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Leave No Thai Behind: Promoting equality of digital access in Thailand

Thailand, having had a large digital divide in the past, is now looking to promote equality when it comes to digital access. The Thai government has partnered up with Google in a bid to reduce the digital divide that exists in Thailand.

The first Google for Thailand event was held in Bangkok yesterday under the theme of “Leave No Thai behind”. During the event google announced a series of initiatives that it will be undertaking, in partnership with the Thai government. These initiatives include, free high speed public Wi-fi that will enable more Thai businesses and consumers to contribute to the growth of the digital economy.

In 2013, the Thai government announced that it was working towards increasing digital access in Thailand through increasing mobile penetration from 52% to 133% in 2020. This is done through the following, including the creation of a smart city development of a master plan, the development of mechanisms for public to private partnerships, the creation of a city data platform, the promotion of innovative solutions and the building of ecosystems for Smart City development.

This goal would not only increase the Thai GDP but would also have profound socio-economic impacts. These include improving productivity by simplifying jobs and allowing professionals to focus less on mundane activities, which will be automatized my technology, and instead, focus more on higher order work.

Increasing digital access will also help in driving the creation of new businesses.  As the quality of ICT goods and services continues to progress, prices are being driven down and this will lead to an ever-widening range of new applications. People are becoming used to ICT, and business-to-consumer electronic commerce is starting to follow the lead that business-to-business electronic commerce set in the 1990s.

Increasing digital access would also help catalyse Thailand’s transformation into a Smart City. When digital access is increased, the government will be able to create national security and healthcare apps allowing the Thai people to access all the national information that they need on the go.

Thailand has faced many challenges when it comes to building its digital economy and society. One of these challenges was the lack of awareness by the less educated individuals and individuals from lower social-economic backgrounds. The Thai government had therefore set the goal to reduce the digital divide and has been implementing initiatives to promote the equality of digital access in Thailand. The partnership with Google, is an example of one of these initiatives.

The access to free, high speed public Wi-fi will allow individuals who cannot afford to purchase expensive data plans to experience what it would be like to be online. Given that they have free and easy access to the Internet of Things (IoT), they become motivated to learn how to use these services. When they are more comfortable with being online, they begin to feel more secure with accessing national and important information online as well and their dependence on hardcopy or visual information, such as those on the news on television, will decrease.

According to the Prime Minister of Thailand, the government is moving several critical projects related to the digital economy, including smart cities, digital government, big data management and cybersecurity the premier said.

When individuals with different socio-economic backgrounds can get access to the same types of information at the same time, the digital divide is reduced. The Thai government will then be at liberty to convert some of its national platforms and apps to be online, allowing Thailand to move towards its goal of being a Smart City.

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