A discussion paper concerning the issue of digital inclusion and Thailands ICT development


Proposed to DOT Force, OECD




Thaweesak Koanantakool

Director, National Electronics and Computer Technology Center, and

Executive Secretary, National Information Technology Committee




Some of Thailands experiences in the ICT development:


  1. Telecommunications monopolies in Thailand have ended since March, 2000.  This was a result of the new Radio Frequency Management Act which also covers the telecommunications and broadcasting regulatory reform.  There was concession-type private-sector involvement in the development of telecommunications infrastructure since 1994.  This change will help all of the private-sector to be in a level playing field, and it would help decreasing the cost of communications due to a better competitive environment.

  2. As a result of the private-sector involvement, the actual costs of phone connection, mobile phones and pagers are being driven down.  Internet services have been opened to the private-sector operators since 1995, and this also help in lowering the cost with good services.

  3. Due to the economic crisis since 1997, many telecom operators were suffering from foreign debts.  Some operators solved their problems by bringing in strategic partners from multinational telecom companies and form a joint venture.

  4. There are about 2 million Internet users, or 3.3% of the population.  The figure is as of November 2000.  Starting in 1995, there are now 18 commercial Internet service providers and three academic Internet service providers.  The usage fee have been driven down dramatically by competition.  A typical subscription is pay-per-use, without any monthly fee, at a typical rate of about USD 0.50 per hour

  5. The rate of increase of Internet Café around the country is unprecedented.  In the past six months, there are new Internet Café in Bangkok.  Any visitors to Thailand will find a Café within a five-minute walk from their hotel in Bangkok and main provinces.  The typical service rate is between USD 0.50 to 1  per hour, depending on the setting of the Café.  It comes in the belief that this rate is better than Tokyo and San Francisco.  At the business center of a typical hotel in USA or in Europe, the service fee is about USD 20 per hour.

  6. The Government-supported SchoolNet Thailand project is a forerunner in e-Education since 1996.  Now SchoolNet project connects more than 2200 schools nationwide to the Internet.  Schools do not have to pay for the Internet connection.  However, they still have to pay for the phone (about USD 0.08 per call) and leased circuits.  Excess usage of teachers, students and the community go for the commercial market which have completed their infrastructure since the year 1999 for local access everywhere.



Some observations concerning ICT development in Thailand:

1.      International bandwidth costs commercial ISPs in Thailand about 50% to 70% of the total expense of the companies.  Developing countries run their Internet business by investing the full communication circuit to North America or Europe in order to let the information flow in both directions.  And this is irrespective of which side of the line users initiates the information request.  In this respect, the developing countries are apparently subsidising the users in North America whenever they access information elsewhere.  This bandwidth cost must be brought down through international cooperation if we want to declare a global digital inclusion with fairness.

2.      The development of telecommunication backbone is a must for every country.  Financing this large project can be a challenge and good examples could be brought up and followed whenever possible.  In Thailand, we opted for two laws: one to manage the common infrastructures such as the radio frequency spectrum, fiber-optic network and satellite, and the other law deals with the Universal Access Obligation.  Both laws were required by our Constitution of 1997.

3.      The so-called last mile problem can be solved by leapfrogging in technology.  Instead of using copper cables to link the access points to the home, which can be very costly for the last few kilometres in the rural area, the Wireless Local Loop (WLL) technology can be used effectively to lower the cost and expedite the installation for homes.  Not only this technology can bring in the voice phone, but it also allows connections to any digital network at the speed of up to 128 kbps.

4.      The language problem is one of the major concern in developing countries, especially in Thailand where only small percentage of population can read and write English.  It would be a pity investing all of the infrastructure just for the people to see what they cannot read or understand and they consequently go for some other things such as entertainment sites, pornography or downloading mp3 music.  In another words, this problem can be called as the last meter problem (i.e., a gap between the screen and the user. 

Challenging tasks are ahead of all developing countries
.  The solution is either to create more contents in ones own language, or to teach the citizen to be more fluent in other languages, or use ICT to help with this.  So far, for our quick fix for this is to provide an automatic machine translation from English to Thai language on the web (http://www.nectec.or.th/services).  The translation website gained instant popularity since its launched in June 2000.

Another last-meter problem deal with people with disability who may not be a
ble to use the keyboard and display, or they are at a remote site where voice input/output is necessary.  Strategic R&D program dealing with this at the national level has been quite successful in Thailand through the initiative of the royal family.

5.      Building a National Information Infrastructure (NII) is so crucial, if not critical, to the development of any country. NII means all sorts of infrastructure which is a basis for knowledge-based economy; and this includes peoples literacy, contents, software, communication facilities, laws to protect the society and also to create trust and popularity of e-Commerce.  Government needs to create a level-playing field to facilitate the win-win-win atmosphere to the people, to the nation, and to the private companies.  It should also provide all the means to lower the risks and the cost of doing business in a liberated atmosphere.  It is imperative that the government and the private sector mutually work out to legislate new laws and deregulate unnecessary rules that prevent the progress of ICT and K-economy.

Started in 1998, Thailand planned for the reform of business and creation of ICT related laws. There are six of them:

·         The NII Law (Universal Access Law)

·         Electronic Transactions Law

·         Electronic Signature Law

·         Data Protection (privacy) Law

·         Electrtonic Funds Transfer Law

·         Computer Crime Law

At the moment, the first three laws have been drafted and submitted to the Cabinet for approval, while the eTransactions and eSignature laws have been approved by the House of Representatives, and are reaching their final stage of approval by the House of Senates.


The certain updates in the Intellectual Property Law and Consumer Protection Law aimed to assist the safe passage for e-Commerce are also expected.


6.      The last part of affordable of the NII includes the low-cost PC and Internet applicance, low cost of GUI operating systems, office suites, and database.  There have been a strong collaboration program based on the Open Source movement in Thailand in order to bring Linux and Star Office for Thai language into popular use.


In Thailand, both software suites one becoming popular among new engineers and developers who want to create new businesses.


Call for Actions:


There are several actions which can be done at the national level.  However, this will require commitments within each economy and a strong program to convert the sceptics into the realistic believers of ICT.  If one can make five big wishes to the Digital Opportunity Task Force (DOT. Force), here are our wishes:


1.      Can we effective build a new kind of cooperation to construct a symmetrically financed digital connections?  The current bandwidth financing for Internet infrastructure is naturally a digital exclusion for those who cannot afford the link to the developed countries.


2.      Would each participant propose the strategies to go for solving the first-order problems with ICT and knowledge as part of the solution?    The first-order problems are meant to be what defined by Tim Kelly of the ITU: the poverty, hunger, health and basic education.  Would this approach bring up real progress and leapfrogging with some realistic landing point?



3.      How can community access centers be set up with the initiatives of the local communities, using the lowest cost model?  Could it be started with just telephones, fax and pagers?  PC and the Internet can be a second-level option which should come with some good information dissemination program to improve the earning of people in the rural areas?

4.      In addition to the WWW and free web browser software,  could there be a few versions of WWL (world-wide Linux), WWO (world-wide Office) and WWX (world-wide translation service)?  The development program for all of these software can be well below USD 50 million each, through the Open Source concept.

5.      Shall we convince the sceptics and high-level decision makers in each country to see the best-practice examples?  Will Estonia, Brazil and China be willing to host visitors from developing countries to see how they are successful in bridging the digital divide in their countries so well?


6.      Last but not least, the partnership concepts and true actions should be able to help providing the desirable digital inclusion that we are all looking for. Many developing countries which have been cited in world-class reports are ready to join the (DOT) force. Should the issues be taken seriously as the world challenges?