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July 2006
Guest contributors

Open source helps narrow the digital divide
France Telecom’s new generation of services are based on Open Source
Interview with Luis Millán Vázquez de Miguel, Extremadura Regional Government, Spain Interview with Frédéric Taieb,
France Télécom
Open source helps narrow the digital divide
Interview with Luis Millán Vázquez de Miguel
Minister for Infrastructures and Technological Development, Extremadura Regional Government, Spain
Extremadura has taken advantage of European Union Cohesion Funds to implement a number of projects covering educational, social and business issues. Designed to help ensure the region plays a full part in the new technology and knowledge revolution, these projects are advancing the region’s development – and promoting equality and freedom – thanks to the choice of open source, as well as ensuring that Extremadura can confidently cope with whatever changes this new revolution may bring about in the years to come. Bull, as a preferred partner, is helping Extremadura to develop and deploy its IT infrastructure.

Why did your regional government decide to make a significant investment in IT?
We were convinced that New Information and Communication Technologies (NICT) would give the world a different way of doing things, and our region had to be part of this journey to the future right from the beginning with an unshakeable belief that we should not leave anyone out. Conceived in the early half of the 1990s, and launched in 1999, our strategic project to access the information society covered the fields of education, health, the public sector and the creation of new technology-based companies. The region started by equipping itself with a powerful communications infrastructure. Our Regional Intranet is capable of interconnecting over 1,400 points spread throughout the 338 towns and villages. It was the first such Intranet in Europe, covering all public services throughout the region (notably schools, health centers, hospitals, administration offices and job centers).

Why did you opt for Open Source?
Our government had discovered the value of open source software when it built its Educational Technology Network. It was initially a question of savings but it very soon became much more an issue of freedom and equality of opportunity. The success of the project depended to a great extent on the software that was going to be used. Open Source guarantees complete control and universal access to technology for all citizens. It was essential that the software was available freely for all citizens, as well as for SMEs and the regional government itself. This is what prompted the creation of GNU/LinEx: legally available to be copied and used for free, it helps overcome economic barriers such as the high cost of software licenses. This is already benefiting companies who were quick to see new business opportunities in open source software. For the local authority, the independence and cost savings are also significant. GNU/LinEX creates the space for everyone to be creative and helps Extremadura narrow the digital divide, investing in projects where benefits can be shared by everyone.

How did you implement your various projects?
The first step was to deploy an Educational Technology Network to provide one computer for every two pupils in secondary schools. In parallel, the Techno-literacy Plan was designed to educate the population (the elderly, young people, women, professionals, students, etc.) through 33 New Centers of Knowledge regardless of where they live, with a focus on latecomers to the IT world. Since 1999, 80% of the citizens have been trained either on site or online, fostering social and cultural integration. There are also significant educational rewards from pupils using the open source software over the Internet and sharing a great collaborative spirit and knowledge.

And for businesses?
We have set up Vivernet, which acts as a business incubator for the new digital era. Vivernet was designed to facilitate the development of new businesses within the Information Society by making available the necessary resources for young entrepreneurs to put their ideas into practice. It is also a tool to accelerate the technological conversion of traditional SMEs, by highlighting the new business opportunities that NICT offers. Vivernet was created in mid 2000 and since then, we have been contributing to the development of IT companies, providing them with support services and encouraging them to co-operate with us. Vivernet has won two international awards and helped over 50 companies.

What is the next step?
International cooperation. We have already signed agreements with international research institutions, associations and local, regional and national governments, in countries as diverse as Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, India, Malaysia, Peru and Uruguay, who are interested in sharing our experience and using GNU/LinEx to propel themselves, their citizens and businesses into the new paradigm.


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