National information infrastructure

NII as a productivity tool for government and industry

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NII as a productivity tool for government and industry

One possible role for the NII is as a tool for increasing productivity in government and industry. For the post-“bubble” industries, economists and other analysts have pointed to poor productivity of Japan’s white collar work force (compared to other industrialized nations) as one of the problems that needs to be addressed to aid in economic recovery (Yamakoshi, 1995). Greater use of information technologies, such as PCs, E-mail and groupware are among the technological fixes that have been proposed to increase such productivity.

Government information systems have also lagged those of other leading industrial powers. Murakami (1993) argues that the Japanese bureaucrats have computerized each ministry separately, rather than coordinating and integrating work between ministries. He proposed an inter-ministerial network based on a system of common document interchange formats that would also be connected to local governments and private users. Such a system could be expected to reduce and rationalize administrative tasks, reduce the use of paper (and thus office space), improve information sharing between various levels of government, and improve decision-making. Also, by computerizing this information, the government’s information could be more readily accessible as an information asset for all of Japanese society.

NII Plans and Initiatives

Japan’s bureaucratic elites, particularly at MITI, have been credited with engineering the post-war economic miracle that turned Japan into a manufacturing powerhouse and the world’s second largest economy. However, the 1990s found MITI a victim of its own success: Japan’s manufacturers no longer needed MITI’s protection and increasingly ignored its guidance, while few of the later technology development projects (e.g., Sigma, Fifth Generation Computing Systems Project) had produced any commercially successful technologies.

So it is not surprising that MITI was ready to jump at an opportunity such as the NII, which promises to remake Japan’s industrial structure. But NII is largely a telecommunications issue, and as such falls within the purview of the previously second-tier MPT. MPT sees the NII as an opportunity to further expand its influence and achieve the status of an economic pilot agency, comparable to the Ministry of Finance (MOF) and MITI.

The jockeying for influence was not limited to MITI and MPT. The NII is seen by many in the bureaucracy as an opportunity to expand their influence and create a new, attractive mission for their ministry or agency. This creates bureaucratic rivalries that have slowed the development of a coherent NII strategy, manifested by various competing ministerial plans. Participants in NII conferences are treated to a parade of representatives from Japanese ministries, always including MITI and MPT but often featuring the Science and Technology Agency and other groups. Each speaker presents a “Vision of a Multimedia Society” that differs more in who is presenting it in than in the details of how the vision would be implemented.


Like other national ministries, MPT develops its policies with the help of various permanent and ad hoc advisory groups known as shingikai, which consist largely of business and academic leaders. Such groups examine ministerial proposals and develop plans that reflect the desires of the constituencies represented on the panel, and also that will be supported by those constituencies once their report is released (Fukunga, 1995).

So the influential Telecommunications Council (1994a) report in May 1994 came from a 21-member panel that included the chairman of both Hitachi and Nikkei (Japan’s leading financial publisher), as well as four professors and a vice president of Rengo, the leading labor union; its communications policy committee was headed by the chairman of Daiwa Bank’s affiliated research institute. The origins of the report, its distribution48, and its content all contributed to it being the most often quoted of the competing “visions” developed at this time.

The report emphasizes Japan’s economic challenges for the 21st century, and argues that information communications (joho tsushin) can both facilitate the nation’s decentralization and help develop Japan’s creativity. The later goal would be obtained through the informatization of education, medical care and government services, achieved through development of application databases and applications.

The two-most often quoted figures from the report are the aforementioned estimated annual size of multimedia-related markets (¥123 trillion) and the new jobs created (2.43 million). Less often quoted are the estimated implementation cost, which ranges from ¥33 to ¥53 trillion, plus ¥42 trillion for underground wiring.

The fiber-optic network would be rolled out in three five year phases culminating in 2010. The first phase would emphasize the center city of prefectural capitals, the second including all cities with a population of at least 100,000, and the final phase extending to cover 100% of the nation. The first phase would also connect schools, hospital libraries and other public institutions, with the development of public applications. Since such application development is essential to take advantage of the hardware infrastructure, the MPT vision argues that the public sector must lead the development and trial deployment of such applications so that they can be put to practical use by the year 2000.

The report recommends interest-free loans and tax incentives to fund private development of the fiber optic network. Local governments should also encourage the undergrounding of the cables, as well as facilitate right-of-way for both underground and above-ground lines49. To implement the necessary services, regulatory reforms should encourage the expected convergence of broadcasting and telecommunications, while considering a fiber optic version of universal service.

Finally, the report anticipates the development of systems and standards as the basis for the Japanese NII, arguing for new standards from Japanese trade associations as well as cooperation on international networks with the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).

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