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Home > Special Topics > Colloquium Last Updated: 15:15 03/09/2007
Colloquium #21: November 11, 2002

A Proposal for a Post e-Japan Strategy:
"A New Look at Information-based Societies From the Viewpoint of Local Communities"

Society for the Promotion of Information-Based Local Communities

An historical evaluation of the e-Japan Strategy
From an historical standpoint, the e-Japan Strategy will perhaps be viewed as the first national strategy leading to an information-based society. Many aspects of the objective promoted under the e-Japan Strategy, however, which is to make Japan the world's most advanced nation in IT within five years (by 2005), need to be examined once again, including the fact that it is merely a rehash (1) of the "catch up and overtake" policy of the industrial era. Like the industrial policies that permeated that era, the e-Japan Strategy needs to be redesigned in such a way that it produces quintessential information policies befitting an information-driven society.

Creating a policy for ourselves, by ourselves
[Refurbishment of the infrastructure under the e-Japan Strategy, and the problems therein]

Refurbishment of the information & telecom infrastructure, sometimes referred to as a third infrastructure (railroads and roads) or new lifeline (water, electricity, gas) is a central issue in the e-Japan Strategy. First, this point needs to be examined.

In order to achieve the objective of the e-Japan Strategy, which is to make the country into the world's most advanced IT nation in five years, an infrastructure is being laid that emphasizes efficiency as its top priority, through (1) private sector (market) leadership and (2) making full use of the existing telecommunications network. As a result, although many of Japan's citizens are now enjoying the benefits of middle-band and higher speeds, that progress has given rise to a number of problems.

For instance, with respect to (1), service is still not fully available in some areas, mainly those with disadvantageous conditions. Because under the e-Japan Strategy the private sector (market) is taking the initiative in infrastructure refurbishment, there will necessarily be differences between regions to some extent. Moreover, with respect to (2), because the existing telecommunications network (with Tokyo as its apex) is being utilized, there is a strong likelihood of communication delays and other shortcomings in local provinces, and the best engineers and companies are becoming centralized in the Tokyo area (2).

[Openness to the idea of a self-designed infrastructure]
To begin with, the nature of the information & telecom infrastructure makes it less expensive to configure than earlier infrastructures, and there are fewer social constraints to slow the progress of the work. For those reasons, infrastructures can be configured relatively easily by the entities themselves. Moreover, by connecting to other networks, the full benefits of those networks become accessible as well.

By taking advantage of these characteristics, infrastructures can be built without much difficulty even in local provinces where little information is accessible, provided the communities themselves take the initiative (3). Even where information is available, communities that are not satisfied with the service environment being provided can freely design their own infrastructures, tailoring them to their own needs and preferences (4). What is common to local provinces taking such steps to initiate progress is a strong spirit of spontaneity and self-reliance. Many of them are taking upon themselves the responsibility for planning and building their own infrastructures.

Regardless, the e-Japan Strategy lacks the component of designing infrastructures independently, tailored to the individual needs of the community. Although middle-band environments are finally being provided in urban areas where markets can easily be formed, the process of refurbishment will not continue in the future as it has in the past. What we need now is for local provinces to seize the initiative and design their own environments.

Possible applications for IT
[Broadband infrastructures: Undefined applications, uncertain demand]

With the target year of 2005 not far off, we need to begin seriously thinking about how we are going to use the broadband infrastructure that is at last being created, and how we will put IT to use.

Currently, no resolute demand is emerging for the broadband infrastructure being built, and the purpose of IT use has not been clearly defined. There are those who see the building of an infrastructure with no applications in mind and no demand as being meaningless. But the Internet is not a network that was developed with specific applications in mind or optimized specifically to any particular purpose. It was assumed, conversely, that unpredictable applications would be discovered, and it is designed precisely to respond to such demand. With that point in mind, the e-Japan Strategy can be acclaimed for having settled on building the infrastructure before identifying the applications.

[The objective of revitalizing the "fringes" (local provinces)]
What is important in examining the purposes for which IT--with the Internet at its core--would be used, is defining who has the decision-making authority when it comes to the Internet. At first the decision regarding what the Internet would be used for was left to those on the fringes of the network, such as end users, or the people in local provinces. As those on the fringes began to use the network more actively, it evolved into a more useful tool, and the ability of those original users to put IT to work as a means to solve various problems and issues gave rise to new demand and led directly to new technological innovations.

In other words, stimulating the fringes of the network is an important objective of IT application. One way in which IT can be used for people in local provinces is to stimulate activity, to encourage vitality and vigor in the region. Using IT to promote activity in a region means providing an information-based society in these local provinces.

In this sense, the e-Japan Strategy is lacking from the standpoint of stimulating the edges of the network and promoting an information-based society in non-urban areas. That may be one reason why the objective of IT usage has never been clearly defined.

Moving towards a post e-Japan Strategy
[From a focus on "information-based" to "information-based local provinces"

Let's take a look at a "post e-Japan Strategy" as the next stage in the development of a national policy. The e-Japan Strategy is gradually introducing IT into society on a number of fronts, but the features of Internet-centered IT have not yet been brought to the forefront. To address that problem, the post e-Japan Strategy will need to bring out the features of IT to the utmost possible extent, among them autonomy, decentralization, and cooperation.

First, we need to stand at the outer edges of the network (particularly the outer edges in non-municipal locales) and provide the maximum possible support, through IT, for activities being developed autonomously in such locales, and to link those activities to solving the problems and issues facing the people in those locales. These fringe activities, however, are entirely dissimilar for each particular situation, and examining in minute detail the factors inherent to that individual situation will be an important element in the problem-solving process.

Furthermore, our national design based on autonomy, decentralization and cooperation, will need to be tailored to building decentralized local societies, or societies under local government. Decentralization of local communities had its beginnings in the 1970s, and although the Collective Decentralization Law (3) was formulated in 1999, society is still heavily polarized towards Tokyo. Through IT, which supports decentralization (the acquisition of sovereignty) from the bottom up, the long-sought decentralization of local communities will at last become a reality.

In this way, the area spearheaded by the central (national) government will be extremely limited under the post e-Japan Strategy, and the leading role will be played by the edges, or local provinces, with the focus being on stimulating those edges (locales) where development is a must.

[Revitalizing Japan starting from the local provinces]
Currently, Japan is in a process of trial and error with respect to revitalizing its economy. The financial policies and other policies forged to date, however, which target Japan as a whole, have evidenced deplorably little success.

What will actually revitalize Japan (as a whole) is for the local provinces (sections) to regenerate their own resources. Recovery in the local provinces will ultimately lead to the recovery of Japan as a whole. This will serve as the new model for the regeneration of Japan, and the most effective means of achieving that will be to transform the local provinces into information-based societies.

[Looking at the Internet from a different angle]
Arguments are beginning to surface that rather than centralizing everything in the Internet, with its autonomy, decentralization, and cooperative aspects, through the universal VoIP service and through the fusion of broadcasting and communications, we need to utilize other infrastructures tailored to the particular situation involved. One issue that will need to be determined with regard to the post e-Japan Strategy is the social role to be played by the Internet.

The ideal approach to revitalizing local provinces using IT
Up until now, discussion has focused on the national policy of a post e-Japan Strategy. The most crucial question is how activity in the local provinces, which will play a leading role, will actually be developed and expanded. Without exploring this issue, it will be impossible to clearly specify the targets for which the national government is to provide support through the post e-Japan Strategy. With that in mind, major directions in which local provinces need to move were identified with reference to advanced nations.

[Starting with economic autonomy in local provinces]
  -  Numerous local provinces are mired in dire economic straits, and the first priority is to establish a certain degree of economic autonomy in these locales. In order to do that it will be necessary to promote local industry, and at the same time to skillfully utilize IT to create new jobs.
[Promoting IT tailored to the circumstances of the individual province]
  -  Each local province is dealing with circumstances peculiar to that particular region, and each has entirely different local resources available to it. The promotion of industry therefore will demand different approaches for each locale. For instance, in local provinces that are home to clusters of small- and medium-sized manufacturing companies, the promotion of IT will need to be centralized around the manufacturing industry, while cities designated by ordinances, where service industries are developing and expanding, will need IT centered around the contents industry and other areas of business. Moreover, in depopulated areas, the focus will be on creating employment, regardless of the type of industry.
[Human resources are decisive in assuring success]
  -  Looking at local provinces that have made a successful transition to an information-based society, in most cases there were key persons with the necessary technical capabilities around whom the autonomous socio-economic system of the area evolved, and who served as a motive power in setting up the system or at least facilitated the effort.
  -  For instance, there have been cases (6) in local provinces promoting IT in the manufacturing industry in which such key persons became deeply involved in the traditional network of people already in place, and who recomposed the circuits of that network into an IT-centered one, as well as introducing their own IT into the network. Moreover, there are cases (7) in which endowed chairs at universities were used to form ties between the industrial and academic communities, producing results equal to those of TLO. In other cases (8), leaders with a strong sense of the market have promoted the industrialization of IT.
  -  These key persons are the largest asset when it comes to promoting the vitalization of a local province. Cultivating (attracting) such "human assets" in the local community is key to assuring a successful transformation to an information-based society in the local provinces.
[The crucial role of self-governing authorities]
  -  As a result of the e-Japan Strategy, an electronic self-governing body is being built nationwide. Amidst that process, the target of innovation is gradually shifting from the front office to the back office. System development in back offices is providing the force needed to promote drastic Business Process Re-engineering (BPR). The power of IT can be put to work very effectively in areas such as this as well.
  -  Furthermore, we need to focus on information-based administrative systems that promote internal reformation in order to achieve a shift in local provinces to information-based systems. In locales where markets are being formed, in particular if there are no appropriate human resources available, we can look to self-governing bodies to seize the initiative and attract or cultivate such resources as well as to ponder ways to foster industry by utilizing local resources, with the aim of establishing economic autonomy for the region.

Autonomous local provinces racing towards the finish line
These local provinces are configuring setups within the regions that have problem-solving capabilities and are befitting of the term "autonomous", and that are centered around human resources. In these systems, there is no distinction between industrialists and consumers, or providers and users. The systems have been configured to be bidirectional and rotational, so that providers are also users and vice versa.

In addition, local provinces that have achieved such self-reliance will need new powers in order to carry out problem solving to the necessary degree. In order to maintain a self-reliant financial base, in particular, they will have to collect taxes. And in the future they will not only need to collect taxes, but to have the authority to issue currency. Obtaining the authority to issue currency will keep currency from flowing out of the area, and will maintain a high level of circulation within the area itself (9).

In the future, as the national government pulls back from offering support to local provinces, competition will increase at the local level. Rather than provinces on the losing side being winnowed out, however, as happens in market competition, they will still be left in the race, although not moving forward at the same rate as their competitors. The competition will likely be based more on friendly rivalry than on cut-throat battle.

A turnabout in approaches
What local provinces are being called on to do is to make full use of IT to revitalize themselves through their own efforts, and then to direct that revitalized energy back into restoring the vigor of Japan as a whole. Achieving this new model of regeneration for Japan, and building a new domain modeled on autonomy, decentralization and cooperation, will first require a turnabout in the approach taken to date, and that turnabout will take place through discussion and debate concerning the post e-Japan Strategy.

It starts from the fringe edges. And it ends up being all about the fringes.

  1. W. J. Drake (University of Maryland, U.S.), as a general U.S. critic, believes that Japan's information & telecom policies are outdated and need to be brought up to date, and that NTT's position as Japan's dominant carrier should be retained.
  2. Hajime Maruta: "Broadband Policies Bring On a Dark Era for Local Provinces"
  3. Two model cases are: "Awaji's Decision (Kansai Broadband)" and "Refurbishment of Their Own Networks by Self-governing Bodies".
    "Awaji's Decision (Kansai Broadband)": The administrators of Awaji City made a decision to actively cooperate in developing and expanding ADSL service together with Kansai Broadband Corporation, a communications venture business working to develop and expand ADSL services throughout the entire Hyogo Prefecture by combining ASDL with dark fibers.
    "Refurbishment of Their Own Networks by Self-governing Bodies": In an increasing number of cases, information highways based on policies of self-governing bodies establishing their own information-based societies are being created in western Japan and other parts of the country.
  4. "Street Corner Internet Refurbishment": Internet services allowing users to use wireless Internet connections in cities, airports and other locations are on the increase, and shopping centers are providing free wireless Internet connections for those visiting the area, indicating an active increase in environment construction by entities other than businesspersons.
    "Experiment in Area IX": Japan's current Internet is built mainly around networks in Tokyo, with the result that communications in local provinces is proving ineffective in various ways outside of central Tokyo. In order to solve this problem, many local provinces are conducting experiments in which an Area IX is being built where communications can be exchanged within the area itself.
    "Experiment in Kitsapp in the U.S."
  5. "Laws Pertaining to Areas Such as the Establishment of Laws Related to the Promotion of Local Decentralization": Announced in July 1999. Laws pertaining to the decentralization of local provinces were enacted collectively. The change affected around one-third of all laws.
  6. Mr. Shinjyou (http://www.glocom.ac.jp/project/chijo/2002_08/2002_08_30.html)
  7. Mr. Isagai (http://www.glocom.ac.jp/project/regional-inf/)
  8. Coara Corporation (representative: Tooru Ono), a firm engaged in developing and expanding the contents business, mainly in Fukuoka, starts up local ISPs through its "Daibu" section and transmitted information concerning World Cup soccer in its "Daibu" section in June 2002. In August 2002 the firm began publishing the electronic newspaper "Tenjin Espresso", complete with moving images. The company is enthusiastically involved in transmitting regional information using the latest available technology.
  9. The "common currency" in which GLOCOM is conducting research is a currency shared among local provinces with the authority to issue it, and will differ from regional currencies in use up until now in the following ways, among others: it will be issued in designated local provinces as loans for building public infrastructures; it will depreciate at a fixed rate; and it will be a decentralized electronic currency. In particular, the introduction of this currency will not only increase distribution within the region, it will also promote bidirectionality in measures between consumers and industrialists. Currently, research activities in the currency are being conducted by the Local Currency Research Team established within GLOCOM.

(The original Japanese version is available at: http://www.glocom.ac.jp/gforum/position-paper.doc)

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