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Business Group Proposes 5 Trillion Yen Initiative

Japan's leading business association, Keidanren, has proposed that the nation implement a 5.45 trillion yen (US$49 billion) package of Internet-related economic stimulus measures.

The five-year plan, which Keidanren (the Japan Federation of Economic Organizations) terms "a national strategy for realizing the often-discussed advanced information society," was submitted by the organization in response to a June request from Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi.

Keidanren's members include over 1,000 of Japan's leading corporations and 120 major industry groups.

"Effective information communication is an indispensable basis for the reinforcement of industrial competitiveness and creation of new industries and new enterprises," said Keidanren.

"It is up to the government to take a leading guidance role to promote computerization in the private sector."

Keidanren's proposed Digital New Deal package encompasses 20 Internet-related measures grouped under three general objectives.

The plan's first objective is to transform Japan's government into "one of the world's most extensively networked governments" by 2003.

To accomplish this, Keidanren has proposed 12 initiatives, with a total price tag of 2.25 trillion yen (US$20.3 billion), to digitize governmental procedures and channels of communication, and lead to "the paperless communication of information between ministries, government offices, and the public, unrestricted by time or location."

Among the proposals are that 730 billion yen (US$6.6 billion) be spent to promote a nationwide "intelligent transport system," 640 billion yen (US$5.8 billion) for the online public disclosure of administrative information, and 80 billion yen (US$721 million) for development of an online procurement system.

The Digital New Deal's second objective targets education.

It aims for achievement of "universal" electronic information literacy and computerization of the public school system, which Keidanren considers vital if Japan is to remain "an internationally competitive economic power in the 21st century."

Keidanren believes that the four initiatives comprising this objective could quadruple the number of Japan's Internet users by 2004, from the current 17 million to 70 million (roughly equivalent to the nation's number of licensed drivers).

A sum of 2.20 billion yen (US$19.8 billion) is recommended for four education-related initiatives, including 540 billion yen (US$4.9 billion) to provide a PC and Internet access for every teacher and 1.3 trillion yen (US$11.7 billion) to develop appropriate educational content and connect every classroom in every school to the Net.

While the Ministry of Education has long talked about getting all the nation's schools connected to the Internet, this is the first time the prospect of connecting "every classroom" has been raised.

The third objective of the Digital New Deal is to create an environment conducive to the sevenfold expansion of electronic commerce, from the present estimated 10 trillion yen (US$90 billion) per year, to 72 trillion yen (US$649 billion) in 2003.

The four initiatives of this objective carry a 990 billion yen (US$8.9 billion) price tag.

Though implementing the Digital New Deal would require a considerable expenditure of public funds, Keidanren believes that the plan's initiatives would lead to significantly greater benefits than just their direct economic impact.

The plan, said Keidanren, would serve to create "a viable infrastructure for Japanese society in the 21st century" and "engender an economic virtuous circle."

In a related move to encourage business growth through rate reductions and the introduction of new services, Keidanren is developing a detailed proposal for a completely new telecommunications law to replace Japan's outdated Telecommunications Business Law, which was enacted in 1985.

Keidanren will finalize its telecom law proposal by next spring.