Information and communication technologies are vital and irreplaceable in today's world where loss of connection is equated to no less than the end of the world. Therefore, the development of the ICT sector is essential in the present-day Azerbaijan.
The evolvement of ICT in Azerbaijan is not a long path, but is an exciting one, which has allowed the fast-growing South Caucasus republic to fill the ranks of the most developed ICT countries in the region and connects it with the rest of the world.
Since 2003 Azerbaijan's government has been placing a particular emphasis on ICT education in the country. 2013 was even declared the Year of ICT in Azerbaijan.
Informatics is studied in Azerbaijani educational institutions -- from primary schools to universities. Moreover, ICT courses are regularly held around the country to attract public interest to new technologies, which are tailored to simplify the lives of people.
Most of the government agencies are now available online, which definitely reduces red tape and bribery. According to Azerbaijan's ICT Ministry, currently 43 state bodies offer 420 approved e-services, with nearly 250 of them available online, and the number of users is increasing day by day.
This became possible in early 2012 after the launch of the state electronic government portal, www.e-gov.az, which combines all the government agencies. Over 150,000 users used some 270,000 services at the Web portal in the first half of 2013.
The services provided by the electronic government vary drastically and data publically disclosed by the ICT Ministry every month shows that the e-government is attractive to the people of all generations, as the most widely used services of the e-government portal pertain to insurance and social security issues.
The development of e-services in the country positively changes the relations between citizens and state bodies.
The newly opened ASAN service centers provide access to 25 services rendered by nine state bodies, along with 22 auxiliary services, without extra expenses and loss of time, to the residents of the capital Baku and Sumgayit, along with the residents of nearby districts.
Since January 2013, the ASAN centers have provided their services to some 400,000 people across the country. The services will expand the boundaries and will also be provided in the country's second largest city, Ganja, by the year-end.
Use of the electronic digital signatures is also on the rise in Azerbaijan and some 15,000 e-signatures have been registered in the country to date.
Another key index of the ICT sector development, the electronic commerce market, amounted to 901,100 manats (over $1.14 million) in January-May 2013, increasing 1.8-fold compared to the same period of last year.
Electronic services make the population of the big cities and regions enjoy equal opportunities, as internet connection is expanding in the country in the framework of the Fiber to Home program, which aims to build a fiber network for providing high-speed broadband internet services to consumers.
Azerbaijan's State Oil Fund allocated 103 million manats ($131 million) for the development of broadband Internet in Azerbaijan this year. Funding will also be provided in the coming years, thus, all the regions of Azerbaijan are expected to be provided with high-speed access to the Internet by 2017.
The Internet penetration rate in the country is currently up to 70 percent, including 50 percent broadband Internet users. Some 30 percent of the users connect to the internet via mobile phones; there are some 110 mobile phones per every 100 people in Azerbaijan, a country of over nine million people.
Besides government agencies, many officials are using the Internet to be in touch with the population. Thus, everyone may write a letter even to the President by means of his personal website.
Increasing activity on social networks also indicates the entry of information technologies to the life of every resident; the number of Azerbaijanis on Facebook, one of the world's most popular social networks, has exceeded 1,000,000.
The ICT sector does not only serve the common interests of people but also helps the country to achieve its far-reaching goals, such as entering the list of the space countries. Azerbaijan launched its first telecommunication satellite, Azerspace-1, in February 2013. This was just a good start and more satellites will be launched in the near future.
Notwithstanding the prosperity of the ICT sector and in order to support the development of high technologies, the ICT University, which will prepare specialists contributing to the future development of the domestic ICT sector, was established in the country this year.
Moreover, the High-Tech Park was established near the industrial city of Sumgayit last November. The park will become a territory with the necessary infrastructure, logistics, management structures for the development of new and high technologies, research in the fields of energy efficiency, space and telecommunications, information technologies and communications.
The government supports Azerbaijani youth in further generation of ideas. The State ICT Fund, with the initial financing of 15 million manats (over $19 million) for 2013, was established to implement the state policy regarding the development and support of small enterprises operating in the scientific and technical fields.
Each Azerbaijani citizen may avail of the advantages of the ICT Fund's financing.
Moreover, the ICT Ministry has prepared a new strategy for the development of information and communication technologies in 2013-2020.
All these cannot but show the government's commitment to the development of information technologies in order to make Azerbaijan one of the advanced countries in the present-day highly technological world.
The article is slated for the contest of the Ministry of Communications and Information Technologies, titled "E-government: the current situation, problems, prospects and expectations".