This is that much more urgent because most documents will be in electronic form as early as 2010.
In this regard, I believe that we should not only organise ongoing courses for civil servants but also make computer skills part of the obligatory periodic certification and use the law to set certain standards.
I want to say categorically that any official who does not possess basic computer skills cannot do his work effectively. Such people should therefore look for other employment. If they don’t learn these skills they’re gone. We would never employ people in such positions who cannot read and write. Now being able to use a computer is just as important.
As I have already said, a range of electronic government services should be widely available to our citizens. In this regard, it would be desirable to streamline the sites for public institutions on the Internet, simply to ensure that it’s easier for citizens to access the information that exists there.
And here we come to the other side of the coin, the problem of our citizens’ lack of computer literacy, a lack that extends throughout the population. This is another major problem.
Experts have suggested that the information capital of the individual is a very important resource, especially in this era. We believe that information capital of this kind affects skills and productivity. This seems obvious. The difference in the amount of information and the information opportunities that exist between people living in our country has created what is called the information gap or the digital divide, or digital inequality. For example, those who live in large metropolitan cities have every opportunity to get access to the Internet and to use mobile forms of communication, and those who live in small settlements have almost none. This is the digital inequality or digital divide that we must overcome. We took our first steps in this direction when we decided to computerise all the schools in our country and connect them to the Internet, no matter where they were located, in Moscow or in the most remote region. This was a good way to help reduce this information gap. But this is nowhere near enough. We have a lot more to do. I hope that regional programmes that introduce new information technologies will play a key role in these processes, along with the introduction of educational standards and programmes for the development of lifelong education.
According to the data that we have, each year about 70 per cent of the active population in Europe undergoes retraining and improves their skill levels, while in Russia the figure is up to about 10 per cent. This is very little.
This relates to another challenge, namely the accessibility of the Internet for the Russian population. I just talked about this. We need broadband access and the necessary technology. And the main aspect of this challenge is first and foremost financial. We might consider a system of compensation for certain categories of people. Because in some countries students receive compensation, for example, when obtaining a functional personal computer in order to increase their computer literacy. This compensation should not be astronomical amounts of money, but nevertheless, for students and for pupils such compensation could be considered.
I wish to draw your attention to yet another aspect of this challenge, namely the development of various kinds of distance learning technologies, primarily in education and medicine. These are very relevant to people with disabilities. They include access to telemedicine consultations, receiving distance education, and potentially getting a new job.
The fourth theme or problem is the creation of so-called National Accessibility Standards. For example, such a standard was just adopted as part of our work to connect schools to the Internet within the national project, Education.
Today, you need to develop and adopt similar standards for all key areas. Including for a number of television and radio services. And also for providing information technology equipment to medical establishments, as well as to those in the spheres of education, culture, housing and public utilities.
It is necessary to modernise the structure of federal postal links, and qualitatively improve the work done by Russia's mail services. The current situation leaves much to be desired.
Incidentally, Russian archives require immediate attention. A number of large depositories have received digital technologies. But in general, unfortunately the future of this abandoned field remains very bleak.
Improving infrastructure links is our common task. And in this regard we must promote and prioritize the development of orbiting civilian communications satellites, broadcasting satellites, and satellites for the conversion of the radio frequency spectrum, which are essential for developing promising technologies. In all these processes not only the state but business as well must be fully involved. This is obvious.
And finally, security remains another issue in the development of information technologies. We must provide all users with a secure mode of operation, and a regime which keeps state secrets, commercial secrets and personal secrets safe.
Crimes in this field have enormous destructive potential. They have no limits, are very difficult to investigate and often allow their perpetrators to gain tens, hundreds of millions of dollars of illegal income. Therefore coordination among law enforcement agencies in this area is absolutely necessary.
Accomplishing all these tasks requires precise control over the execution of previous orders. And these previous orders as well as the results of our work today must be incorporated into the plan for the implementation of the Development Strategy of the Information Society. Work to elaborate such a plan has been inadmissibly delayed. And we must approve it very soon.
There are proposals to establish a special coordinating body in this area, the Presidential Council for the Development of the Information Society. Let's discuss this idea.
The challenge that we have set for ourselves — the transition to a developed information society – is a difficult one. It is particularly difficult in Russia because of natural factors.
But today we must not invoke these difficulties, but rather overcome them. Our objectives are clear. And ultimately the free access to information for our citizens is one of the most important characteristics of democratic development. That's what we'll talk about with you today.