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62nd IFLA General Conference - Conference Proceedings - August 25-31, 1996

Strategic Utilization of Internet: Singaporeís IT2000 and Library 2000 plans

Edna Reid,
Nanyang Technological University (NTU),


As nations explore the potential of Internet, some governments recognize its importance to the implementation of their national development plans. In fact, governments have introduced systematic approaches to diffuse Internet usage throughout the country. For non- western countries, what approaches are being utilized and how do they relate directly to national development? Within the Singapore context, this study analyzes the relationships between Internet and several strategic plans such as IT2000 and Library 2000. It analyzes the integration of Internet into Singapore and the roles of libraries. Using the experiences of Singapore, library managers may be able to identify additional approaches for marketing and designing Internet services.



This study explores the relationships between Internet and several strategic plans in Singapore. After an overview of the information technology planning approach of the Singapore Government (SOG), a summary of the development of the Internet industry in Singapore is presented. Next, a discussion of Internet use in library services is analyzed within the context of Singaporeís IT2000 and Libr ary 2000 plans. The IT2000 plan outlines a strategic vision to develop a National Information Infrastructure (NII). It was followed by the Library 2000, a plan calling for the transformation of library services throughout the country. After discussion of how Internet is being used to implement the plans, trends illustrating librariesí exploitation of Internet are highlighted.

IT Planning in Singapore

Singapore is a small and relatively young country with a multiracial population of 2.8 million. Located in Southeast Asia, it has limited natural resources. The Singapore Government (SOG) has used information technology (IT) to stimulate economic growth and achieve national competitiveness.

Studies by Liang (1993) and Soh et al. (1995) analyzed the governmentís roles in information technology (IT) planning and implementation in Singapore. They classified IT planning and development into three distinct phases. The goal of the first phase was to computerize the civil service; the goal of the second phase was to promote computerization of the private sector; and the goal of the third phase is to develop the country into an intelligent island with country-wide connectivity. Each phase is framed by a national IT plan that articulates the goals, policies and resources. Table 1 lists the three plans.

The first phase of IT planning, 1980-1985, saw the start of the Civil Service Computerization Programme (CSCP) and formation of the National Computer Board (NCB) in 1981, as the statutory board for computerization planning and development.

By 1985 considerable progress had been made. In addition, Singapore experienced a recession. An IT planning committee, led by NCB, recommended a new strategic plan that focused on the local IT industry, IT applications to support business competitiveness, and telecommunications infrastructure (Soh, 1993 p8). These recommendations were included in the 1986 Report of the Economic Committee and a ccepted by the government. During this the second phase, 1986-1990, the National IT Plan (NITP) was developed and implemented.

In the second phase, the focus has shifted from the public sector to the private sectors. With the NITP, a strategic building block approach was used. It involved supporting the development of a strong IT industry, IT applications, high quality IT manpower, information communication infrastructure, entrepreneurship and coordination. Some examples of the success of this plan included the upg rading of the national telecommunications network infrastructure by implementing an island-wide ISDN network and value-added applications such as TradeNet and LawNet (Gilbert, 1995). TradeNet is the countryís first nationwide electronic data interchange (EDI) network linking 20 government agencies to automate the processing of trade documentation. First introduced in January 1989, it has re volutionized the trade sector in Singapore. The other network applications that followed were tailored to other sectoral needs such as LawNet, and MediNet. LawNet is a network of statutes and laws of the SOG which was designed in 1990 by the manager of the Attorney Generalís Chamber Library.

The NITP is a comprehensive plan mapped to transform Singaporeís newly industrialized economy into one that is high-tech oriented. Five years after the formulation of the NITP, a steering committee was again convened to map out an even more aggressive plan to facilitate a higher level of IT usage. Soh et al. (1993) provide a critical appraisal of the IT2000 planning process. Like the previou s IT planning efforts, IT2000 focused on increasing the competitiveness of Singapore. But there were several differences such as the planning approach included more participants from the private sectors (200 industry leaders), was organized into eleven industry sectors such as Education, Healthcare, Financial Services, and was more ďneeds-drivenĒ (Soh, p10). The planning effort focused IT poli cy on building a National Information Infrastructure (NII) that would offer and deliver a wide range of services to businesses, homes and schools.

IT2000 Plan

The third and current phase began in 1991 with the launch of IT2000 masterplan. The objective of the IT2000 plan is to develop Singapore into an intelligent island. To accomplish this, it outlines several strategic thrusts. Table 2 lists the thrusts. The vision of IT2000 is to link every home, office, and government ministry by 2005 through an intelligent communications network called the Na tional Information Infrastructure (NII). The components of the NII include conduit, content, and compute (A vision, 1992, p39). Although Singapore is continuously developing its IT industry and telecommunications infrastructure, more advanced industries and infrastructures are needed. Additionally, it is substantially lacking in local content.

Table 2 - IT2000 and Library 2000 Plans

Not Available, please contact Author

Organized around eleven industry sectors, IT2000 proposes higher levels of integration among computing, telecommunications, business services, and social activities than the previous plans. Since it involves multi-agency participation, the different government ministries such as Ministry for Information and the Arts (MITA) and Ministry of Education (MOE) started to investigate the potential of I T2000 developments for their ministries.

In response, government ministries started to review their proposed services for the 21st century and roles in implementing the IT2000 vision. In 1992, the Minister for Information and the Arts appointed a Review Committee, headed by the National Computer Board (NCB), to suggest ways of restructuring and revitalizing the public library system in Singapore. In 1994, the recommendations containe d in the Library 2000 (1994) report were accepted by the government. The major recommendations were to develop an adaptive public library service and set up a network of borderless libraries. Additionally, it recommended the development of an adequate supply of new age information professionals, use automation to reengineer library services and establish a new statutory board to manage and imp lement the recommendations. Except for the library context, the recommendations parallel those made in earlier plans such as the Civil Service Computerization Programme (CSCP) and the National IT Plan (NITP). Ngian (1995) study reviews the current strategy for implementing the report. Table 2 lists the strategic thrusts of the Library 2000 report. The reengineering of library services fits wi thin the Media, Publishing and Information Services sector of the IT2000 plan.

According to Stephen Yeo, Chief Executive of NCB, IT2000 dream to make Singapore a fully-networked nation is becoming a reality (Straits Times, Aug 9, 1995). He cites IT2000 projects such as the Student Teacher Workbench (STW). He attributes a major reason for the rapid progress to the growing popularity of the Internet. Internet has given people an idea of what IT2000 can be and how s ervices can function in network environments.

The next section provides an overview of how the Singapore Government (SOG) is promoting the development of Internet. This is followed by a discussion of how libraries in Singapore are promoting Internet usage.

Internet Industry Developments in Singapore

Within Singapore, the Internet is evolving into flourishing business opportunities. Although in an early stage of development, it is stimulating entreprenuership, cooperation, coordination, progressive marketing, new business alliances, and other ways of doing business. Internet statistics reported in April 1996 of The Straits Times indicate 80,000 subscribers while others mention 100, 000.

According to an article in The Straits Times (March 23, 1996), the Internet has resulted in the establishment of Internet Service Providers (ISPs), about twenty new businesses and $10 million in revenue in 1995. Table 3 lists new Internet businesses which provide Internet access, training, electronic publishing and financial services. The growth can be associated with the SOG positive p romotion of Internet. The Government established policies for three ISPs to be licensed and reviewed by the Telecommunications Authority of Singapore (TAS); local companies to be involved in reselling Internet access and entrepreneurs to be encouraged as well as supported. The Government has advised all ministries to publish on the Internet and use it for prototyping more electronic services. I n 1995, the National Library, Urban Redevelopment Authority, and the Labour, Defence, and Foreign Affairs ministries began putting information online (Yap, Jan 2, 1996). In announcing its Internet strategy, the Government said it will jump in as Government, as the youth division of one of the political parties, and as commercial establishments (Straits Times, Mar 18, 1995).

Internet Industries

In Singapore, Internet developments are similar to the information revolution described in Porterís (1991, p77) study because Internet also has given birth to completely new industries in three distinct ways. First, the Government has made selling Internet access technologically and economically feasible. For example, the TAS licensed several Internet Service Providers (ISPs): Pacific Internet , SingNet and CyberWay. Each ISPs is owned by a large government-linked company such as Pacific Internet is owned by Sembawang Ventures and SingNet is owned by Singapore Telecoms (countryís only domestic telephone company). Table 4 provides a comparison of the ISPs.

Pacific Internet is the most experienced Internet access provider in the region. In 1991 it was set up as the Technet Unit at the National University of Singapore (NUS). It was funded by the National Science and Technology Board (NSTB) to provide Internet services to the education, research and development communities. In keeping with the governmentís approach of privatizing government servic es, it was acquired by a consortium of three companies in 1995. The SOG believes that privatization will make an organization more competitive, innovative, and efficient (Straits Times, Oct 95). After the acquisition of Technet in June 1995, it was renamed Pacific Internet Pte Ltd.

Second, the Internet has spawned new businesses by creating derived demands for new products and services. One example is Pacific Internet. The companies that purchased Technet are Sembawang Media, ST Computer Systems and Singapore International Media. Sembawang Media had already purchased 75% of Silkroute Ventures Pte. Ltd. Silkroute Ventures was a project that originated in the Digital Media Centre (DMC) of the National Computer Board. Personnel at the DMC and the National University of Singapore were actively setting up gopher and World Wide Web servers as well as designing home pages. Additionally, they were being asked to design Web pages for commercial companies. Since the Web was so new, Singapore did not have any Internet publishing companies. In 1994, members of the DMC initiated a project to start the first commercial Internet publishing company called SilkRoute. SilkRoute established an electronic storefront called Asia Online. For its Web publishing venture, it secured contracts with several companies such as Reed Exhibition Company and Singapore Tourist Promotion Board (STPB). Reed Exhibition handles major trade fairs such as Asian Aerospace and Asia Travel Mart.

Third, the Internet, like the information revolution, has created new businesses within old ones. A company with telecommunications and information processing embedded in its value chain may have excess capacity or expertise that can be sold in a new market. In 1994, Singapore Telecoms used its telecommunications expertise to secure a license to operate the first commercial ISP in Singapore. Singapore Telecoms was just privatized in 1993. The concept of creating new businesses within old ones also applies to CyberWay, the third ISP. Singaporeís only newspaper company, Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) and the Singapore Technologies used their publishing and technological expertise to successfully win the tender for the third ISP. The major advantages of CyberWay are its business-fo cus, local content (Singapore newspapers) and a pledge to sign up new subscribers within ten minutes.

Trends in Internet Industries

After analysing the activities of the emerging Internet industries in Singapore, the rules of competition are changing in several ways. The trends that were identified are in line with Druckerís (1995, p65) analysis of managing in network society. According to Drucker, countries are progressing towards a network society in regard to the relationships between organizations and individuals who wo rk for them, and in respect to the relationships between different organizations. Managing will require different behavior, skills, and attitudes.

A visible example is outsourcing in which an organization contracts out an entire function to an independent firm that specializes in that work. There are many incidents of outsourcing in Singapore. At the Nanyang Technological University, the information processing and help desk functions are outsourced to Digital Equipment Company (DEC). CyberWay outsource its new subscriber registration and training to Informatics Computer School. Informatics is an international franchise in IT training and education with over 75 centres in 16 countries in the Middle East, Southeast Asia, India and China (Straits Times, Jan 9, 1995). Singapore Tourist Promotion Board, Reed Exhibition Company, Holiday Tours and Westin Plaza Hotel outsource their Web publishing and maintenance to SilkRoute .

In addition to outsourcing which has become routine for some businesses, Drucker (p69) emphasizes another trend is toward alliances as the vehicle for business growth. Internet industries are stimulating alliances and joint partnership such as with Pacific Internet, CyberWay and several cybercafes. CyberWay and the newly privatized National Computer Systems (NCS) have formalized an agreement wh ere NCS will be a reseller of Internet access and recommend that all of its new clients use CyberWay. NCS offers a full range of Internet services including Web publishing, electronic commerce, intranet consultancy, helpdesk services and training (Straits Times, Apr 9, 1996). It is a new company formed from the National Computer Board. Of the 900 employees needed for NCS, 700 were form erly NCB employees.

The ISPs are using their alliances to differentiate their services and products. CyberWay is offering access to Internet and several specialized regional database services. It seems to be designing service similar to commercial online companies such as CompuServe and America Online (AOL). AOL and rival commercial online services, including Prodigy and Microsoft Network, also serve as gateways to the Internet for their customers. For example, CyberWay offers business information that is published in local and regional newspapers such as Business Times and The Straits Times. This service is called AsiaOne and provided by the Multi-media Division of the Singapore Press Holdings (SPH). The current manager of CyberWay is the former head of the Multi-media Division of SPH. AsiaOne plans to establish itself as the premier place for business news and information on Singapore and its Asian partners. In addition to newspapers, several business directories, bulletin boards, and white pages are also available.

The trend towards alliances extends across local , regional and international boundaries. ISPs have formed alliances to resolve some technological issues such as congestion, slow response time and US centric network. One strategic alliance is the Asia Internet Holding (AIH). AIH is a consortium comprising Pacific Internet, Internet Initiative Japan, Hong Kong Supernet and Sumitomo Corporation. The objective of AIH is to build and operate the Internet backbone for ISPs in Asia, in place of direct connections from the various ISPs to the US or Europe. It is developing a distributed high-speed hub with Tokyo as the main network node.

At the same time, SingNet is setting up its own version of an Asian Internet backbone which may promise faster and cheaper access for regional users. It is planning a backbone which routes Asia Pacific traffic directly within the Asia Pacific region, instead of begin channeled to the US first and then back to the region. Additionally, SingNet is further enhancing its differentiation strategy b y using a regional approach. It has entered into partnerships to be the service provider for fourteen regional customers including ISPs located in the Philippines, Vietnam, China, Sri Lanka and Brunei (SingNet, 1996).

Internet, IT2000 & Library 2000

After reviewing the trends in the development of Internet industries in Singapore, an immediate response is to ask how Internet is affecting local libraries. Within the context of IT2000 and Library 2000 plans, library managers are actively involved in the exploitation of Internet services. In 1995, an electronic survey was conducted of Singaporean libraries publishing on the Web (Reid, 1995 p89). In 1995, seven local libraries had their own home page and published local library information. As in the tradition of Internet, most of these libraries are from the academic community.

As of April 1996, this number has increased to twelve libraries. Several special libraries such as the National Computer Board (NCB) and the National Productivity Board (NPB) have their own home pages. For these libraries, some of their employees are attending the postgraduate programme at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and the Web pages were constructed as projects for the Applications of Information Technology (IT) course. The postgraduate programme offers a MSc in Information Studies from the Division of Information Studies, School of Applied Science, NTU. In 1993, the Division was established and is charged with helping to increase the supply of new age information professionals. Although it is only a part-time postgraduate programme, it has over 120 students in various stages of the programme.

In reference to NCB and the National Productivity Board libraries, the web sites are in line with the IT2000 strategic thrust of linking communities locally and globally. Since the sites identify business resources and publicize the libraries membership programs, they are important to the local and regional research and development communities. It is keeping with the Library 2000 (1994, p73) aim of supporting the information needs of the business community.

Furthermore, the Internet is being used as a marketing tool to advertise the innovative fee-based services of the Trade Development Board (TDB) library at the Trade and Investment Information Centre (TIIC). In addition to other services, TIIC is advertising its own online information service called Globalink (http://www.tdb.gov.sg). TDB is taking the lead in establishing the proposed central bu siness library, which was recommended in the Library 2000 report (Straits Times, Dec 4, 1995). As part of this role, the TIIC is developing a network to link the various business libraries in Singapore. Currently, it is linked to National Computer Board (NCB), Jurong Town Corporation and Economic Development Board. In addition to TIIC, the National Productivity Board information centr e is positioning itself to become a major business library in Singapore.

Another example of a library utilizing Internet is the National Library. The National Library has launched its web site called NL.Line at the 1995 Digital Library Conference. Using NL.Line, users can access a variety of library information, perform online renewals of materials, submit reference enquiries, suggest new titles and request home delivery value-added service. Since the launch of NL. Line, the monthly average accesses are about 6,000. NL.Line is a joint effort between NCB and National Library.

In line with the recommendations of Library 2000 the National Library Board (NLB), which was established in late 1995, has embarked on a re-engineering project to redesign and expand public library services. Under the objective of providing a network of borderless libraries, NL.Line provides one of service approaches that reduces geographic and physical barriers to information. Additionally, NL B, NCB, Pacific Internet, Novell and Compaq have formed a strategic alliance to provide free Internet access at all public libraries in Singapore. The service is Internet@Library and anyone in Singapore can surf the Net and download files free. Currently, the National Libraryís ten branches have installed sixteen new personal computers offering free Internet access for an hour per person (S traits Times, Dec 16, 1995). Additionally, Pacific Internet provided training for librarians and students. The students are from tertiary institutions and volunteered to work as Internet patrol to provide hands-on support to endusers.

In keeping with NCBís aims of encouraging the use of information technology (IT) among the public and creating an IT culture within the community, this collaboration brings together experts in the IT and library communities. In addition, the collaboration is providing additional opportunities for Pacific Internet and libraries to work together. Currently, Pacific Internet has weekly fee-based t raining sessions at public libraries. Its literature and applications are available for potential customers. Besides the fee-based classes, the library has arranged for other Internet talks to be presented by local experts. These are some ways in which the library is stimulating an Internet culture among the public. Exposure to Internet, a global network, provides an opportunity for prepa ring Singaporeans for the Information Age and a learning society.

Many of the Internet activities described above are government initiatives related to IT2000 and Library 2000 plans. Within the Singapore context, libraries are considered as knowledge institutions that must develop along technological and cultural tracks (Yeo, Mar 30, 1996). According to Minister George Yeo, the technological track involves the digitization of information and establishment of networks of borderless libraries. These areas are associated with using Internet and other technologies to expand the information resources and develop a digital library. While the other track involving culture is related to preserving the sense of self and family. To keep in touch with the changing needs of Singapore society, the Library 2000 report recommended that public library services be restructured into a hierarchy of regional libraries, community libraries and neighbourhood (children) libraries.

The first regional library at Tampines New Town was designed as both a social and technical experiment (Yeo). It offers access to CD-ROMs, laser discs, libraryís online public access catalog (OPAC), videos and Internet. Other regional libraries are being planned. In March 1996, the Jurong West Community Library, the first community library in a shopping-centre, was opened. A technological pro ject of this library is the Singapore Information Resources Online (Siro) database (Straits Times, Mar 23, 1996). It will enable library users to retrieve full-text articles and images about Singapore. The information will come from the NLB and National Archives of Singapore. Also in March 1996, the Nanyang Childrenís Library, the latest neighbourhood library, was opened. The concept o f a community childrenís library was announced by Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong in 1992 (Straits Times, Mar 18, 1996). Built at a cost of about $200,000, it is the 10th childrenís library that has been set up since the announcement of Library 2000. The childrenís libraries are joint ventures between the Peopleís Association Party (PAP) Community Foundation and NLB.

Trends in Librariesí Use of Internet

In Singapore, trends in librariesí use of Internet can be summarized within several organizational frameworks such as Value Chain Integration and Function Integration. Figure 1 presents an overview of these trends. In Reidís (1996, p21) earlier article, they were described in relationship to libraries in the West but now some are evident in Singapore.

Value Chain Integration

Internet is penetrating the value chain at several points and transforming the way business operations are performed. According to Porter (1991, p65), the value chain consists of the inputs, internal processing activities for creating the service or product, and the outputs. Porterís model highlights the importance of managers becoming familiar with the new technology and how technology can cha nge the business processes. In Croninís (1994, p55) study of how American organizations are using Internet, she outlines how Internet can support operations in the value chain. Since Internet provides fast and inexpensive connections to customers and suppliers, many libraries in Singapore are using Internet to conduct reference searches, participate in electronic forums, contact library vendor s, transmit interlibrary loan requests and support cataloging by reviewing cataloging records in overseas online public access catalogs (OPACs). They are using the technology to do the current processes in a more efficient and/or cost-effective way.

In support of this effort, the Division of Information Studies, NTU, has teamed up with the Library Association of Singapore (LAS). In helping to meet its continuing education objectives, NTU lecturers are working with LAS to offer value-added Internet workshops. Table 5 lists some value-added workshops offered by LAS.

Table 5 - Internet Courses being offered by Library Association of Singapore (LAS)

Table not available, please contact Author.

Function Integration

Local organizations are also recognizing that network-based technology can stimulate changes in traditional work processes or develop innovate services. Libraries are redefining their functions based on new visions of the roles of the library in networked environments. An example of function integration is how the United States Information Services (USIS) Library, Singapore, has downsized and integrated the library functions . No longer do they have a circulating collection or provide public library functions. Currently, they are called the USIS Reference and Research Service. For specialized clients, they provide research and reference support using commercial databases and the World Wide Web. Contact with the clients is via telephone, fax, and email. They have completely redes igned their services in line with the changing needs of their core clients.

IT - Enabled Team Support

Information technology such as electronic mail, bulletin board and videoconferencing is being used to facilitate collaborative team learning. The focus is on the learning of the team and discovering insights together. Local teams are analyzing issues regarding digital library initiatives, new curriculum and training requirements in preparing new age information specialists and users for digital libraries. For example, the HARP digital library project includes software engineers, programmers, information retrieval specialists, cataloguers, social scientists, and anthropologists. The HARP project is a joint venture between the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and the Information Technology Institute of NCB. The NTU team consists of a diversity of specialists who exchange ideas o n approaches for issues such as online thesaurus and duplicate detection procedures.

Interorganizational Integration

Increased information sharing, technical complexity and expense in developing sophisticated systems have resulted in a proliferation of interorganizational teams that are designing cooperative projects. Using the Internet as an information delivery mechanism, several digital library projects are investigating how to provide remote access to relevant surrogate and full-text information in a varie ty of multi-media formats with a single interface (using Z39.50 protocol). Another local example of a digital library project is the Digital Library Cluster (DLC). Initially the DLC was called SATIN project which was being designed to link all science and technology libraries together. This project has expanded and is now being designed for the business, research and public communities in Sing apore. Public meetings have been held to solicit comments and discuss the implementation of the project. DLC is a joint venture between the NLB, NCB and the Information Technology Institute (ITI). In 1996, several proposals were submitted in response to a tender. The Digital Library Cluster (DLC) tender has been awarded to DRA.

Reengineered and Restructured Organizations

Some organizations are experimenting with alternative organizational structures in response to the new shared vision of their roles as well as the challenges and opportunities created by a network-based environment. For example, the United States Information Services (USIS) Student Advising Service reengineered their information services. The newly-privatized US Education Information Centre rep laces the Student Advising Service and offers comprehensive guidance to students planning to study in the US (Tan, Jan 19, 1996). The fee-based service is a partnership between USIS and Petersonís Guide Inc., a publishing and educational service company located in New Jersey, US. Using Petersonís web sites and online resources, the centre provides a wider range of professional advising service s.

The above trends illustrate that Singapore-based libraries and information centres are using Internet in a variety of ways.


In Singapore, the Government recognizes the importance of Internet in its information technology planning and implementation. As in the US, Internet is being exploited as a prototype for the development of a National Information Infrastructure (NII).

The results of the study provide several implications for library managers. With Government support for Internet services, library managers must review their roles in providing more network-based services. Although Governments are leading the effort, libraries are needed to provide access to Internet and other technologies for the general public. Libraries have active roles to play in the trai ning and educating of the public in the areas of information services, navigation skills, information literacy and the value of information in support of daily activities and lifelong learning. Value-added information services, training and self-mediated learning programs are needed, desperately.

In order for countries to maintain their competitiveness, a culture of life-long learning is critical (Straits Times, Jan 17, 1996). Additionally strategic alliances with businesses and libraries must be increased. In the evolving Internet industries, businesses are encouraging outsourcing and partnerships with a variety of organizations. Since libraries specialize in the organization, dissemination and retrieval of information, library managers should explore opportunities to provide specialized reference, information navigation, digitalization and information literacy seminars or workshops. Using technologies such as Internet and indigenous databases, libraries must pursue both technological and cultural paths to enrich, expand and empower their user communities. If they do nít then who will provide information services, access and training for the information have-nots?


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Straits Times. March 18, 1995. 26,000 Síporeans using Internet now, p29.

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Straits Times. November 4, 1995. First trade show you can attend without being there, p5.

Straits Times. December 4, 1995. Trade Development Board library no longer free, p5.

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Straits Times. March 23, 1996. Internet services billings here likely to hit $20m this year: Rear-Adm Teo, p2.

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Table 3 - Internet-related Companies Set up in Singapore (as of 20 April 96)

Table not available, please contact Author

Table 4 - Singaporeís Internet Service Providers - Comparison

Table not available, please contact Author