TRPC Roundtable on “The Future of the Digital Ecosystem in Thailand”
TRPC’s “The Future of the Digital Ecosystem in Thailand” Roundtable took place at the Westin Grande Sukhumvit Bangkok on 26 May 2017. The event was organised in partnership with the Thailand Chapter of the International Institute of Communications (IIC). Representatives from the government, telecommunications industry, academia, and civil society took part in a panel discussion on the development of the digital ecosystem in Thailand, focusing on how Thailand can ensure equitable growth and progress on its Thailand 4.0/Digital Thailand plans. The Roundtable took place under the Chatham House Rule.
The Roundtable explored the plans for Thailand to expand its digital economy, the necessary steps to ensure equitable and cyber-secure growth, and the targets of Digital Thailand. The discussion began with the plans for Thailand 4.0, which aims to ensure that all Thai people have access to the Internet and where 100% of the population are digitally literate to drive the growth of the digital sector to 25% of the GDP by 2020. Creating a competitive environment for both telecommunication companies and entrepreneurs will allow for Thailand to become the digital hub of ASEAN. Citizens will enjoy an improved quality of life with new access to e-learning and e-health, while businesses will see improved efficiency and cost reductions.
There was an additional panel discussion surrounding TRPC’s recent report “Connectivity, Innovation and Growth: Fostering an Open Internet in Asia” that investigates the interplay between content offerings and the adoption of the Internet, and how best to facilitate the creation of an open Internet environment through better network management and increased market competition.
Key recommendations from the TRPC report include:
- Incentivise affordable data prices and faster connections through competition in national ISP and telecommunications markets for higher data caps, reduced prices, and increased connectivity
- Support network deployment through USAFs and public-private partnerships (PPP) for increased connectivity
- Promote non-discriminatory zero-rating schemes for increased innovation, affordable access, and unrestricted consumer choice
- Encourage peering and caching as network management tools for lower transit costs, higher quality user experience, and reduced latency
The observation of dichotomy was an overarching theme amongst the panelists – the idea that the same government that sees the digital ecosystem as the main driver of growth over the next decade is handcuffing the expansion by overly burdensome and unclear regulations.
There was discussion about the digital divide and the new definitions needed for the digital ecosystem. The digital ecosystem needs to focus on the processes that form the connections to define the entirety of the digital environment. The important factor is how these parts interact, and are maintained and enhanced over time. The digital divide brought up another overarching theme of the day: the key role education will play in contributing to Thailand’s digital success. Without educating the entire population to become digitally literate and savvy, the goals of Thailand 4.0 cannot be reached. The talent gap must be narrowed to reach the needs of the ever growing technology sector. Additionally, for personal privacy, the public must be educated on how to protect themselves from posting sensitive information or phishing attacks, just as much as the government should be protecting them.
Competition in the digital ecosystem was discussed as an important driving force in reducing the cost of connectivity and increasing overall quality of service. There remains incumbent monopoly power in the country, especially from former State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) at the international connection points from either overland or undersea cables. This forces other Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to lease bandwidth on the connection points, which increases costs to the consumers. The last mile fibre connections need to be laid and be company agnostic to reduce the duplication of infrastructure costs. This will help increase competition amongst the Internet providers and lead to better service for lower consumer prices.
Lastly, concerns over cybersecurity were raised as Thailand continues to be ranked as one of the worst performing country in Asia, in terms of the number of cyber-breaches and the high number of computer virus infected computers. The Computer Crime Act 2007 was created as a means to combat cyber security, but implementation has created an open censorship opportunity for the government. This, as well as other seemingly arbitrary regulations with harsh punishments have created an overarching concern that might inhibit international investment int data centres and infrastructure. We were advised that digital piracy has also been an issue, where only 5% of the video content consumed is paid for.
Overall, participants were quite positive about the future of the digital ecosystem in Thailand, but remained wary that there may be a need for tweaking the current development plans. A new Intellectual Property Rights Law, E-Commerce Law, and an update to the Cybersecurity Law 2007 were all brought up as key to move forward. As the Thai government moves forward with the goal of becoming an ASEAN digital hub, it must be aware of the issues that businesses face on the ground in order to help stimulate their growth. Thailand is seen as being on the forefront of the digital economy in the region, and must continue along the path toward a liberalised, open Internet to benefit both citizens and businesses alike.