Spain's Info XXI Plan Gets Skeptical Reception
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[Madrid, January 31] While Spain's government spent late January promoting its ambitious "Info XXI Action Plan," critics called the rehashed, Internet-for-all initiative a smoke screen and a slave to the private sector.
Based on the European Union's e-Europe project, Info XXI includes 332 government initiatives to bring Spain (which tops only Greece and Portugal in EU-member Net access) further into the wired world.
The $4.57 billion plan promises a broad range of initiatives such as bringing broadband Internet access to all schools and small towns; forming new IT workers and helping small and medium businesses ease into the New Economy; making Social Security, health care and all other government services available electronically.
The plan, with completion targeted for 2003, also promotes a digital version of every Spaniard's National Identity Card.
Prime minister Jose Maria Aznar went to the Basque Country last week to personally present the initiative, which will rely on all national government ministries, as well as regional governments and the private sector.
"Info XXI is really nothing new," said the Spanish Internet watchdog Baquia.com "Aznar presented this initiative in Madrid three years ago; there was no continuity, so now it's being taken up again."
While Spain's 17 regional governments would presumably have juridiction over implementation and financing of certain apsects of Plan XXI, agreements have yet to materialize. While Aznar played up the important financing role of the private sector, serious negotiations reportedly have yet to begin.
The Spanish Socialist Workers' Party, Aznar's main opposition, calls the plan unrealistic, given that only 52 percent of the Internet promotion in last year's budget came to fruition.
"This is all a fallacy," parliamentarian Francisca Pleguezuelos told local press, "It's hardly credible when you consider that tacking just one year onto the plan has doubled investments [and that] enforcement of last year's budget was reduced to little more than half."
"This is a plan that can become reality only with the participation of private initiative," said Aznar. "Any other way would be absurd."
The very presentation of the government plan was a corporate endeavor, with 30 companies flipping the bill. According to the business daily Cinco Dias, 30 companies like IBM, Microsoft, Nortel Networks, Philips and Telefonica Moviles each donated sums of up to one million pesetas ($5,500) for the opportunity to exhibit their technology at the event.
The exposition never materialized and the companies were simply listed on event literature as "sponsors" and "collaborators."