Interview: S. Korean Minister of Information and Communication

Chin Dae-je talks with eWEEK about the impact the government can have on both market leaders and newcomers in Korea's mature telecom market.

Chin Dae-je
Chin Dae-je, South Koreas Minister of Information and Communication and former president of Samsung Electronics, has lately been stressing the tremendous impact that government policies can have on both market leaders and newcomers in Koreas mature telecommunications market. Chin sat down with eWEEK Korea in a wide-ranging interview to discuss efforts to consolidate and promote industries, enhance development efforts, and even tackled such controversial proposals as the movement to require posters on online message boards to use their real names, doing away with nicknames.

eWEEK Korea: You have stated that telecommunications policies need to be very balanced and careful. Will this be perceived as the ministry not having clear policies? In addition, it seems that the ban on Korea Telecom (KT) bundling telecommunications services is likely to disturb private companies business strategies in an era of rapid change. How do you respond to this?

Chin Dae-je: I think the telecommunications industry has become mature. Reckless intervention by government bodies can lead to monopolies. The size of the telecommunications market has grown from $3.3 billion (U.S.) in 1994 to $25 billion this year. In this huge market, competition has intensified and technology has rapidly changed. The situation requires us to be cautious. We are observing the marketplace. However, we should not promote specific policies. In this sense, I recommended ambiguity by our ministry. As for KT, they are a leading telecommunications service provider. The company could become a monopoly provider in certain markets. KT is different from Hanaro Telecom and other late comers. If newcomers apply to bundle services, the ministry will positively review their applications.

eWEEK Korea: As the CEO of a private corporation, you advocated industry concentration. Now that you are in the public sector, do you think this strategy serves the nations interests?

Chin Dae-je: When I worked in the private sector, I eliminated a number of departments and developed new ones and new businesses. Business is about time-to-market. This is not always the best basis for establishing national policies. Still, there are times when industry concentration is beneficial. Koreans are stronger in applying current technologies than in developing original technologies. Nevertheless, we must focus more on developing original technologies. In order to address this weakness, we are trying to attract worldwide research centers into Korea. We have to create an environment where our engineers can learn about the newest technologies from the worlds leading companies. We also need to increase the number of "architecture" engineers. There are 140,000 developers in the Korean software field now, but the number of people working in the embedded field is just 14,000. We need at least 30,000 workers in the embedded software industry. We need to develop firmware, application and device drivers and we need more software developers who can apply them to the industrial world.

eWEEK Korea: The Ministry of Information and Communication has planned to develop intelligent robots for service industries. I think this decision could cause conflict with the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy. And concerns have mounted over conflicts with the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy as information technology has spread intour daily life.

Chin Dae-je: People accept that robots are used for industry. However assembling robots used in manufacturing do not belong to the Ministry of Information and Communication. The key is the brains of assembling robots. Brains come from computing systems. Intelligent robots that the Information and Communication Ministry promotes are service-agents. We research to develop software for cell phones, PDS, handheld devices, intelligent cleaning machine and home networking system. The current computing technology is like a dragonflys brain. After 10 years, the technology can develop into that of mice. It takes a long time to reach the level of human. In order to compete with Japan and to put China out of the way, Korea should focus on developing software. Still the manufacturing industry has influence on Koreas competitiveness and we should keenly devote our efforts to develop software for manufacturing devices.

Conflict with the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy in inevitable at a time when society changes from industry-based to knowledge-based. Even though some parts are duplicated, it is fortunate that work duplication by government bodies can remove the deadwood of civil service. As a member of the state ministries, it is a bigger task to guarantee the nations competitiveness.

eWEEK Korea: There is a controversy over a proposed policy of requiring people to use their real name on bulletin boards of public organizations Web sites. What do you think about privacy rights online, and what policies are you going to establish?

Chin Dae-je: I know there is a controversy over the real-names policy on Internet bulletin boards. The problem is how to confirm users real names regardless of their pen names, nicknames, or IDs. I plan to discuss this matter with civic organizations, prosecutors, judges and private companies to avoid an arbitrary government decision. Those who feel victimized by messages on Internet bulletin boards emphasize the need for a real-names policy. Opponents claim that it will dampen freedom of expression and lead to self-imposed censorship. Moreover, it is unclear how this database would work, and whether it would infringe on self-regulation. We will take our time to draw up plans that protect privacy rights and also minimize the damage that can result from bulletin board messages.