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Information Highways in ASEAN

Anura Goonasekera and Ang Peng Hwa (1999). Information Highways in ASEAN. Singapore: Asian Media Information and Communication Centre. 444 pages. ISBN 9971-905-77-9 (paperback).

Reviewed by Dr. Ali Parandeh, International Institute for Caspian Studies, Tehran, Iran

The basic communication infrastructure of a country is one of the main determining factors of its current and future development status. The communication infrastructure directly affects all areas including the very basic services such as health and education. The recent attention and investment by some ASEAN countries, such as Indonesia, in such areas has been the main contributing factor in its socio-economic reform, and an inspiration to other developing countries.

This book is the result of a research project on the utilization of modern technologies in ASEAN nations. The research was presented in an international conference in November 1998 and then revised and updated for this book. The book is divided into several chapters, each covering a specific country. The countries reviewed in this book include Brunei, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. The most common factor among them is that they are all developing countries; their main difference lies in GDP, which is directly responsible for the level of health, education, and primary communication facilities. Among them Brunei has the highest GDP due to its oil exports and other natural resources, therefore enabling it to build its infrastructure. On the other hand some other countries, like Malaysia, who do not have the same income from natural resources, have been investing in primary and secondary education in order to create a better future income for the country.

The main part of the book comprises statistical data and laws governing the use and exchange of media in ASEAN countries. The book introduces each country by presenting some fundamental facts and figures on population, GDP, various socio-economical aspects, education and health level and so on. This is followed by a detailed but unofficial translation of laws and regulations regarding the use of various communication devices such as print, radio, television, telephone, satellite receivers, the Internet and more.

Not long ago many countries required you to have permission for having a fax machine. All new communications technologies have the potential to support developmental activities, but at the same time, they pose serious challenges and threats to various existing media policies and exchange regulations in some countries. Most countries in ASEAN argue that they need to protect their culture and religion from the influx of inappropriate material, while others simply oppose the exchange of uncensored news for political reasons. The use of firewalls, proxy censorship, and monitoring of the data exchange are a handful of the methods being used to combat these issues. But how realistic and effective can these policies and regulations be?

Advances in the communication infrastructure can, in theory, broaden and enhance the development of nations. For example, the advent of the Internet has been variously described as being as important for society as the development of the personal computer, the telephone, or even the printing press. It offers a relatively cheap, versatile, and technically efficient service that complements standard telephony. This book subscribes to the view that access to the Internet will allow businesses from developing nations to leapfrog into the development mainstream because Internet commerce enables them to sell their wares and their services directly to customers even in developed countries.

This book explores the current and likely impact of the communication infrastructure on future development of countries. It also canvasses possible improvements and makes suggestions for creating a uniform and acceptable policy for the better use of these new technologies in ASEAN nations.

Not the sort of book you may read on the train or at coffee breaks, this book is instead a reference tool full of interesting facts and figures. Written in 1998 and revised in 1999, the book may not sound the most up-to-date when read in 2001, given that these policies and data change very quickly, particularly in the IT sector. At the same time in the world today the IT infrastructure of nations is an important factor in much decision making. Since this book offers many invaluable insights and also suggestions for the future, it can act as a primary reference source for looking at new business startups in or even simply professional migration to one of these countries in ASEAN.

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