US embassy cable - 02AMMAN6060

A VIRTUAL SUCCESS: JORDAN'S ICT FORUM

Identifier: 02AMMAN6060
Wikileaks: View 02AMMAN6060 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Amman
Created: 2002-10-20 08:40:00
Classification: UNCLASSIFIED
Tags: ECPS BEXP EINV JO
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 AMMAN 006060 
 
SIPDIS 
 
DEPT PASS FOR ANE/MEA KIM FINAN 
USDOC FOR 4520/ITA/MAC/ONE/PAUL THANOS 
USDOC FOR 6400/ITA/TD/OEC/KFERGUSON 
TREASURY FOR PIPATANAGUL 
TDA FOR SIGLER 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: ECPS, BEXP, EINV, JO 
SUBJECT: A VIRTUAL SUCCESS: JORDAN'S ICT FORUM 
 
REF: Amman 4595 
 
1.   (U) SUMMARY: Jordan's second ICT Forum was held Sept. 30-Oct. 
1 in Amman.  Featuring addresses by King Abdullah, Intel CEO Craig 
Barrett, John Gage, Chief Researcher and Director of the Science 
Office for Sun Microsystems, and AOL Strategic Advisor George 
Vradenburg, the event attracted more than 1200 participants from 
the Middle East, Europe, the Far East, and the U.S.  The event, 
funded through USAID's AMIR program, highlighted the strengths and 
potential of Jordan's ICT industry.  A presentation by IT 
consultant firm McConnell International gave a candid assessment 
of the sector's challenges in Jordan, and a progress report on 
Jordan's national IT strategy, REACH, provided an update on the 
Jordanian IT sector.  End Summary 
 
--------------------------------------------- -- 
Where Can I Get More of These Virtual Ministers 
--------------------------------------------- -- 
 
2.  (U) As a successor to the premiere forum held in March 2000, 
the ICT Forum opened September 30.  With most of the Cabinet, 
including PM Ali Abul Ragheb, flanking the King, the Forum's 
energetic setting--featuring rock music, high-tech special 
effects, and polished presenter BusinessWeek's Scott Shuster-- 
succeeded in grabbing the participants' attention at the outset. 
In addition to the keynote speakers, the two-day agenda included 
workshops in e-government, industry development and capital and 
finance in Jordan, and the unveiling of the "REACH 3.0" report. 
The event was hosted and organized by the Ministry of Information 
Communications and Technology (MOICT) and the Information 
Technology Association of Jordan (INT@J). 
 
3.  (U) Minister of ICT Fawwaz Zu'bi launched the opening session 
in the form of a "virtual minister", a computer-generated 
depiction of Zu'bi, using technology created by Rubicon, an up and 
coming Jordanian IT firm.  The real Zu'bi, a progressive minister 
well-known to the Embassy, frankly acknowledged Jordan's IT 
challenges while emphasizing the sector's strengths.  He said that 
further progress is needed in developing e-commerce, e-security, 
and continued IT training in the Kingdom.  He said that if Jordan 
has a niche, it must be in the field of education, given its rich 
human capital.  He stressed that the government was concentrating 
on education, and to that end was moving forward by leaps and 
bounds, having increased the number of schools connected to the 
Internet (the result of the government's "Connecting Jordanians" 
initiative) from 40 in June to over 400 in September.  Zu'bi 
closed by saying that Jordan "must take the tide" now, to further 
build on its strengths and become the regional IT leader it is 
capable of being. 
 
4.  (U) INTEL CEO Barrett's high-tech presentation focused on the 
future of IT and a balanced appraisal of IT in Jordan.  He said 
that Jordan has "moved aggressively" in educational policy, 
infrastructure capability, and the use of IT by the government 
itself, all preconditions for Jordan to "unlock its IT power." 
Barrett pointed out that students below the age of 15 represented 
one-third of Jordan's population, presenting Jordan with the 
perfect opportunity to work now to develop the human capital vital 
to the knowledge-based, tech-driven that will bring Jordan to the 
cutting edge in ten years.  At the same time the government needed 
to do more to foster entrepreneurship, and remove residual tax, 
tariff, and intellectual property rights barriers that continue to 
hinder the growth of IT in Jordan. 
 
5.  (U) After asking Zu'bi where he could find "more of these 
virtual ministers", King Abdullah urged the private and public 
sectors to "get their acts together" to continue to develop 
Jordan's IT sector, upon which, he said, the country was placing 
high hopes.  The King dismissed the idea of a brain drain, saying 
that IT-savvy Jordanians throughout the world had formed a 
Jordanian network that amounted to a "brain gain".  Still, he 
said, it was important to keep the best and brightest in the 
Kingdom in order to continue Jordan's impressive momentum in IT. 
The King urged all in attendance "to think outside the box" and 
said that he needed to hear from anyone who had ideas on what may 
be required to help Jordan's IT industry continue to grow. 
 
----------------------------------------- 
AN ACTIVE CHILD UNDERGOING A GROWTH SPURT 
----------------------------------------- 
 
6.  (U) The Forum's most-awaited presentation may have been that 
of Rosslyn Doktor of McConnell International (MI), billed as an 
objective assessment of ICT in Jordan.  Doktor opened her remarks 
by comparing the sector to "an active child undergoing a growth 
spurt".  She said that Jordan's "could be among the successful 
economies looking at ICT as a ticket to economic prosperity", but 
the country's current e-readiness position was "average". 
 
7.  (U) In presenting the final report, Doktor stressed strategic 
actions, such as the demonstrated resolve of the King to make 
Jordan e-ready, the success of active public/private initiatives, 
the country's commitment to further develop its young, well- 
educated population, and some achievements in regulatory and legal 
reform, in which Jordan had made some progress.  However, she 
added, "the glass is half full".  Describing five attributes, 
connectivity, e-leadership, information security, human capital, 
and the e-business climate MI used to measure Jordan's e- 
readiness, Jordan was "exactly in the middle" when compared to 18 
developed and developing countries that had various commonalities 
with Jordan. 
 
8.  (U) In terms of connectivity, Jordan was ranked low to medium. 
Doktor said the immediate challenges were a monopoly telecom 
provider in place until 2005, low internet user penetration, and 
the absence of a strong regulator.  E-leadership is one of 
Jordan's strong suits, judged medium-high by MI, given the King's 
"tireless" support, the coordinating role of the MOICT in e- 
policy, and the recognition of the importance of e-government by 
nearly all government agencies.  The report assigned low to medium 
marks to the Kingdom for e-security due to a lack of a public e- 
security infrastructure and encryption policies, and an inadequate 
government and private sector approach to the monitoring and 
protection of information security.  The human capital attribute 
was graded medium, with a need for increased network access 
throughout primary and secondary schools, expansion of e-learning 
initiatives for the currently employed and unemployed, and more R 
& D.  Finally, Jordan was given low marks for e-commerce, with a 
low adoption rate by IT on the part of the private sector, too few 
programs that address the needs of small and medium enterprises, 
and a lack of electronic payment facilities. 
 
 
 
------------------------------------ 
JORDAN IS GOING TO HAPPEN, BUT . . . 
------------------------------------ 
 
9.  (U) At a gala Forum dinner by the Dead Sea, AOL-Time Warner's 
George Vradenburg said that Jordan was on the right track.  He 
opined that, with educational reforms, a greater emphasis on e- 
commerce, and more legislation on e-security, "Jordan is going to 
happen; it's just a matter of time".   But, he cautioned, a 
conflict in Iraq could disrupt Jordan's progress, with economic 
dislocation, an influx of refugees, and a negative impact on 
infrastructure all possible outcomes.  Nonetheless, he urged his 
audience "to be prepared to ride out the short-term instability" 
with an eye toward "becoming the regional IT leader in a post- 
Saddam Middle East. 
 
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REACH 3 
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10.  (U) The updated "REACH 3.0" strategy for developing IT in 
Jordan emphasized the country's commitment to its strategic IT 
vision, despite market corrections and regional instability that 
have affected regional trade and foreign investment.  (Note: The 
REACH national strategy for IT was initiated in 1999 by a core 
group representing Jordan's IT sector, with the assistance of 
USAID and other international consultants, in response to the 
King's challenge to prioritize and program Jordan's IT 
development.  The original targets set by REACH 1.0 call for the 
creation of 20,000 IT and 10,000 IT-related jobs, $550 million in 
annual exports, and $150 million in foreign direct investment in 
the sector, all by 2004.  End note) 
 
11.  (U) Ra'ed Bilbessi, CEO of INT@J, the local IT business 
association, presented the REACH 3.0 report to the Forum, and said 
that, while progress had been made, much more work remained.  Out 
of the 52 strategic actions that came out of REACH 1.0, eight had 
been completed, five were ongoing, 30 were partially completed, 
and only nine were pending, that is, no action had yet been taken. 
Regarding the REACH 1.0 targets, Bilbeesi noted that 5000 IT jobs 
had been created in Jordan as of 2001, with IT companies 
generating $27 million in exports, and FDI amounted to $60 
million. 
 
12.  (U) Bilbessi stressed that the development of human capital, 
Jordan's richest asset, continues to be the priority for the IT 
sector.  He noted the Connecting Jordanians Initiative, the 
national campaign introduced by the MOICT to "incorporate ICT into 
the daily lives of all Jordanians", improving and ensuring 
Internet access throughout the Kingdom.  With United Nations 
Development Program (UNDP) assistance, the Ministry of Education 
was investing $67 million in training 6000 teachers in basic 
computer literacy.  Roger Guichard, USAID-funded Advisor of Policy 
and Strategy for the MOICT, pointed out that putting more 
disposable income in the hands of Jordanians would increase 
Internet penetration rates, currently at 1.3% of the population. 
To that end, he said, REACH 3.0 called for a telecom price 
benchmark and Internet study, a national campaign to raise 
awareness of the Internet's benefits, and the expansion of 
Jordan's IT Community Centers, currently numbering 20 across the 
country.  USAID is beginning a study, through the AMIR Program, to 
ascertain the best means for the centers to achieve long-term 
sustainability. 
 
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DEALS ANNOUNCED 
--------------- 
 
13.  (U) At the Forum, Jordanian paging services company Mirsal 
announced an agreement to operate a digital public trunked radio 
network based on Motorola's IDEN technology, which allows "push to 
talk" radio access, primarily for police and other emergency 
service applications.  The $47 million investment will create over 
200 jobs in Jordan, with completion of the network expected by the 
end of 2003.  In addition, wireless communications company 
Qualcomm announced plans to locate its regional CDMA (Code 
Division Multiple Access) business development center in Amman. 
 
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COMMENT 
------- 
 
14  (U) Following the King's admonition at the Forum's close that 
Jordan's IT industry "has the opportunity to set the standards and 
show the way to build a better region for all," most of the 
attendees waxed enthusiastic about the content and presentation of 
the event, but agreed that while Jordan was on the way to becoming 
a regional IT player, it had some work to do to get there.  If 
anything, some participants told us, the challenges were even 
greater, given Jordan's creaky IT infrastructure, lack of adequate 
IT training throughout the educational system, and the high cost 
of connecting Jordanians nationwide.  Still, the Forum showcased 
well the King and the Government of Jordan's commitment to pursue 
regional leadership in ICT through educational reform, a more open 
IT market, and a commitment to ensure IT access to all Jordanians. 
GNEHM 

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