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Schriftenreihe des Europa Institutes Budapest, Band 25:147–159.


The Hungarian Information Society in the Enlarged Europe


The information society is an everyday reality and not a vision of the future already in Hungary, too. In a short time Hungary has become a regional medium-sized power with viable export markets out of an agrarian country lagging behind, forced into an inflexible and unstable space of foreign market, an isolated one with an outdated production structure; and it is distancing itself step by step from the industrial epoch. It is in the information and servicing sector where the number of employees has grown most rapidly, the number of students in higher education has multiplied several times, the transformation of the labour market has been governed by the requirements of the new world of qualifications and professions, and the information and knowledge goods have been grabbing a constantly bigger percentage of the consumers’ basket. The vanguard of tele-work, life-long learning and network culture have appeared, and the Hungarian companies, institutions and private individuals are becoming the local representatives of the global information culture almost unnoticed. It is at this point where it acquires particular significance how we are being integrated into the process of European development that has committed itself to and unambiguously set the aim of accelerating the development of a knowledge-based (new) economy and information society. The policy of an information society, made a priority for Europe, wishes to improve the competitive position of the Union in the face of the North American and Far Eastern regions by creating its infrastructure, institutions, and knowledge structure. The challenge is more complex for Hungary: besides increasing its economic achievement and “governing” a change of culture it also has to find its identity in the Union playground in order to maximise the benefit of accession, while, at the same time, it is contributing to the success of Europe by its own means.


The initial situation: Hungary’s readiness

The aims of the Strategy for a Hungarian Information Society (MITS) passed by the government in late 2003, and its programmes aiming at the realisation of those aims, fully fit into the efforts and strategic programmes of the European Union, to the eEurope+ and eEurope 2005 action plans. At the same time, this is the institutional guarantee for the country to be able to join the programmes of the Community supporting eEurope (IST, eContent, eSafety, IDA, etc.). It also makes it possible for us to utilise the structural funds of the EU for the building of the information society. The MITS wishes to utilise this opportunity within the framework of the National Development Plan (NFT), by evolving its different programmes to fit into the operative programmes of the NFT, primarily into priority No. 4 of economic competitiveness. The adoption of the parts of the acquis related to the information society has been completed almost without fail1; therefore from now on the Hungarian output almost exclusively depends on the success of domestic programmes.


Telecommunications services

During the past years a digital telecommunications backbone network of European standard has been developed in Hungary. New actors have appeared besides the former service provider in monopoly position in the telecommunications market liberalised from January 2002 onwards, but the evolution of a real competition is still awaited. The steeply growing use of cell phones, parallel to an increasing turnover, has reached full saturation (around 80%), and has become part of daily culture to a growing extent. At the same time the number of POTs has somewhat decreased. (See Fig. 1.)


Access to the internet, penetration, trends

The proportion of households equipped with computers has grown by 9 per cent between 2001 and 2003, and currently 31 per cent of the Hungarian households possess (at least one) personal computer.

In Hungary one quarter of the population used the internet in 2003.

The domestic camp of web-users has been continuously, though slowly growing, there was an 8 per cent change during the past two years. (Lagging behind, however, continues to be significant from the 77% average of the USA and 54% average of the European Union.)

The largest number of internet users is found in the youngest generations in Hungary. More than three-fourths of the 14 to 17 year-old, secondary-school age group use it, and even half of those below 30 are regular users. The proportion of internet users spectacularly decreases in the older age groups; those above 40 use it in lower proportion than the national average (20%). Those of 60 and more lag most behind in respect of using the internet.

The use of the internet is closely related to school education. In Hungary the differences are greater between those of higher and of lower school education than in the 15 old Member States of the EU. The penetration index of those who have completed at least secondary education is much above the national average, whereas those who did not pass the secondary final exam use the worldwide web in proportions below that average.

The use of the internet is more widespread in the bigger cities than in smaller places. In Budapest, the capital city of almost two million inhabitants, two-fifths (40%) of the population aged 14 and more use the web as against 15%, characteristic of the village population.

The regional differences of development are manifest in the field of internet use as well, as the proportion of users is much higher in the economically more advanced regions of Western and Northern Transdanubia and Central Hungary than in the eastern and southern areas of the country.

In 2003 12 per cent of the households had access to the internet at home. Their proportion was almost doubled during the past two years but the decisive part of growth took place during the past year. A decisive majority (50%) of home internet connections is established traditionally, by an analogous modem, but it is remarkable that the proportion of broad-band access reached 30% by 2003. The current proportion exceeds the average of the USA as well as that of the European Union.


Researchers and actors of higher education on the net

Due to the national programme of infrastructure development (NIIFP), launched in the second part of the 80s, it is not only the sphere of enterprises, but also the universities, public cultural institutions and public administration that have broad-band access to the internet. The programme represents our country and the communities involved, as a member of European organisations of similar aims (such as TERENA, DANTE, GEANT, ISOC) and ensures our participation in the preparation of European decisions through its contacts, international connectivity by favourable conditions, and the free flow of professional experience and information.

– In 2003 about 600,000 users of almost 700 institutions had access to modern infrastructure and services through the research and educational network;

– The number of regional centres is above 30, all closely co-operating with NIIF, but performing their tasks autonomously;

– The width of the band and capacity of the domestic backbone network has been continuously growing in Hungary.

The IP backbone network of the NIIF Programme called HBONE is the computer network of the Hungarian academic community. The HBONE serves domestic higher education, R&D, libraries and public collections, the governmental organs linked to the Prime Minister’s Office via a portal, and a number of other public institutions.


Hungarian youth in the digital age

In 1996, Hungary launched the Sulinet programme, aiming at ensuring infrastructure for the pupils of the institutions of primary and secondary education, allowing for the acquisition of skills necessary to the use of the internet and computer.

From 2003 onwards the 5000 terminal points of the Sulinet network have been developing further as part of a network of public institutions established on the basis of a uniform concept within the Public Network programme. Content development of large volume has been launched and teacher training also attempts to catch up with the requirements of the school in the information age. In 2003 an initiative was launched, aiming at ensuring opportunities for kindergarten children to get acquainted with the computer. Several programmes, utilising the opportunities offered by distance learning, have been launched that would ensure linking those of a disadvantageous position to information culture.


Work in the knowledge-based economy

Tele-work represents a further, advanced implementation of network-based work organisation. Its presence in Hungary is estimated to be between 1 and 6%, measured by the extent and frequency of time spent on the performance of work, and by the narrower or broader interpretation of the nature of tasks.


Participation and involvement of all in the knowledge-based economy

The programmes of the Hungarian information society have put emphasis on access by the elderly, the district nurses and young mothers after civil servants and teachers, and during the past years the increase of the number of community access points has begun in the wake of civic initiatives and next by governmental support.

The Hungarian government has merged the parts of networks of community access hitherto existing by a comprehensive programme coordinated by the Ministry of Information. The concept of the so-called Public Network ensures networks of different functions and extent, reaching various groups, on the basis of a uniform plan, which would establish 2004 E-Hungary points besides broadening access by 2004. The E-Hungary points are public terminal points resembling ‘franchise’ and offering high-level services that would cover the entire territory of the country as the bridgeheads of digital culture.

Particular attention is devoted not only to the enhancement of opportunities in the countryside, but also to that of people living with impairment. Hungary is in a leading position also in development and educational programmes aiming at the creation of informatics environment for the blind.


Digital gap in Hungary

Various financial and cultural reasons are hidden behind the evolution of digital gaps and cleavages in countries. The various groups of the society are characterised by different purchasing power, hence they are able to pay for costly info-communications means and the telecommunications costs related to internet use to a different extent. The ‘traditional’ income differences among households are closely related to the segmentation of the information society, this is why, among others, the expansion of subsidised community access acquires special value.

Even if already the system of primary education creates opportunities to the acquisition of knowledge and skills to the use of the computer and the internet, it is in vain if the use of those means is hindered by cultural reasons: if the attractive online contents and services encouraging use, or digital literacy and interest are missing. It should not be forgotten either that the proportion of those speaking a foreign language is rather low (19%) in the Hungarian society, even in comparison to the other acceding countries.

Political intervention meant to spread access necessarily creates a digital gap when it accords preference to certain groups. The more educated and the younger people participate with greater opportunities in information society than the elderly and those of lower school education. Though during the recent years the digital gap has significantly narrowed in the Hungarian society, yet it is wider and deeper than in the 15 old Member States of the European Union.


Electronic governance (services, strategy)

About 40% of public services are accessible online in Hungary, it is not a bad proportion, however, 85% of these online services consist of communicating simple information only. Even in the few institutions where conditions of electronic administration have been established, only a statistically negligible proportion of clients would avail themselves of this opportunity. It is not accidental that the development of Hungarian e-governance has two focal points, such as:

– The satisfaction of clients’ demands at the highest possible level, which means the replacement of the earlier service-oriented operation by a client-oriented approach (including the early assurance of online access to the 20 public services defined by the eEurope 2005 programme),

– Enhancing the efficiency of the internal processes of public administration and digitalising the administrative procedures (including the development of uniform data management and data model of public administration, the evolution and introduction of the governmental system of electronic signature [PKI], the integration of the informatics and communications systems within governance).


Our level of development compared to the acceding countries2

The newly acceded countries and those waiting for accession (the Baltic States: Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia; the Visegrád four: Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary; Slovenia of ‘individual path’; the non-East European acceding ones: Malta and Cyprus; those left out of accession in 2004: Bulgaria, Romania; and finally the ‘cuckoo-egg’ Turkey) cannot be regarded as a homogenous group. Compared to the 15 Member States of the Union, they have a relatively small economic power, but the proportion of their population and their political influence are all the more decisive.

In 2002 the countries mentioned above did not reach 50% of the average GDP of the EU Member States, the distance, however, between the best performing Cyprus (about 80%) and Turkey at the last place (about 20%) indicates that differences inside the group are at least as big as its lagging behind the EU.

If one concentrates on the role of information technology within the economy, the area of IST (information society technologies) has to be separated from that of the ICT (information and communication technologies) in the study. IST is the demand side, as social expansion, whereas ICT may be defined as the supply side, as information industry.

The spread and use of means usually remains below the EU average, but there are outstanding countries (such as Estonia and Slovenia), too. All this closely correlates with the affordability and accessibility of services, with the level of electronic services and governmental policy in the given country. The digital gap is the narrowest in Estonia, followed by the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Lithuania, Hungary, Latvia, Bulgaria and Romania. Hungary characteristically represents a mediocre and lagging-behind output within the group as far as the IST indices are concerned. All in all, the distance of the group as a whole from the EU has grown between 1998 and 2002, while distances within the group have also significantly grown despite the fact that IST-related development has moved increasingly to the focus of attention everywhere.

An interesting picture may be obtained in the field of ICT studied more rarely. The market value of this sector (annual expenditure on ICT calculated per citizen) remains much below the EU Member States and it reflects the conditions of income (Slovenia leading and Romania is the last one). The situation is much more positive if it is seen what weight the market value of the ICT represents in the proportion of the GDP in these countries: this figure is lower than the EU average only in Turkey. Therefore the ICT market, disregarding Turkey, has a value above the 6.2% of the EU in the proportion of the GDP in all of these countries. It may also mean that with the growth of the rough value of the GDP these countries may greatly be revaluated in the future, provided the structure remains unchanged.

The role of the ICT sector in production as a whole is dispersed between 1.3 and 8.5 per cent, compared to the GDP in the countries under survey. Estonia, Hungary, Slovenia and Bulgaria are outstanding as the role of the sector compared to the GDP surpasses even the EU average in these countries. The weight of ICT within exports was the highest in Malta in 2002 (60%), followed by Hungary (30%)3, by Estonia (26%) and Slovenia (14%). The picture is further refined if the number of employees of the ICT sector is considered (data between 0.3 and 5%), they are systematically lower figures than the EU average of 7%. ICT plays a central role in exports in Malta, Hungary and Estonia, and even if it means assembling and production in customs-free areas nowadays, the added value has tangibly grown during the past years, and it indicates structural changes.

In the countries under survey smaller polarisation may be observed in the field of IST indicators, whereas differences are much bigger in the area of the ICT industry. All this may be traced back to the ‘heritage’ prior to and around the change of the system, to the available human resources and infrastructure, to capital relations, economic policy and to differences in size of economies. Presumably accession may not alter the scale of ICT production in the EU and its role in the world market, but changes may be expected in the internal division of labour between the old and new members. The development of the ICT sector is much more country-specific than the spread of IST, showing almost identical patterns everywhere.

It is important, however, that no strong correlation may be observed between the social dispersion of technology that is in the position of IST and the ICT sectors in the given country. It also means that the relatively outstanding position of Hungary in the ICT sector has no positive influence at all on the output of IST that may be regarded as a weak one lagging behind. As far as the volume of ICT production is concerned it has a 1 to 2% effect on the GDP, while the wide social use of the IST may influence as much as half of the GDP indirectly, through the growing productivity of labour, while it increases living standards and serves broader social aims as well. It is a question though, how far the countries and governments are capable of exercising strong influence over the ICT sector, as the overwhelming majority of production comes from a few big multinational companies that do not subordinate their decisions to national interests. Therefore it seems to be much more meaningful to concentrate on the spread of IST, as local actors have bigger influence on it, and the effects produced may also be much bigger, further on, the countries may learn from each other more easily because of their similar path of development (for instance in handling the digital gap).

A simple presentation of data and setting up an order of rank are not enough in themselves, though there are several other data series besides the ones given here (for instance, the use of IST by different sectors, such as the government, education, health care, commerce, workplaces). Data should be carefully handled and no hurried conclusions should be drawn: an identical value of some data may be the result of different background factors and explanations may vary by country. As it was stressed by Giuseppe Zampaglione, a World Bank expert, the analysis should include historical (economic) geographic and hard demographic variables as well. It may be clearly seen that 2 to 3 characteristic groups of the new members emerge with different paths of development as far as ICT and IST go. It also means different paths of catching up, while it should be known that the often quoted EU average also covers several characteristic and different groups of countries, therefore ultimately catching up is not realised to some ‘average’ either.


Information society in hiding

The development of information society in Hungary is slow; internet penetration is lower than in the neighbouring countries. If, however, the international lists (such as the Information Society Index) are studied more carefully then it can be seen, despite this slow development that our country ‘moves together’ almost automatically with the other Visegrád countries. Apparently the approach evolved for measuring the level of development and readiness has some fundamental problems which do not allow us to see clearly how developed the information society is in reality in the country.

– An approach regarding the spread of the internet, the penetration of cell phones or the spread of computers as the exclusive indices of IT development excessively simplifies. Information society is much more than the social spread of internet use.

– The ranking lists also increase only the number of factors included in surveys and do not alter the quantitative approach of ‘more is better’, therefore they are unable to reflect the level of the development of information societies in their complexity and particularly the differences of models.

If one wished to describe the level of Hungary’s development in information comprehensively and in its complexity then it cannot exclusively limited to the ‘well visible’ dimensions. If the internet users, constituting about 20% of the population, are taken separately then only the active (interactive) minority is projected and the rest, an apparently passive 80% using new information technologies in their daily life though indirectly are forgotten about4.

Technology is being ever deeper embedded unnoticed in daily routine, resulting in an information society in hiding. This ‘hiding’ naturally may be experienced in every country, because the real depth of the influence of information society and of transformation is difficult to grasp. All this is particularly strong in places where the issue is not a political priority, it does not characterise either public discourse or decisions related to the branches of politics, where the spread of IST is low (the spread of technology in the different sub-systems such as the population, education, health care, governance/local governance), where the clusters of industrial branches are weak (the so-called supply side: the ICT-producers and the branches of industry directly utilising ICT). Another important characteristic feature is that the quality of the channels of linkages between governance, the economy, civil society and science is inadequate in the information societies in hiding. Therefore it may be stated that the extent of hiding is particularly large in Hungary. Undoubtedly the phenomenon does exist in the other countries, too (one may even speak about a Central and East European path of development of information society), but it has different forms and a country-specific mode.

As regards the future of the Hungarian information society, the questions are more numerous for the time being.

– Would the current public and political indifference be replaced by handling information society as a priority, as a strategic focal point? Would a lasting consensus in all these issues emerge in a divided political power field?

– Are we able to break out of the vicious circle regarding information society recurrently and consistently in a restrictive sense that reduces it to informatics and research development5?

– Could there be found individual/unique solutions to the emerging challenges, or, would the country mechanically adjust to the Union objectives? How big a push would be given by involvement in the large-scale development programmes of the Union to the domestic processes?

– Can the Hungarian middle class become strong enough to ‘give birth’ to a change of information culture that would exercise a real mass effect?

– Would public discourse be transformed, can a bigger social activity be expected, would the workers of the media, speaking in an objective tone, become strong enough so that after joining the Union the culture of reception should not be further determined by myths?




Benyújtották az első EU-s informatikai pályázatot (2004. március 17., szerda) (The first competitive application on informatics of the EU was submitted. /Wednesday, 17 March 2004/)



eEurope+2003: A co-operative effort to implement the Information Society in Europe – Action Plan (prepared by the Candidate Countries with the assistance of European Commission, June 2001,)



eEurope+2003 Progress Report (European Commission, February 2004)


eEurope 2005: An information society for all (An Action Plan to be presented in view of the Seville European Council, 21/22 June 2002)



Hüsing, Tobias – Selhofer, Hannes: The Digital Divide Index – A measure of social inequalities in the adoption of ICT (Paper presented at the IST 2002 Conference, Session „Bridging the Digital Divide”, Copenhagen, November 4-6, 2002.)



Közepest kaptunk információs társadalomból (2004. február 27., péntek.) (We were given the mark of ‘mediocre’ on information society. /Friday, 27 February 2004/)



Magyar Információs Társadalom Stratégia (Informatikai és Hírközlési Minisztérium, 2003 november 18.) (Strategy of Hungarian Information Society) /Ministry of Informatics and Telecommunications, 18 November 2003/ http://www.ihm.hu/strategia/


A második Nemzeti Fejlesztési Terv hétszer több uniós pénzt hozhat (2004. március 26., péntek.) (The second National Development Plan may bring in seven times as much of Union money.) /Friday, 26 March 2004/ http://www.magyarorszag.hu/eu/hirek/nft2_20040326.html?h=1


Pintér Róbert: Magyarország – a rejtőzködő információs társadalom tézise. (Hungary – the thesis of information society in hiding.) In: eVilág, 2003 október, 4–7. (4–7 October 2003)


Pintér Róbert: Konferencia-beszámoló.(Report on a conference) Enlarging the European Information Society: Potential IS Strategies towards Lisbon 2010 objectives. Seville, 18–20 February 2004. In: Infinit Hírlevél, 2004 március 4. (4 March 2004)



SIBIS Pocket Book 2002/3: Measuring the Information Society in the EU, the EU Accession Countries, Switzerland and the US. 2003. (Empirica, Bonn, http://www.sibis-eu.org)


World Internet Project honlapja /homepage/: www.worldinternetproject.net, a magyar kutatásról lásd (on Hungarian research see:) www.tarki.hu/wip/


World Times / IDC Information Society Index (ISI) (2002-es jelentés /report/:



Z. Karvalics László: Az információs társadalom: versenyfutás In: Az információs társadalom dilemmái INFO-Társadalomtudomány 2003. 53. 11–24. (Information society: race. In: The dilemmas of information society.)


Z. Karvalics László: A bűvös 28–29.-ik hely. Információs társadalom országrangsorok tanulságai. Compaq Magazin, 2001. 2. 7. (The magic 28th and 29th place. The lessons of the country rankings of the information society.)


Z. Karvalics László: Internetpolitika Európai Unió módra. Internet Kalauz, 2002. 6–7. 15–18. (Internet policy á la mode European Union.)




In telecommunications the Hungarian regulations were harmonised with the acquis of 1998 by Act XL of 2001. The country report made by the Commission subsequently stated that Hungary was complying with the majority of its obligations and undertakings. In the interest of creating an adequate legal background to the universal services and the cost base of the fees of connection it is, however, necessary to improve the regulations on the level of orders. Measures have to be introduced in respect of reducing the connecting as well as wholesale internet access fees in the interest of strengthening market competition. The new Act on electronic communications (Act C of 2003) passed by Parliament in November 2003 and promulgated on 1 January 2004, intends to eliminate these shortcomings, at the same time it realises the total adoption of the new Community package of legal norms for telecommunications of the year 2002.


This chapter is based on a contribution (Pintér 2004) to the IPTS experts’ workshop held in Seville between 18 and 20 February 2004, under the title “Enlarging the European Information Society: Potential IS Strategies towards Lisbon 2010 Objectives”.


It is important to note that this is a figure from the time prior to the closing down of the IBM factory in Székesfehérvár.


Just to give some examples: when music or the news are listened to on the radio, the DJ or the announcer is served by refined technology, for the service would function entirely differently without it. When a bank loan is drawn the financial institutions use a complex information system to the preparation of the credit products and to the operation of the banking system. When public transport is used transport logistics increasingly relies on new information technology developments, when it coordinates traffic lights, the related public space observation systems and timetables.


The new National Development Plan for the period of 2007 to 2013 would contain an autonomous operative programme for the information society as it is envisaged today. According to the present concepts here, however, informatics and R & D would play a central role. Incidentally, the name of the respective portfolio (Ministry of Informatics and Telecommunications) well reflects focus on informatics.