|From ID cards to public services,|
the initiative counts on
faster broadband to provide people with
better public services
and welfare for an increasing
connected and wireless Thailand.
Call it "Mission: Possible" _ in the next couple of years, the new government's Smart Thailand initiative will see rural residents submitting their house registrations online at their local tambon office instead of having to travel to the main district town.
This high-tech mission will also enable them to have new smartcard IDs made at their local post office, consult with doctors in Bangkok from any health station in the country and, for students, study in virtual classrooms.
Recent governments have increasingly promoted wider internet access and data communication services requiring high bandwidth.
Now the Pheu Thai administration plans to introduce its Smart Thailand campaign for affordable high-speed broadband availability in each district nationwide.
Under the project, the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Ministry will spend at least 30 billion baht to transform the country into Smart Thailand.
To this end, the ministry will use ICT hardware and software to promote a knowledge-based society while easing teacher and doctor shortages and affording access by all to government services.
ICT Minister Anudith Nakornthap said the Smart Thailand scheme will be crucial to the country's development, instituting a high-speed broadband infrastructure that will serve both government agencies and citizens.
"This initiative will entail integrating network infrastructure and data exchange between agencies, promoting wider use of smartcard IDs as a multipurpose tool for accessing government services," he said.
Gp Capt Anudith said certain districts will be selected to participate in a pilot project for e-government services.
All paper-based government services will be replaced with an electronic services platform, but for this a high-speed broadband infrastructure must be developed.
Methini Thepmani, an inspector-general at the ministry, said besides house registration and medical consultations, ID smartcards will allow access to social welfare and other public information including about the first-home and first-car projects and the One Tablet per Child scheme.
Thatre Ngaosuphavongs of Business Navigator Consulting (BNC), which serves as the consultant for the project, said a recent study shows Thailand still has low broadband penetration despite higher-than-average disposable income.
The country's household penetration for broadband was 15% last year, while average annual disposable income was US$3,000.
Thailand's broadband spending totalled 6.3% of gross national income per capita, compared with 3.8% in Malaysia and 0.8% in Singapore.
"The higher cost of broadband is the biggest barrier to low-income earners accessing the internet," said Mr Thatre.
The study results suggest the government should expand the infrastructure backbone through a network buyback from TOT Plc and CAT Telecom.
The government could form a new state agency called the National Broadband Network Co or allow the two state telecom enterprises to run the project.
To push up the overall broadband penetration rate to 80% of the population by 2015, the government will need to spend 30 billion baht over the next two years to expand backhaul connection coverage at the district and tambon levels nationwide in order to help private operators reduce their backhaul investment costs.
Thailand's overall broadband penetration rate now stands at 5.7% of the population.
However, the network buyback scheme could cost the government up to 100 billion baht.
Say Sripaipan, another BNC consultant, said the National Broadband Network Co would play an important role in investing, expanding, managing and maintaining network assets.
Singapore, Australia and Malaysia each have a National Broadband Network Co that is responsible for broadband nationwide, he said.
"Over there, people living in cities and suburbs access broadband directly, while rural residents do so through shared facilities such as schools, ICT community centres and post offices," said Mr Say.
Sinchai Tawwuttanakidgul, director of the Public Health Ministry's ICT Centre, said only 10% of of Thailand's 9,750 health stations offer telemedicine or telehealth services.
"The farther away you are, the more you have to pay for broadband service," he said.
Laws and regulations must address potential problems, particularly regarding data exchange between agencies, said Mr Sinchai.
These can include the Computer Related Crime Act and the upcoming data privacy law.
Mrs Methini said the ICT minister expects to receive the action plan study in November.
Gp Capt Anudith will then submit the plan to the National Information Technology Committee chaired by the prime minister for approval before it is sent to the cabinet for budget approval.
Gp Capt Anudith said he expects extra funding for Smart Thailand to be approved this year.