Personal Reflections


Thaweesak Koanantakool

Director, National Electronics and Computer Technology Center, and

Executive Secretary, National Information Technology Committee



Mr.Chairman, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,


I would like to thank the German Federal Government, and the DSE for the invitation to this International Policy Dialogue and for providing me this opportunity to take part as the final speaker of the final session, for which, I am honoured to be here. 


Germany as I know is the innovator in road transportation with the name Autobahn so well known.  In some points in time, I also heard of the word InfoBahn being used for same the meaning as the Information Superhighway.  We have yet to find the low-cost equivalent of the Volkswagen of the Infobahn and let people drive at high speed so that the can do better with their normal lives: work, live, play and learn.


I would like to divide my talk into three parts.  First, I would like to share some experiences in Thailand in working toward the digital inclusion in the country.  Then I would make some observations in the construction of digital bridges to move society to the right side of the digital gap.  And in the last part, I would like to call for some actions which may reflect some ideas of the participants in this dialog.


There are six points regarding the experience in the ICT development which may be put into the perspective of my country, Thailand:


  1. Telecommunications monopolies have ended since March, 2000.  This was a result of our new Radio Frequency Management Act which also covers the telecommunications and broadcasting regulatory reform.  We had concession-type private-sector involvement in the development of telecommunications infrastructure since 1994.  This changes 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 DM1 per hour.  This is a vast improvement from the figure displayed in the presentation of Bruno Lanvin (ie. Data as of 1999).

  5. The rate of increase of Internet Café around the country is unprecedented.  In the past six months, there are new Internet Café in the neighbourhood of my own home in Bangkok.  Any visitor 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 DM0,50 to DM1,8 per hour, depending on the setting of the Café.  I believe that this is better than Tokyo and San Francisco.  At the business center of this very hotel, the service fee is DM36 per hour.

  6. The Government-supported SchoolNet Thailand project is a forerunner in e-Education since 1996.  How SchoolNet project connect 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.


There are several observations in this two day which I can add into my personal reflection:

1.      International bandwidth of commercial ISPs in my country is about 50% to 70% of the whole 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 initiate the information request.  In this respect, the developing countries are 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.

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 ver costly for the last few kilometres in the rural area, the Wireless Local Loop (WLL) technology van 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 understand and they go for some other things such as entertainment sites, porno or downloading mp3 music.  I would call this problem in my own words as “the last meter” problem. 

Challenging tasks are ahead of all developing countries!  Your either have to create more contents in your language, or teach the citizen to be more fluent in other languages, or use ICT to help with this.  So far, we put all three tasks in our agenda.  Our quick fix for this is to provide an automatic machine translation from English to Thai language on the web (  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 ale 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 successful in my country.

5.      Building the NII is so crucial (if not critical) to the development of any country.  By NII, I mean all sorts of infrastructure which is a basis for knowledge-based economy; and this include people’s literacy, communication facilities, laws to protect the society and means to create trust and popularity of e-Commerce.  Governmetn need tp create a level-playing field to facilitate the win-win-win atmosphere as suggested by Dr. K.J.John.  It should also provide all the means to lower the risks and the ost of doing business in a  liberated atmosphere.  It is imperative that the government and the private sector work out to legislate new laws and deregulated unnecessary rules which 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

We do expect certain updates in the Intellectual Property Law and Consumer Protection Law to assist the safe passage for e-Commerce.

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 nearing their final stage of approval by the senate.

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


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) or the UN’s ICT Task Force, here are my 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 USD50milion 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?



The partnership concepts and true actions should be able to help providing the desirab le digital inclusion that we are all looking for.   Let’s look for the WWP (world-wide partnership).  Thank you for your attention.