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David Gross Op-Ed on Palestinian ICT Sector

Op-Ed on Palestinian ICT Sector

Ambassador David Gross, U.S. Coordinator for International Communication and Information Policy

Washington, DC
September 17, 2005

Last week I visited Ramallah and it was obvious something exciting is happening. Large numbers of information and communication technology entrepreneurs are laying the foundations for the Palestinian future. This week, they are gathering at the second annual ExpoTech exhibition to share their successes and make plans for the year ahead. These entrepreneurs are helping to build an industry that has the potential to create many well-paying jobs drawing on the Palestinian people's great reservoir of education, talent and innovation.

Information and communications technologies (ICTs) -- the Internet, mobile phones and mass media -- are changing the lives of the Palestinian people as they are across the Middle East and all over the world. In the last few years, use of these technologies has mushroomed in the West Bank and Gaza; access to the Internet has grown exponentially; and connectivity via cellular and fixed phone connections has registered enormous increases.

Information and communications technologies strengthen democracy. They facilitate a vast flow of ideas in the Middle East and open new avenues for ordinary citizens to participate in the political process. ICTs make delivery of essential services, including education and health care, more efficient and less expensive. In fact, several U.S. companies already actively participate in the Palestinian Educational Initiative, a public-private partnership to provide computer hardware, software and know-how to Palestinian schools.

One of the greatest economic challenges for the Palestinian people in coming years is the creation of a sufficient number of jobs to fulfill the demands of a rapidly expanding workforce. ICTs can play a large role. The Palestinian people are among the most educated in the Middle East, with strong business and personal connections throughout the region and a long entrepreneurial tradition. The ICT sector is a perfect platform to utilize these advantages as demonstrated by the case of India. India is a nation similarly rich in human capital and in the last several years it has built a thriving, outward-looking information technology industry, creating thousands of well-paying jobs and constantly producing new, innovative spinoffs. The Palestine Information and Communications Technology Incubator (PICTI) hopes to do the same job creation by nurturing entrepreneurship and nascent business ventures in the Palestinian community.

The United States is committed to helping Palestinians build an environment where growth and innovation can flourish and is working closely with the Palestinian Authority and local entrepreneurs as they seek to create jobs and new opportunities in the digital world. As the entrepreneurs gathering in Ramallah demonstrate, the Palestinian people are already planting the seeds for expansion of the ICT sector. The fruits of their labor should encourage economic growth. The positive impact of these activities will be enhanced by Palestinian access to U.S. markets since ICT goods already enjoy duty-free access.

The U.S. is encouraged by the efforts of Telecommunications and Information Technology Minister Dr. Sabri Saidan and the Palestinian Information Technology Association of Companies to help develop a healthy, export-oriented ICT sector in the West Bank and Gaza. The U.S. Government has lent considerable support to this effort through such exciting initiatives as the Palestine Information and Communications Technology Incubator, mentioned above. It is clear that the Palestinian private sector has become a true partner with the Palestinian Authority as they work together to build a digital future.

During my visit last week, Minister Saidam outlined an ambitious list of initiatives and stressed that the most important measures the Palestinian Authority can take regarding ICT is establishing ground rules for an open, competitive environment where investment and innovation can flourish. Key to this effort is the pending legislation to establish an effective and accountable regulatory body that ensures the rule of law is respected. The U.S. Government offered Minister Saidam concrete assistance to build capacity in areas of regulation and market liberalization by offering an extensive training program in the United States for 20 new regulators and a number of ICT stakeholders in the West Bank and Gaza.

The United States stands with the Palestinian people as they look to the future. We are convinced that information and communications technologies are a fundamental element in making that future bright and productive. Many tough decisions lie ahead as durable, sustainable institutions are built to enable these technologies, create new jobs and spur economic growth. The initiative and ingenuity of the Palestinian people and enlightened leadership from the Palestinian Authority will be essential in building the foundations for future success. The United States is committed to helping the Palestinian people take advantage of this opportunity.

Released on October 11, 2005

ENDS


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