Uphill rollout facing Hungary’s digital literacy
From the Budapest Business Journal print edition: Hungary is once more embarking on the seemingly straightforward – but as experience tells us actually rather arduous – quest of eradicating digital illiteracy, while moving public administration to the virtual domain and drastically reducing operating costs in the process.
This isn’t the first time that a Hungarian government has wanted to exploit the benefits of digital technology. Left-wing governments established an entire ministry dedicated to the purpose (the now-defunct Ministry of Informatics and Telecommunication/IHM) and they were also the first to appoint a senior-level official whose exclusive job was to oversee the online switch.
Still, that period will probably best be remembered for “cocoa-proof” computers bought for daycare centers at astronomical prices and various other suspicious contracts that got the authorities involved.
Nonetheless there are positive examples from that time. There is a good chance that your local hospital or doctor’s office already allows you to make appointments online – the fact that you probably have to wait a while anyway is beside the point. You can now basically register a company through filling out an online form, and even the public transport system has a Twitter account to keep passengers up-to-date.
As the years have passed, the state seems to have developed a better understanding of how digital technologies work, how they can genuinely help the operation of state infrastructure and thus is perhaps in a better position to throw money at the project, something that wasn’t always true in the past.
Where there is a will and the funding, building server parks and writing code won’t be an issue. This is all the more true since the government seems to have made up with the telecommunications sector and even Magyar Telekom, the fiercest critic of the Orbán government’s sectoral taxes, has fallen in line, signed a strategic cooperation agreement and pledged to play a major part in the effort.
The biggest problem will be the priority contained within the newly passed infocomuncations strategy, which aims to greatly reduce digital illiteracy. The strategy lays out goals to reduce the adult illiteracy rate to below 40% by 2016, 30% by 2020 and to make regular Internet use reach 65% by 2016. Commendable as this may be, the flipside of those goals is that the lack of computer skills within the Hungarian society is astounding.
Just as with the widespread availability of affordable Internet that seems to have happened practically overnight little more than 10 years ago, hopes lie with the market, as the providers are locked in fierce competition to acquire new frequencies, develop new networks and poach each other’s clients with better services.
The next Angry Birds game running on new smart phones showing off services distributed through fourth-generation networks could also be the conduit to the population finally learning that it doesn’t have to run from office to office and wait in line for hours on end when a formal document is needed.
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