NORDUnet 97

Opening address
at the 16th Nordunet Conference
Reykjavík, 29th June 1997.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I congratulate Nordunet on holding its 16th Conference here in Reykjavík and it is a special pleasure to welcome so many foreign participants.

In only few years, the use of information technology in Iceland has grown at a truly astounding rate. We have progressed beyond the stage of curiosity and suspicion, to the stage of general acceptance of the new technology.

A prominent feature of this development has been the initiative shown by enthusiastic and foresighted individuals. They blazed the trail, for example, with the establishment of the Icelandic Educational Network, a successful project initiated by pioneers. At present, there are few nations better equipped than Icelanders in this respect. For us, the discussion in other countries concerning attempts to introduce an educational network from the top downwards, so to speak, is indeed somewhat strange. It has even been suggested that the initial passive attitude of the educational authorities in Iceland served to create the necessary space for effective action by private parties.

The Government of Iceland formulated last year its policy concerning the evolution of the information society. In this policy the principal emphasis is placed on the following points:

Iceland shall be in the forefront of the world´s nations in the utilisation of information technology to improve the standard of living and increase prosperity.

To follow up on this chief aim, five main objectives have been set out:

Icelanders shall have easy access to information technology. It is to be utilised to strengthen democracy and increase the quality of life for the benefit of the public and the Icelandic economy.

Complete equality shall be ensured between the public and private sectors in the field of information technology and the information industry.

Information and telecommunications technologies shall be mobilised to improve the competitiveness of the Icelandic economy, increase productivity and proliferate the possibilities of exporting Icelandic inventive skills.

The educational system shall adapt to changed social dynamics and focus general education and lifelong learning upon the benefits of the information society while, at the same time, keeping watch over the Icelandic language and culture.

Legislation, rules and working methods shall be re-examined with respect to information technology to stimulate technological progress and to protect the rights of individuals and companies.

While the Prime Minister is responsible for implementing this policy as a whole, individual Ministries have formulated policies for their respective fields, including my Ministry, for the areas of education and culture.

For my part, I am pleased to say that, during my term as Minister, I have personally made extensive use of the Internet, both for communication and for information purposes with my own website.

In spite of our progress there are still many issues concerning the new technology with which we have to deal. We must continue to make every effort to ensure that we avoid creating an unassailable barrier between those adopting the new technology and others for whom it remains a mystery. The gathering of information must not be allowed to infringe on the rights of the individual to privacy. The rights of authors to their works must be ensured. We must resist attempts by parties who want to abuse technology for their own financial gain, or to publicise their baser instincts.

These concerns are to be taken seriously, but still I have no doubt that the advantages of the Internet far outweigh the disadvantages. We must make the most of these advantages and maintain the very freedom which makes cyberspace so exciting.

The opportunities offered by the net have no limits. We can really speak of an explosion in its use. The number of linked individuals and enterprises throughout the world grows so fast that counting them serves hardly any purpose. Today, what was once only an unprofitable development work in the area of information technology has turned into flourishing businesses.

One of these projects which has proved a great success is Nordunet. The activities of Nordunet have been a major factor in placing the Nordic countries in their leading position in the exploitation of the Internet, and deserves our high appreciation. The University of Iceland played a crucial role in establishing this connection on our behalf. Let me also mention that for us Icelanders Nordunet is yet one more example of the highly positive results accruing from active participation in Nordic co-operation.

Iceland's connection to Nordunet is through INTIS, which is jointly owned by a number of public and private concerns. Private parties own almost one-half of the share capital, with the remainder owned by the State and State institutions. Another Icelandic state-owned enterprise has been playing an important role in providing service to those enjoying the new technology, both domestically and internationally. This company, Post and Telecom Ltd., still has a monopoly on providing telephone services in Iceland. With regard to the rapid expansion of the Internet services, one is bound to question to what extent the State and state schools should be involved in the operations of enterprises such as INTIS or others connected with the Internet. Icelandic schools have been and will continue to be major users of telecommunications services and it is thus important for them as others that prices are low, the service is high quality and bandwidth sufficient. To offer this we should also rely on private enterprises and give them the opportunity to flourish.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I find it very fitting that Nordunet 97 is held here in Iceland, where information technology is thriving as never before. Here as in all of the Nordic countries, we can be proud of our success. We must, however, keep in mind that technology, or technical equipment, can never be an end in itself. Any technology is only a means which we can utilise to prepare an even brighter future and clear the path to the 21st century.