[FORUM]A digital revolution in dangerThe popularization of the Internet came a decade ago. Internet use spread around the world when the American company Netscape began offering its Navigator browser for free. Korea was one of the first to embrace the cyber culture.
Around that time, the Korean portal service Daum Communications and the Internet security provider AhnLab were founded, as was Yahoo! Korea. As Netscape was the stock market’s most solid bet in the mid-’90s, Google is the darling of the market today.
Over the past decade, Korea successfully commercialized a communication system called CDMA and became a world leader in the mobile phone industry. The revolution of Korea’s manufacturing sector beyond the brick-and-mortar industries of automobiles, steel and textiles originated with cellular phones.
The development of Korea’s online service sector has been even more amazing. While Internet portal sites were in the international spotlight, online trading and commerce, in everything from stocks to commodities, grew exponentially.
You are now considered ancient if you don’t know that you can buy “acorns” with real money, and use them to buy virtual products. If you are not a Cyworld member who has a network of friends through your mini homepage, or a blogger publicizing your lifestyle and philosophy online, you might feel frustrated and outdated.
Some sociologists call this moment the age of parallel reality. You can use the camera built into your cellphone to take a picture of the fireworks in Yeouido, and instantly share the pleasure of watching it with your friend in Busan. The anti-Japanese movement in China can be understood in the same context.
Over the past decade or so, more than three billion people worldwide have entered the free market economy. China, India and the countries of the former Soviet Union have joined the free world.
Five years ago, the so-called “Y2K” fear swept the entire globe, and the enormous investment made to prevent the catastrophe made India a new IT power. The Indian technicians that served as the troubleshooters took the technology and human resources network with them to India when they returned to their home country.
By riding the grand flow of the technology revolution, Korea became a first-class IT nation. It is hard to find another country that enjoys such overall diverse exposure to IT services, from the countless television channels provided by cable networks, satellite broadcasting and digital multimedia broadcasting to the high-speed ADSL, wireless broadband service and cable network.
Last year, the Korean government came up with the IT839 plan to use Korea’s technological potential as a driving force for future economic growth. The IT839 plan encompasses eight high-tech service fields, three infrastructure sectors and nine areas of technological development.
Based on the accomplishments in these fields, the government advocated building a “ubiquitous computing society” this year. But big trouble looms. The results of IT839, which the president has openly praised, have been meager, and there is no sign of anything bigger coming.
How many new jobs has IT839 created in the past year? Has it contributed to balanced regional development? Has it helped small businesses and venture start-ups? Has it nurtured information and communications parts industries? How about content providers? The two communication industry giants, Korea Telecom and SK Telecom, have to be the leaders, but they, too, seem to have no clear solution. Instead, they have been paying fines for years for excessive competition.
What’s the post-IT839 solution? The communications market is yearning for a breakthrough. The overall industry is stagnant. Some sectors are completely saturated, while other fields are restricted by regulations. The export environment is rapidly worsening.
There is only one way to revive information technology: an immediate merger of the communications and broadcasting industries.
It’s about time that broadcasting contributed to economic growth. When these two industries are brought together, we will experience explosive growth beyond our imagination. Our communications network is already a three-layered, eight-lane highway, but the cars are restricted to one lane. A political move is urgently needed.
* The writer is the deputy director of the JoongAng Ilbo Economic Research Institute.
by Kwak Jae-won