On Friday, October 9, the Institute for Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI) organized the discussion - “Internetization and Broadband Development of Georgia”. The discussion was held in the framework of project “Strategic plan Georgia 2020 - Strengthening Public Involvement”.
Representatives of public, private and non-governmental sectors took part in the discussion and analyzed the prospects of Georgia’s internetization, as well as the obstacles of developing e-services in the public sector in Georgia. The speakers of the panel were - Irakli Qashibadze (Chairman of the Georgia’s Innovation and Technology Agency (GITA)); Ana Nakashidze - Director-General of OpenNet; Marika Sulaberidze (Head of the Strategic Development Unit of the Georgian National Communications Commission); Ucha Seturi (Expert in Media and Telecommunications Law, IDFI); Mikheil Gotoshia (Director of Alter Net); Vladimer Svanadze (Founder of the “Internet Development Initiative”); Mikheil Janiashvili (Head of the Information Technologies Department of the Ministry of Health, Labour and Social Affairs of Georgia), Giga Paichadze (Head of the Department of Electronic Governance of the Government of Georgia).
During the first panel, the speakers discussed the process of internetization and broadband development of Georgia. The speakers assessed the current situation, existing problems and opportunities in this regard.
Irakli Kashibadze talked about the mission of GITA and underlined the agency’s role in the process of internetization of Georgia. According to Kashibadze, one of the priorities of the agency is to ensure the access to high-speed internet in the country. In order to enhance the innovative environment in Georgia, the agency caters for the development of techno parks, innovation laboratories in addition to creating legal and normative base, improving access to finance, developing competitiveness and finally, commercializing innovations and technologies.
Kashibadze also highlighted the fact that, in order to achieve internetization of the country, the agency plans not only to develop fiber-optic infrastructure, which will be accessible for all stakeholders, but also to provide access to internet for all settlements, the population of which exceeds 200 permanent residents. In order to promote use of internet and development of computer skills in the regions the strategy includes the creation of third-party access points in more than 2000 settlements. In collaboration with Intel, the agency also plans to provide the youth in the regions with computers at affordable prices.
In terms of developing innovative infrastructure, Kashibadze discussed the creation of the first technopark in Georgia and explained its functions. He also discussed the FabLab established on the premises of Ilia State University and the line of innovative laboratories in the country.
To support the commercialization of innovation and competitiveness, the agency plans to retrain trainers, develop third-party access distance learning and to increase scientific knowledge and competitiveness of private companies. According to Kashibadze, by the year 2020, 40 000 specialists will be trained and numerous startups will be supported.
In terms of access to finance, Kashibadze talked about the programme of small grants, which aims at developing market-oriented technological projects. A grant of 50 000 GEL, which already financed 17 innovative projects, is designed for 150 individuals, nonprofit organizations and institutions for the period of 12 months.
The chairman of GITA also discussed the institutional support of innovative ecosystem and pointed out the importance of strategy “Innovative Georgia 2020” in this regard. During the presentation, Kashibadze touched upon the issue of information society and highlighted the necessity of developing information and telecommunication infrastructure.
The General Director of OpenNet, Ana Nakashidze, talked about the newly created organization and its strategy of developing broadband services.
The nonprofit governmental organization - OpenNet was established by GITA and the Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development of Georgia, in order to ensure the development of broadband infrastructure. According to Nakashidze, the strategic aim of the organization is to transform Georgia into the leader of the region in ICT, through effective use of information technologies and the development of broadband services throughout Georgia. Nakashidze highlighted the fact that OpenNet is not an organization that offers services on the retail market by selling internet with the rest of the operators. On the contrary, it is an organization in serving operators, which will provide its services to small, medium-size and big operators. Hence, OpenNet is not attempting to duplicate the existing infrastructure or compete with the existing operators.
Nakashidze discussed the principles of OpenNet and pointed out that the organization will respect the principle of third-party access and technological impartiality in the process of developing broadband infrastructure. This will render the infrastructure accessible to all parties and stakeholders and will allow potential users to utilise resources in a limitless manner. Developing the broadband infrastructure is planned only in those regions where the infrastructure has not yet been developed and aims to provide the end users with desired services and choice of suppliers.
The representative of the Georgian National Communications Commission, Marika Sulaberidze, talked about the activities promoting the development of electronic communication infrastructure.
The development of wireless broadband services and e-communication infrastructure were named as activities furthering the spread of broadband internet services. According to Sulaberidze, in this regard Directive 2014/61/EU of the European Commission (EU Commission) serves as the principal guiding legal document.
While discussing the challenges related to the development of infrastructure, Sulaberidze pointed out the problems of definition, regulation, permits, registration and protection. As told by Sulaberidze, in order to resolve these issues, the organization refers to Directive 2002/21/EC (as amended by Directive 2009/140/EC) of the EU Commission and the European regulatory model of e-communication.
The regulatory commission attempts to hedge the issue of permits by adopting the European perspective, which implies a single-window system (single system ensuring the issuing of relevant permits in the period of 4 months), dispute-settlement mechanism (the regulatory commission as a dispute-settlement mechanism between infrastructure owners and operators) and the facilitation of a single information base (support of government and private infrastructure undertakings with a single information system). The American model is being considered for problems associated with registration and protection, where energy, water and construction companies established an alliance to ensure coordination of activities, creating a single system of documenting collateral damage and dispute settlement mechanisms.
IDFI’s expert in Media and Telecommunications Law, Ucha Seturi, discussed the process and caveats of internetization and broadband development in Georgia. According to Seturi, the planning of such process in developed countries includes evaluation of existing problems, as well as estimating the long-term and medium-term needs of public and private sectors, while at the same time assessing the capacities and perspectives of the end users and the suppliers.
According to Seturi, the lack of strategy of broadband development deteriorates the trust in the process as a whole. It also creates risks of corruption and anti-competitive practices, renders the monitoring and evaluation of the process practically impossible, promotes duplication and mismanagement of resources. The result is instability of the investment climate and further estrangement of the business and low-income citizens.
The recommendations prepared by the representative of IDFI suggested the creation of a joint commission aimed at devising the long-term strategy and action plan for broadband development in Georgia. According to Seturi, it is equally important to define and designate entities responsible for quarterly progress reports. The commercial sector must be involved in the process of evaluation and reporting, as well as the inspector of the personal data protection and the members of the civil society. Transparency was named as the guiding principle in the process of planning and implementation of the process.
Director of Alter Net, Mikheil Gotoshia, pointed out to the lack of a clear strategy in OpenNet’s project. The issue of tariffs, lack of population in the regions that can afford the services and variation in prices for different operators were also named as the main problems.
At the end of the discussion, the speakers were given the possibility to make final remarks, which were followed by a Q&A session from the audience.
The second part of the discussion addressed the issue of development of state e-services. The first speaker, the founder of the “Internet Development Initiative”, Vladimer Svanadze, discussed the challenges of cyber-security in Georgia.
Banking and financial sectors, stock markets, nuclear plants, supply and cleaning systems, personal information and e-service databases were named among the most vulnerable sectors.
At first, Svanadze talked about the leading actors in the cyberspace and the existing problems. While assessing the challenges, Svanadze presented the legal aspects of Georgia’s cyber security. Among the existing problems, Svanadze emphasized the lack of legal base and international standards, as well as the lack of specialists and public awareness regarding cyber security.
The head of Department of Information Technologies of the Ministry of Labour, Health and Social Affairs - Mikheil Janiashvili talked about the information systems in the ministry and discussed the plans for developing the electronic services of the organization.
Janiashvili introduced two projects implemented by the ministry - E-Health Modules (HMIS) and Electronic Medical Record (EMR). The HMIS system covers the financial side of the healthcare system and facilitates the reporting of different accidents. Through the system, the patient gets a refund for those accidents that are covered under the government programmes. According to Janiashvili, there are nearly 2 million people already registered in the system.
Unlike the HMIS, EMR only covers the medical history of the patient. The program enables the implementation of data exchange standards and the creation of platform for doctors and patients. The project also includes building an application that will assist in making appointments with doctors, as well as pooling information about pharmacies and medication.
According to Janiashvili, the strategy of 2014-2015 includes the synchronization of these two systems, while the EMR system is planned to be implemented by the end of 2015.
The head of the Department of Electronic Governance of the Government of Georgia - Giga Paichadze talked about the functions and future plans of the organization. According to Paichadze, the department is responsible for coordinating the process at the strategic level and formulating future strategies and plans. As Paichadze explained, the department’s strategy will include parts of the strategies from other entities, in particular the strategy on public governance reform and the principles of “Innovative Georgia 2020”.
The head of the Department of Electronic Governance introduced a newly established consultancy council, which consists of IT specialists from 35 different ministries and LEPLs. According to Paichadze, the council is responsible for resolving issues through consensus, facilitating coordination between different entities and monitoring the process of e-governance implementation.
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