Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Some Historical Perspective--the 1980s

Many observers of South Korea's telecommunications networks and technology today fail to grasp the historical antecedents that led to this situation. To do so, it is necessary to recall the 1970s, when lack of basic telephone service was one of the major social problems in the country. Then, during the period from 1980 to 1987, the government and industry implemented a long-term plan to revitalize the electronics industry. In three critical areas, this plan laid the foundation for the South Korean economy that we observe today. First, in a highly controversial move, the government decided to implement color television broadcasting and to encourage the manufacture of color television sets. By 1980, more than 100 other countries in the world were already broadcasting in color, but former President Park Chung Hee had opposed its introduction in Korea. The electronics sector suffered because Korean companies that manufactured black-and-white television sets were simply manufacturing the boxes and importing all of the components. Contrast that situation to today when Korean companies lead the world in exports of flat panel color displays and television sets. Second, South Korea decided that it needed to develop the capacity to manufacture semiconductors, the raw materials with which many of today's electronic devices are built. This project succeeded and the nation now leads the world in manufacture of DRAM memory chips, certain categories of flash memory and is a major player in semiconductors. Third, Korea focused on developing the ability to manufacture its own switching systems. The success of the TDX project meant that the nation would be able to manufacture these critical components of telecommunications networks and thereby not only solve its desperate backlog in telephone subscriptions, but also modernize its network and export network technologies around the world. Without its major successes in these three areas, there is no way to imagine the highly networked information environment that exists in South Korea today.

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