June 9, 2008 By Indrajit Basu, International Correspondent
Even just a year ago, it made little difference to Kim Youngja, a 75-year old solitary resident of the Gangnam-gu District in Seoul, South Korea, that her country was one of the most wired in the world. Or, for that matter, that many of the government services in her district were just a click away. Kim Youngja has hardly used computers in her life and she was not keen on taking it up either at this late stage of her life.
But today, Kim Youngja's lack of computer proficiency doesn't stop her from deriving the benefits of the 35 odd e-Government services Gangnam administration offers. She now accesses all those services just by switching on her TV, thanks to an innovative concept called TV e-Government that the Gangnam administration introduced last year. It is reportedly the world's first e-Government service that provides various administrative services through cable TV based on the duplex digital broadcasting technology.
According to Gangnam District officials, its TV e-Government enables everyone receive various administrative services across 13 areas including issuing civil documents, paying tax, watching educations TV (SAT lectures), receiving civil defense training, taking surveys and the like, over just a TV -- a highly familiar media even for the digitally uninitiated.
The TV e-Government System is just one of the many innovations of the Gangnam-gu District that make it one of the most digitally savvy administrations of the world. Its other cutting edge e-Government applications include the recently introduced Social Safety Network System for the Solitary Elderly, that prevents the lonely death of the solitary elderly, and the U-Safe Service, which spots the positions of the old and the weak including children, women and dementia patients at any point for meeting emergencies.
And clearly, it is no surprise then that District that lies to the south of the Han River, which snakes through South Korea's capital city from east to west, has emerged as an ideal case study for all e-Government efforts around the world. Over the past three years the District has also beaten many other administrations in grabbing the Intelligent Community of the Year, instituted by the New York-based Intelligent Community Forum (ICF).
The most significant feature of the Gangnam's e-Government efforts is "the persistence with which this District has pursued the building of its intelligent community year after year," says Robert Bell, executive director ICF, a think tank that focuses on job creation and economic development in the broadband economy.
In a way Gangnam invented e-Government. The District's genesis as an Intelligent Community actually goes back even before the web when it launched its first "electronic government" project in 1995 by setting up a series of kiosks connected electronically. "Back then," says Kyung-Ah Lee, member of the Computerization & Information Division of the Gangnam District Office, "the most common method of connection was 9.6K or 24K modem and the Internet was not the most used online feature although online services such as HiTel and Cheollian, which were equivalent to the AOL with their own various services and contents, were popular."
That helped Gangnam to create a local area network wide enough to connect government offices and a set of tax payment and other applications running on public kiosks in just two years. By 1999, the system could also process all registrations, permits and other citizen applications electronically.
But what really helped Gangnam leap ahead in its e-Government effort was a change in South Korea's political system. In 1995, the country introduced the first ever the system of autonomous and self-governing municipalities -- before which, local mayors and provincial governors were only appointed by the central government -- and Gangnam could chose its mayor who displayed "a strong leadership and determination to declare the beginning of the e-Government Initiative."
Gangnam converted the system to the Web in 2002. And by 2006, as
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