Clear Road Ahead on Information Expressway

Plans to turn Shanghai into an information port--a digital city where virtually every service, transaction and communication can be accomplished over the Internet--are solidly on course, say key officials involved in the project.

Shanghai Information Investment Inc, set up three years ago to pilot major phases of Info Port, has invested more than 1 billion yuan (US$120 million) so far. Last month, it raised another US$120 million that will be channeled into the project, the city's No. 1 priority.

Success is important not only for the city, but for the nation as well.

Shanghai, in fact, has been designated China's test city for Info Port status. Though policy at the local level is being set by the Municipal Office for Information Industry Development, China's State Council has a hand in establishing overall direction.

Info Port's first main task was to build a communications infrastructure, replacing the old analog telephone lines with fiber-optic cable, the equivalent of transforming a country road into a multilane superhighway.

After three years of construction, a basic backbone network is in place, linking together Shanghai's main telecommunications and Internet centers. Now the task is to connect Shanghai's homes and businesses with this broadband system.

After constructing all the "roads" and "highways," the government next will ensure adequate "vehicles" for the delivery of information and services. These "cars" and "trucks" will be websites and state databases.

The "service stations" that keep the systems running smoothly will be government-established certification authorities to verify the identity of people engaged in e-commerce and other online transactions.

The "streetlights" will be data control centers standing at informational crossroads to route data and other communications to their destinations.

"Our task now is to focus on finishing the Info Port projects," said Lin Li, director of the president's office at Shanghai Information. "Furthermore, we need to work harder on developing people's need for our infrastructure.

"And to generate profit, we must develop more content that runs on the broadband network, such as multi-media programs," said Lin.

Shanghai Information was set up to handle many of the main Info Port projects and to channel funding to subcontracting companies.

Beginning with registered capital of 300 million yuan, Shanghai Information has invested in 11 enterprises.

One of the investment entity's other main tasks is to raise additional funds, which it has done through bank loans and other means. Last month, for instance, it sold 20 percent of its shares for US$120 million to the city-owned Shanghai Industrial Holdings Ltd.

Among the companies receiving investment funds, Shanghai Information Network Co., Ltd., which is jointly owned by Shanghai Telecom, now is responsible for the construction, operation and management of the broadband network in the city.

Shanghai Information also teamed up with Shanghai Cable TV Station and Oriental Pearl Co., Ltd. to set up Shanghai Cable Network Co., Ltd., which is reconstructing the city's cable TV network to provide two-way high-speed data transmission. Part of its efforts involves an experiment in providing Internet service over the cable TV network. Shanghai is China's only city granted by State Council authority to carry out such an experiment.

Shanghai Information also is building a super-computer center, a broadband information exchange center and a cable-laying operation, Lin said.

(Shanghai Daily)

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