Broadband access for all 79,000 villages this year

2All villages in Thailand will have access to the Internet through broadband connections by the end of this year under a program run by the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology and the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission, the ministry announced last week.

Thailand has over 79,000 villages, some in very remote and isolated areas where developing infrastructure has been a challenge. Access to the Internet in these and other areas will be through fixed line, wireless or a combination of the two. The total budget for achieving the project’s goals in 2016 has been set at $1.1 billion with a little more than half coming from the ministry and the remainder from the commission.

Providing broadband access to every village is just one of the steps the government is taking to transform the Kingdom from heavy reliance on manufacturing towards a more knowledge-based economy that produces more innovation, creativity and invests in research and development.

Other steps include greater investment incentives for firms involved in technology transfer and research and development, and a growing emphasis on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education. The expansion of broadband access also aligns with the government’s multi-billion dollar investments in upgrading and building new infrastructure.

Recently, the government conducted an auction and awarded licenses to two firms to provide the first 4G services in the Kingdom. The Ministry of Information and Communications Technology said that about a quarter of the proceeds it earned from this auction will be used to fund its share of the broadband program.

The Commission will use funds from telecoms license holders paid into its Universal Service Obligation fund. All telecoms license holders are required by law to contribute to the fund, the purpose of which is to achieve connectivity for people in remote areas.

The ministry will concentrate on installing fixed and wireless broadband access in 40,000 villages at a cost of about $410 million and install a new international Internet gateway for about $140 million. A joint ministry-commission committee will be set up to coordinate the work and reduce overlaps and redundancies, while ensuring that all gaps in coverage are filled.

As of January 2015, Thailand had 23.9 million “active Internet users” out of a population of over 67 million people for a penetration rate of 37 percent, according to We Are Social, a global consultancy focusing on social media. The spread of smartphone and mobile technology, the consultancy said, has been fueling growth in access to the Internet in Thailand and Thais are avid users of social media.