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Turkey’s ICT growth now double its GDP

Interview - June 12, 2013
Turkey is the number two country in Europe for talking on the phone and using the internet. Plus, mobile data usage in the youthful nation has increased fifteen-fold in just five years. Serhat Ozeren, Chairman of Turkey’s Internet Improvement Committee, the rapidly increasing importance of the sector to the nation’s development plans with World Report.
Turkey is going through an exciting phase at the moment. At a time of global economic recession, Turkey has been the fastest growing economy in Europe, for two out of the last three years, and is even projected to post a respectable gross domestic product (GDP) growth figure of 4% for 2013. What impact do you think the ICT sector has had on this impressive economic growth?
Whilst Turkey is growing by 4%, the ICT sector is growing by 8-9%, so it has grown more than the Turkish economy. The telecoms industry has also been having an impact on this sector. Different sectors are growing, which helps the different sectors as they push each other. The ICT sector has grown in Turkey, as well as telecoms – growth comes from both sectors.
When we look to the future, we have seen that the Middle East has experienced some problems recently. Last year, Turkey and Israel had a negative relationship, but last month they reached a solution. Africa and the Middle East and the Arab countries have had a significant positive effect on the Turkish economy – we call this the Arab Spring. This has had a positive impact on us, and a solution has been reached as to Israel as well. There is also integration with Africa. We believe that if peace continues in the region, there will be a greater impact in the Turkish ICT economy and growth in the region.
As Chairman of the Internet Improvement Committee, could you briefly explain how you achieve your mandate of increasing the competitiveness and quality of the ICT sector through innovation and the implementation of sound policy?
As you know, in England, the US and other countries, internet committees work together. This organisation has been created like that. The community has seven members, four of which are civil and the other three are from government. Three people have been selected by the government, and the other four were as a result of a civil selection. These seven members go directly to the Minister of Transportation and report to them as to how to develop the Turkish internet community. 
The community’s main purpose is to be a bridge between business, industry, universities and civil associations and they ask how we can develop Turkish internet projects more. They collate all this information from all these segments and they develop these projects. They are the bridge that goes to the Ministry. We are currently dealing with a security project. We are decision makers. The community plays its own role and develops a report to go to the government to finalise the project.
I have been selected by the government, and in the law it says that I am president, but I am not a government worker. I am not paid for that.  I am a private sector government representative. Before, the community comprised 40 people, but it did not have a sufficient legal platform. The president was selected at the election, and when they structured the community more with a new name and legal structure, because I was selected in the past, they chose me again as past elected president. 
When was the rebranding done?
It started in 2011 and the law was published in 2012.
Who are some of your private sector members? Who do you interact with? Are your civil members from the private sector?
One is the internet media association president. Bilgi Üniversitesi is a very good university and there is a mobile service and added-value community service representative from that university. There is also an information and integration manager and someone from the Ministry of Family and Social Affairs.
ICT is fundamental to Prime Minister Erdoğan’s 2023 vision and there are several ambitious goals for ICT, including 50% of the ICT sector being supplied by domestic sources as well as ICT contributing to 8% of Turkey’s GDP. How do you see these goals being achieved? 
Firstly, the community is just one part of this. There are social involvement partners involved in the vision. For instance, government will provide incentives to develop this area. The private sector will be very much involved. The Ministry of Transportation has recently announced a new intensive package amounting to around 300 million Turkish lira ($158 million) to 240 firms. This incentive is free, with no returns. They are providing this funding to encourage firms. The amount of funds released will increase four-fold every year. The fund is to be used for research and development purposes. We want to increase the participation of the ICT sector, so we are looking at increasing the number of research and development centres. These funds will have a greater impact on returns for the economic development of the ICT industry.
Regarding the World Economic Forum, Turkey was said to be one of the countries with the highest level of GSM coverage in the world. We also want the internet community to contribute to 4% of Turkish GDP. 
The population in Turkey is 75 million, but there are 68 million GSM subscribers, which means that the penetration rate is 98%. But if you take children aged between 0 and 9 years of age from this figure, it is 110% penetration.
ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) has made a new decision as to their headquarters. Their headquarters used to be in Los Angeles, but they are moving to Istanbul. But this is not enough to grow the ICT sector. Foreign investors are coming to this market to go to other markets, not just this one. Any international investors in this area are welcome to come to Turkey, and the government will provide them with special assistance.
Will the Internet Development Committee also assist them?
Of course. They will provide advice to the Ministry directly. The most important thing that investors need to come with is an innovation centre or a research and development centre. Ericsson came with this and they have a research and development center. 
What would you tell the readers in the UK and all over the world about what is exciting about Turkey? Why is Turkey going to be the place to be for ICT and telecoms?
Firstly, we can say that Turkey is a very young country. We have a high percentage of young people in the country and we can tell the whole world that we are a young generation. Young people are very interested in technology. Technology has a cultural impact, as the new generation is very interested. 1.2 million sales come from GSM every month from cell phones, 40% of which are smartphones. 35 million Turkish people are using Facebook, and 9 million are using Twitter. It is the second country in Europe that talks the most on the phone. People use the internet a lot every day – it is the second country in Europe that uses the internet the most. Data usage has increased rapidly over the past five years – it has increased fifteen-fold. Turkey is also three hours away from 52 countries around this region, which makes us very convenient and easy to access in this part of the world. This makes us a connection hub. We know the Middle East, Arab and African countries and we know how to do business with them, and we know Europe as well. We can deal with both areas culturally and in a business sense as well.