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Development of the Information Society in Lithuania

Gediminas Kirkilas, prime minister, Republic of Lithuania

The importance of developing the Knowledge Society is emphasised in Lithuanias strategic documents.  It is the first of three priorities for Lithuania, along with ensuring security in society and competitiveness in the national economy.  This is all part of the governments long-term development strategy.  The development of the Information and Knowledge Society is identified as a priority in the government programme for 2006-2008.  It is noted that a key problem is the slow progress of national research and development in terms of pursuing the objectives of the Lisbon Strategy.

Innovations are particularly important in the knowledge economy.  In the Information Society, this primarily depends on the creation of proper conditions - a good infrastructure, as well as peoples ability to use state-of-the-art information technologies.  Information related to Internet access and computer literacy make it possible to draw conclusions about the ability of local residents and businesses to use new and unique possibilities in improving their welfare.

Lithuanias government has defined objectives related to the participation of all of the countrys residents in the Knowledge Society.  In recent years, there has been rapid growth in computer and Internet use in Lithuania.  The number of users rose rapidly in 2005 and early 2006.  In Q1 2006, 37% of households had a PC, and 32% used the Internet at home.  It is also true that 42% of people aged 16 to 74 used the Internet during this period, as opposed to 34% in the first quarter of 2005.  an important step in encouraging people to buy information technologies and to use the Internet was a new law on Lithuanias personal income tax in 2004.  People can deduct from their taxes the cost of one computer with software and/or one purchase of Internet access, and this is possible once in three years.  Recently this law was extended to 2009, because its positive impact became clear.  Furthermore, Lithuania has 700 public Internet access facilities at which free Internet use is possible.  Another 400 centres of this kind are to be established in the near future.

It must be noted that government investments in the Information and Knowledge Society have been increasing gradually, from LTL 80.5 million in 2001 to LTL 137.5 million in 2005.  EU funding for relevant projects amounted to LTL 63.7 million in 2005.  This year the government has planned Information Society developmental investments at a total of LTL 124.6 million, with another LTL 30.7 million coming from the EU.

Of major importance in the Information Society are the knowledge, qualifications and capacities of local residents in terms of using information and communications technologies.  Increasing attention has been devoted to school computerisation.  The provision of adequate training aids helps all schoolchildren to acquire necessary IT-related knowledge.  A national programme on installing ICT in Lithuanias educational system between 2005 and 2007 seeks to achieve a breakthrough in learning and teaching through the use of information technologies.  A computer network is being established for the educational system, and conditions are being created for modernisation of the way in which education is managed.

Another important aspect of the Information Society is modernisation of the public administrator sector.  IT use in this sector creates new opportunities for local residents to communicate with governmental institutions at any time that is convenient, from any location, and through various means.  Transfer of major public services to the electronic medium in Lithuania was at a level of 64% in 2005, as opposed to 50% in 2004.  The most advanced E-services at this time relate to declarations of income, employment services, search of information among public libraries, social contributions, customs declarations, and submission of statistics.  The Govoline Gateway has been an important aid in transferring public services onto the Internet.

In October 2006, the Lithuanian government and a number of leading companies signed the Electronic Signature Breakthrough Programme, which seeks to create favourable conditions for the development of the electronic signature so as to increase the use of the E-signature and its infrastructure very significantly over the next three years.

E-business is one of the most favourable areas for innovative activities in the context of the Information Society.  Parliament this year approved a new law on Information Society services to close up loopholes in the legal regulation of how Information Society services are provided.  Until the new law was adopted, Lithuania had no law to regulate public relations related to Information Society services.

Using modern technologies, the government is now broadcasting its meetings via the mobile Internet, thus ensuring publicity and transparency.  Government activities are becoming available virtually at any time.

The development of the Information Society has been greatly supported by the European Union via its Structural Funds - more than LTL 217 million have been provided for Information Society development projects, with LTL 158.9 million of that money coming from the European Regional Development Fund between 2004 and 2006.  The point here is creating the conditions which are necessary for the emergence of the Information and Knowledge Society so as to encourage economic growth and to allow people to use ICT in various fields of life.  This, among other things, popularises the idea of lifelong learning.  Other aims include the development of E-democracy, a reduction in public spending, the adaptation of IT for the needs of local users through the provision of extensive and relevant information in the Lithuanian language, and the creation of proper conditions for the entire population to use ICT and information resources.

A programme called Information Society for All has been created as part of the Economic Growth Action Programme - part of the Strategy for the Use of European Union Structural Assistance, 2007-2013.  The plan is to continue Information Society development projects which were started during the 2004-2006 programming period and to spend more than LTL 800 million from the European Regional Development Fund for this purpose.  Key tasks include reducing the digital divide which is based on geographical and economic factors; increasingly developing E-services among institutions of public administration; encouraging the development of E-democracy; developing alternative sources of public information; creating the E-network infrastructure; and supporting and promoting Lithuanian culture and language in the multilingual European area trough the employment of ICT possibilities.

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