Government wants satellite, 85% of Thais are daily net users


The government has hired Thammasat University to conduct a feasibility study on whether it should develop a state-owned satellite instead of relying solely on the private sector, while United States-based Google reported last week that 85 percent of Thais access the internet everyday, demonstrating a faster-than-expected growth in digital activity, a positive sign for the policy of shifting towards a digital economy.

The proposal to have a state-owned satellite is the initiative of the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology, which has enlisted the Research and Consultancy Institute of Thammasat University, one of the leading universities in Thailand. Thailand relies mainly on satellites owned and operated by Thaicom, a private company listed on the Stock Exchange of Thailand. The company is Thailand’s sole satellite operator, and launched its first satellite in 1991.

National security is a priority government use for satellites, but the government also employs them for a variety of purposes including broadcasting educational content, medical uses and information needed for disaster preparedness and response.

Thaicom rents six and a half transponders of its broadcasting satellites to state agencies and gives the government one additional transponder free of charge. The ministry said that total satellite usage by state agencies is expected to grow between 3 and 5 per cent annually in the next five years, meaning that government will require 14 transponders.

The cost of satellite usage by state agencies is currently $48 million per year, but is projected to reach $123 million per year in 2021 and $167 million in 2026.

Owning and operating its own satellites would naturally fit into the government’s goal of transforming Thailand into a digital economy over the next 20, a broad program known as Thailand 4.0. Policymakers want the Kingdom to shift from an assembly line, manufacturing economy to a nation whose growth is propelled by research and development, and innovation.

A major component of that transition is nurturing a digitally literate and savvy population. Many Thais are already beginning to fit that profile, according to Google Consumer Barometer, a research arm of U.S.-based Google Corporation.

Last week, Google released results of a comprehensive survey of the Thai population’s online behavior and it showed that Thai people’s consumption of digital information and media was growing faster than expected. Roughly 85 percent of Thais access the internet every day, and the figure jumps to 92 percent for people under 25 years old.

A full 70 percent of the population logs on to the internet through their smartphones, and 69 percent said they prefer to accomplish tasks digitally if possible, with 80 percent of the under 25 group preferring to work that way.

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