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Comments from the Norwegian Government: eEurope - An Information Society for all

Comments from the Norwegian Government eEurope – An Information Society for All

1. European youth into the Digital Age

The Norwegian approach to information- and communication technologies (ICT) is based on the premise that all citizens should have the right to meaningful participation in the Information Society. The need for students to develop basic digital literacy is an important task and challenge for every educational system and is important to ensure a democratic development of the information society. The targets that are stated can set a standard, which European countries can work towards.

In our opinion, the overall goal should be to give all pupils the possibility to know more than a solid basis for practical use of ICT. Is important to focus on a methodological and critical attitude to the information content transported via ICT.

Therefore, the emphasis should also be on methods, and teaching a critical approach in order to give the youth good tools to handle the information flow, to select trash from quality, and to handle improper material, according to their moral and ethical values. One example of educational multimedia resources is in the field of environmental protection and sustainable development. A Norwegian Environmental Education Network has been established which combines good environmental education with the collecting and storing of data useful to others. The network is organised as an electronic meeting place where participating schools exchange experiences, store their results and find relevant information.

The Internet offers extraordinary opportunities for enhancing creativity and learning. In fact, the opportunities for learning and sharing knowledge with others have never been greater. The benefits and the opportunities of the ICT society should be accessible to all citizens. However, although a limited phenomenon, illegal and harmful content is too disturbing to be ignored. Therefore, the Norwegian Government has decided to take part in the EU Action plan on promoting safer use of the Internet. The Norwegian Government also adheres to the EU Recommendation on promoting competitiveness of the European audio-visual and information services industry by developing national frameworks seeking to ensure protection for minors and human dignity.

We would like to stress the importance of the development of high-quality internet-based learning resources. The digital skills which students acquire are important for every citizen of the information society. It must be stressed that in an educational setting the development of these skills are dependent on the availability of learning resources, so that technology can be used in a fruitful way to facilitate learning.

In the area of ICT in education, Norway has recently launched an action plan for the period 2000-2003. The plan is divided into six areas:

  • Educational facilitation
  • ICT as a subject and ICT in subjects
  • Teacher competence
  • Research and development
  • Organisational facilitation
  • Infrastructure and co-operation

The plan contains several initiatives that are relevant for the eEurope initiative, such as the development of a Norwegian Learning Net, a common gateway to Norwegian Education. The Norwegian Learning Net is supposed to create a better co-ordination of digital learning resources at all levels in Norwegian education and act as a catalyst for the implementation of learning technologies and new forms of learning.

2. Cheaper Internet access

The Government essentially supports the Commission’s suggested objectives and believes they will help bringing the benefits of the Information Society to all Europeans faster.

In Norway, it is the access network (local loop) where we find the capacity bottle necks. Concerning capacity, the development within different access technologies is rapid. This will probably lead to increased competition and reduced prices for different access technologies that deliver higher capacities.

It has been proposed that the incumbent should offer unbundled local loops under non- discriminatory terms and conditions in order to allow all operators to provide innovative services. The incumbent has already started offering unbundled local loops. The radio accesses will be an alternative to the fixed access and will most likely promote competition.

The Government is positive regarding an increased use of general authorisations, and to the proposal of reserving specific authorisations for assignment of radio spectrum and numbers. In Norway only SMP (Significant Market Power) providers need an individual license, others are only subject to a registration procedure. The Government still requires an opportunity to use specific authorisations to place obligations on network operators to ensure scarce resources. Furthermore, the Government requires the possibility to impose USO (Universal Service Obligation) by using individual licenses.

3. Accelerating E-Commerce

The communication from the Commission is a substantial and important contribution to the development of an information society in balance with consumer needs. We share the opinion of the Commission that building consumer trust is essential in order to accelerate e-commerce.

Consumers have been reluctant to make use of e-commerce, partly because of uncertainty about the level of protection and the methods of payment in the electronic marketplace. It is therefore important to secure, as far as possible, consumers in the electronic marketplace on an equal level of protection as to that in traditional commerce, and to create awareness of applicable regulation.

In a dynamic market, policy built on self-regulation is an important supplement to the regulatory framework. In Norway, the national Consumer Council and representatives of businesses in 1999 established a voluntary and independent label that guarantees consumers in the electronic marketplace a certain standard of protection. Currently steps are being taken to expand the net label on a Nordic basis.

Regarding the Commission’s expressed objective concerning encouraging electronic public procurement, the Government is in favour of a provision that gives the contracting authorities possibility to require a contract to be awarded exclusively by electronic means. The Norwegian public administration endorses the plans to reform public procurement legal framework in order to pave way for public administrations to employ e-commerce in procurement. The government last year launched a long-term programme to employ e-commerce in procurement. The aim is to increase efficiency and reduce costs of the public purchasing process. Adequate training and suitable e-commerce solutions are important parts of the initiative.

In the Norwegian perspective, standardised, supplier-independent trade nomenclatures with sufficient level of detail is an important prerequisite for the rapid uptake of e-commerce, in procurement in particular. We would therefore recommend that development of pan-European nomenclatures for various trade sectors be put on the agenda of accelerating e-commerce. Such nomenclatures, in addition to saving money for buyers, also contribute to making a level playing field for competitive e-commerce companies, independent of their size.

The Public sector is co-operating closely with the private sector as both have a common interest in the accelerating e-commerce. Especially companies in the IT sector participate actively, and such a model has given good results. Norway already had a survey carried out, which gives us a good indication of how consumers and companies utilise e- commerce. The most interesting finding was that 10% of the enterprises, with the minimum of ten employees and access to the Internet, had trade from electronic commerce via Internet in 1999. In addition, 13% of them did receive payment through the Internet.

In addition, the Government has striven to adapt the Norwegian legislation for electronic communication. A major project is underway, mapping all kinds of hindrances against electronic communication. The next phase will be to suggest changes in the legislation, which will remove obstacles for enabling electronic communication. The project includes communication in both private and public sector. Our experiences from this project could be of interest for EU member countries. The Government is currently following actively up the EU directive on electronic commerce, which will become an important framework in our own regulations.

4. Fast Internet for researchers and students

The targets that are stated in this action are important steps in order to enable students and teachers across Europe to take advantage of the teaching and learning potential of the Internet. Transnational co-operation within research and education can thus be ensured. To many countries, an upgrade of Internet access will allow many schools to use learning resources which otherwise would not be available to them.

In Norway, several projects and actions have been undertaken. Within the new action plan for ICT in Norwegian Education, the developments of new Internet applications are one of the high-priority actions. The aim of this action is to develop a strategy for Internet application for the entire educational community in Norway. To ensure that Norway is at the forefront of the technological development, the Government plans to establish a high-capacity Research Network, which will radically increase the capacity between research institutions.

In the university and college sector, a very advanced and extensive high-capacity network has already been set up, with Uninett A/S, a wholly owned company under the Norwegian Ministry of Education, Research and Church Affairs. The main task is the operation and maintenance of the infrastructure for research and higher education. Uninett is also responsible for the Research Network.

5. Smart cards for secure electronic access

Norway is in the process of drafting a new legislation on electronic signatures. The draft proposal is inter alia based on the EU Directive on a Common framework for electronic signatures and is currently on public inquiry. It will be presented to the Parliament later this year.

The act regulates inter alia certification services providers and does also give legal effect to a certain type of electronic signature. The act is neutral as to which technology can be used to generate such an electronic signature. Hence, the present draft proposal of the act needs additional regulation on what types of techniques can and shall be accepted to fulfil these special requirements stated in the act. Due to this need we welcome the work concerning smart cards for secure electronic access.

The Norwegian public administration is at present engaged in the effort of building a secure PKI (Public Key Infrastructure) for secure communications within the government, and especially for secure communications with citizens and companies that would like to access electronic public services offered via the Internet. We see smart cards as an important part of this infrastructure, because they offer a secure, ubiquitous token that can be used to access services, authenticate devices and applications as well as store applications for local use. We would therefore endorse the initiative on smart cards, especially the idea of common specifications. Such specifications, must not, however, depart from emerging market standards in a significant way.

We would also point out that timing of the initiative could be reviewed again, as we believe that PKI will be a driving force for smart card deployment in the future. Use of smart card to support trust infrastructures for e-commerce should be given attention at an earlier stage than the Commission foresees.

As an example of electronic payment initiatives, the Norwegian banking industry will jointly launch an electronic identification – "Electronic BankID" within year 2000. The initiative is believed to ensure safe commerce and secure payment over the Internet. The usage of Internet as a distribution channel for payment services is increasing. The development in Norway is expected to be strengthened as a new legislation of finance agreement, which equalises agreements that is entered into electronically with traditional written agreements, will become operative as of 1 st> of July this year. "Electronic BankID" is produced to secure financial services in the open net, but can also be used for other types of electronic identification. Responsible for the establishment of a common "Electronic BankID" and a PKI-structure for the bank industry is the Norwegian Financial Services Association and the Norwegian Savings Banks Association.

We would also point at the useful work done on PKI-related smart card specifications in the Nordic countries and especially in Sweden, where the interest group SEIS (Secure Electronic Information in Society) produced a number of standards that had been used in procurement of PKI-services for the public sector in the three Nordic countries Sweden, Finland and Norway. The results of this work could constitute some of the basis for the work to be done in the eEurope initiative.

The Government would like to point at the necessity of protecting the individual in introducing smart cards. We are however, positive to the initiative of developing smart cards, and would like to participate actively in this process, especially in the upcoming EU Summit in April.

6. Risk capital for high tech SME’s

When it comes to financing development of new technologies connected to e-commerce in Norway, it is not obvious that there is a lack of capital. On the contrary, it seems to be a large interest of such projects in the venture capital marked, which could indicate that capital is not a barrier.

In Norway we have different kinds of schemes to promote supply of capital to high-tech SME's, for instance grant-, loan-, guarantee- and equity schemes. The latest initiative from the Government is a seed capital scheme. The seed capital scheme is a public private partnership where each part contributes with half of the capital stock in five seed capital funds. The funds, which are privately owned, invests equity capital in start up business with high potential of value added and are supposed to have a long-term perspective on the investments and to supply the enterprises with competence. Another important aspect of this scheme is to create a more visible market arena where the supply and demand side could meet. Norway is currently taking part in the SME’s program in the EU. We are looking forward to receive the action lines for the program in 2001, which we expect to participate in.

7. eParticipation for the disabled

The Norwegian Government supports the challenges, principles and strategies which is outlined in this chapter, especially the focus on a universal design. It must be taken account of the very differing needs disabled have so standards must be developed, preferably internationally, with an optimal Universal design.

Several processes have already been initiated in Norway on the targeted challenges in the document. One important area is the recent establishment of a centre of Competence for Speech, Artificial Intelligence and Language in Voss. Especially development of technology within the area of speech and language will simplify the use of computers, and be of vital importance for people with special needs. Another important aspect in the English driven World Wide Web is to protect our own culture through making software in Norwegian.

It is important also how legislation can ensure sufficiently accessibility for all. A committee has been established which will review the rights of the disabled in a greater context. The mandate includes an assessment of how new technology can effect the life of the disabled.

Of increasing interest in Norway has been the usage of ICT by the elderly. The process of ageing also involves decreased functions which is in relation to the adjustments needed for disabled. The Government would therefore like to recommend that also aspects referring to the elderly are included within this headline to emphasise stronger the objective of an ‘information society for all’.

A concrete suggestion is to add in the first paragraph 2 - 3. sentence:

"…..for people with disabilities of all ages."

In the report "Accessibility in ICT procurement" financed by the EU project ACCENT the barriers which disabled encounters in the use of ICT is discussed, and actions of how to ensure improved accessibility are outlined. In relation to this we would like to suggest the following addition after the third paragraph:

"To promote the inclusion of accessibility it is necessary for governments to put special emphasis on procurement of ICT in public sector. Attention must be given to how ICT accessibility can be an appropriate goal in public procurement policy."

8. Healthcare online

Norway has recently adopted an action plan where some of the main objectives are standardising, developing standards for messages (EDI), testing of security solutions guidance for IT-security, creating mechanisms of coding and classifications, in addition to initiatives for the establishment of a national health centre.

The Government doesn’t have any specific plan in initiating an electronic health smart card to the population. We are awaiting the development of infrastructure for smart cards in other sectors of the society. However, we are considering the need for access cards (smart cards) for the health personnel with digital signatures and as a key to information.

The main strategy in Norway is to prepare for electronic communication (EDI, telemedicine etc.) between the different actors in the health sector, and to make information available through networks. ICT is in extensive use in the health sector in Norway. About 90% of general practitioners have an electronical journal of their patients, and about 700 medical offices (out of 1700) has an EDI system that for the time being is mainly used to receive responses from laboratories. A considerable amount of electronic interaction is taking place in all the five health regions. In addition, a common electronic post box is established, for the entire health and social security sector.

Some years back a National Centre of telemedicine was established in Tromsø which have built up strong competence in the field of telemedicine. Telemedicine has been established on a project basis in all the health regions, and many of the hospitals has one or another telemedical service available. They have received international recognition for their work.

The aim of a national health net is that all actors in the health sector are enabled to communicate electronically. In year 2000 work will be carried out to specify requirements for technical and secure concepts for solutions The same network can be utilised for several services as telemedicine, EDI, e-mail, access to Internet among others.

9. Intelligent transport

Norway acknowledges EU’s effort to integrate IT within the different transport sectors, and have taken notice of EU’s timetable for implementing measures in this area.

Primary objectives concerning road transport telematics are as follows:

  • Deliver data and information about the roads, traffic and vehicles to drivers, public and private organisations, to research and for commercial usage
  • Participate in the establishment of road-based IT-infrastructure
  • Contribute nationally and internationally for the establishment and keeping of standards, regulations and international co-operation within the transport telesystems.
  • Research

Norway participates in a Nordic co-operation on IT and transport. In connection with this co-operation the following projects have started:

  • Develop an electronic travel planner
  • Surveillance of transport carrying dangerous goods

10.Government online

This area is also in accordance with the Government’s objective. The Internet is an important tool to advance the access to public information for both individuals and industry. In addition it can improve and increase the efficiency of the administration. We would encourage the Commission to put forward initiatives and actions, which will remove barriers like public information that has to be paid for.

One of the aims put forward in the paper is that the countries within the year 2000 should secure access to at the minimum four types of Information. In Norway, among others, an initiative has been taken to ensure access to environmental information on the Internet. The English version of a web page that aims to keep interest groups updated on environmental issues is available on <http://mistin.dep.no/default-e.htm>

Of increased importance is to take use of interactive services in the future, not only providing information.

Additional remarks

For the Nordic countries, it will be of importance in the development of IT, to capitalise on our strong points. We will take advantage of the high penetration of IT in the Norwegian society. In Norway we have an interesting division of responsibility, which we will continue to pursue, where the public sector has a big responsibility in acting as a role model in taking use of new technology. The public sector is in this way both promoting new technology and is a demanding customer. This gives synergy effects in the market in addition to creating an impetus for SME’s.

We have also in the last year decided upon a reform for competence building, covering the needs of the workplace, the society and the individual. The reform includes all adults, and aims to ensure a right to take after- and further education. The reform is in line with the EU initiative for Life Long Learning. IT plays a crucial role in this matter, in both gaining digital literacy as well as being a tool for education.