By: Sydney Wright
Imagine streaming your favorite music, a YouTube video, or a movie from Netflix at twice the speed you do now anywhere in the country (i.e., driving through the country side, riding an elevator, sitting on the subway). The Republic of Korea has built a nationwide network that allows citizens to do just that, with connection speeds averaging 28.6 megabits per second (mpbs) in 2017. (For comparison, the average in the U.S. is 18.7 mbps) In recent years, the Republic of Korea has received recognition for this state-of-the-art internet network and lighting fast connection speeds. But a story less covered is the country’s highly developed e-Government, where citizens participate in nearly every aspect of democratic decision making via the internet. What spurred the shift towards an e-Government? How is an e-Government “built”? Most importantly, how does a high functioning e-Government benefit citizens and the democratic process? This article investigates the Why, How, and Now of the Republic of Korea’s top-notch e-Government.
WHY: What Spurred the Shift Towards an e-Government?
“The goal of the e-Government initiative is not merely focused on building a system that will deliver online government service. Rather, the primary goal is to make an online service that will be widely used by citizens.”
In the 1980s, shifting from industrial economies to information societies became a priority for nations like the U.S. and EU, and the Republic of Korea was quick to follow suit. To achieve the goal of an information society, the U.S. and EU began investing in information and communications technologies, such as nationwide internet connectivity. The U.S. took a hands-off approach, leaving it up to private companies to establish a national network and ultimately falling behind in the race. Likewise, individual countries in the EU failed to come to a consensus on how to uniformly develop a network, resulting in sporadic internet development amongst member countries and slow development overall. Meanwhile, in competition with the U.S. and EU, the Republic of Korea performed a legislative overhaul (discussed below) to computerize administrative data and develop a national high-speed communication network. Through these efforts, not only did the Republic “keep up with the Joneses” in creating a nation well-equipped to share information, it arguably set the standard for e-Government services.
HOW: How is an e-Government “Built”?
“Early investment in electronic services infrastructure laid the foundation for a powerhouse in the digital world.”
In the 1990s, the Republic of Korea placed the development of a nationwide network and computerization of government functions at the top of national objectives. For example, the Framework Act on Informatization Promotion (FAIP), implemented in 1995, called for the development of a sophisticated infrastructure to promote the spread of information and communications. To ensure the plans outlined in FAIP were realized, the Ministry of Information and Communication was established and took full control of all functions regarding the IT industry and its development. To foot the bill for a national network, the Informatization and Communication Promotion Fund was created to ensure stable funding of broadband internet network construction and promotion. Finally, to guarantee steady investment, each year the Republic of Korea has dedicated 1% of its national budget to e-Government construction.
In the early stages of development, government services that were the most impactful to citizen’s everyday lives (citizen registration, vehicle registration, customs clearance, employment, statistics management, e.g.) were some of the first of computerized functions of the Republic’s e-Government. The government has since extended services, providing citizens with an electronic customs clearance service, comprehensive online tax services, the ability to request and issue civil services online, online patent application and management, and an online petition and discussion portal, to name a few.
NOW: How are Citizens Benefitting from e-Government and What’s Next?
“[T]he future e-Government will greatly enhance the reliability and transparency of the government, based on more efficient administration and improved service capacity for citizens. The people will be able to encounter an e-Government through which they can use government services and even participate in policy-making via diverse media anytime and anywhere.”
The UN General Assembly has recognized “the potential of e-government in promoting transparency, accountability, efficiency and citizen engagement in public service delivery,” a potential that has been actualized in the Republic of Korea.
Over the course of e-Government development, the Korean government has implemented numerous award-winning online services and has been recognized as one of the top performing countries in the United Nations’ Online Service Index and E-Participation Index. The UN’s Online Service Index measures the level of information communication technology utilized by the government to provide services to its citizens. The E-Participation Index measures e-participation by citizens, according to a three-level model that includes (i) the amount of information available online, (ii) the availability of public consultations online, and (iii) the level of citizen decision making. Ultimately, these achievements show that not only is the Republic providing a high number of state-of-the-art government services, but citizens are actually using them.
The Republic’s efforts to develop an efficient e-Government with award-winning levels of citizen participation have simultaneously lead to the computerization of school and business networks, a more connected society, and more competitive businesses.
“. . . e-participation goes beyond merely requesting people to provide their views about decisions and services proposed by the government. It mobilizes and shapes action.”
Today, e-Government development in Korea has progressed to a new phase called Government 3.0 with an emphasis on increasing transparency, information sharing, communication and collaboration. The end goal of Government 3.0 is an all-encompassing Government Portal where all major administrative government services provided by the Korean government can be effectively delivered from a single internet portal.
Under Government 3.0, the Korean government is working continuously to improve functions and services of the portal and to provide individually customized services for citizens. In the future, the Republic hopes to achieve an e-Government that provides “seamless and consolidated services” where the “relationship between governments and citizens would be changed into that of partners, rather than a supplier-beneficiary relationship, and the government’s role also into a coordinator, rather than a governor.”
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 Nat’l Info. Soc’y Agency, Digital Society Development of Korea 4 (2012), http://unpan1.un.org/intradoc/groups/public/documents/un-dpadm/unpan042711.pdf.
 Special Committee for e-Government, Korea’s e-Government: Completion of e-Government Framework 43 (2003), http://unpan1.un.org/intradoc/groups/public/documents/APCITY/UNPAN015126.pdf.
 Nat’l Info. Soc’y Agency, supra note 2.
 Governing Telecommunications and the New Information Society in Europe 16-17 (Jacint Jordana, ed. 2002).
 Id. at 16; Rosalie Zobels, Europe and the IST Programme, in E-Business: Key Issues, Applications and Technologies 50-51 (Brian Stanford-Smith & Paul T. Kidd eds., 2000).
 Nat’l Info. Soc’y Agency, supra note 2.
 Id. at 10.
 Id. at 4-5.
 Jeongbohwa chogjin gibonbeob [Framework Act on Informatization Promotion], Act No. 4969, Aug. 4, 1995, amended by Act No. 5669, Jan 21, 1999, art. 2-2, (S. Kor.), http://unpan1.un.org/intradoc/groups/public/documents/unpan/unpan036222.pdf.
 Nat’l Info. Soc’y Agency, supra note 2 at 4-5.
 The Korea Internet History Museum: Internet Policy, KISA, https://xn--3e0bx5euxnjje69i70af08bea817g.xn--3e0b707e/jsp/eng/museum/exhibitions/article_read.jsp?no=3&pageIndex=4&mode=VIEW&exh_serial=41 (last visited Jul. 22, 2017, 1:30 PM); Nat’l Info. Soc’y Agency, supra note 2.
 Choong-Sik Chung, The Introduction of E-Government in Korea: Development Journey, Outcomes and Future 120 (2015), https://www.cairn.info/load_pdf.php?ID_ARTICLE=GMP_034_0107.
 Id. at 119-20.
 Id. at 117-18.
 Id. at 121.
 G.A. Res. 69/327 (Oct. 6, 2015).
 U.N. Dep’t of Econ. & Soc. Affairs, Promoting Inclusive and accountable Public Services for Sustainable Development, at 83, U.N. Sales No. E.16.II.H.2 (2016), http://workspace.unpan.org/sites/Internet/Documents/UNPAN97453.pdf.
 Id. at 79.
 Id. at 54.
 Nat’l Info. Soc’y Agency, supra note 2, at 10-11.
 U.N. Dep’t of Econ. & Soc. Affairs, supra note 19, at 50.
 Id. at 84.
 Choong-Sik Chung, supra note 14.