THAILAND: Public access to low-cost broadband

B750-800 a month, with free installation

Bangkok Post
Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Komsan Tortermvasana and Vivat Prateepchaikul:  Having successfully brought low-cost computers to the market, the government is now looking to provide broadband or high-speed Internet access service to the public at just 750-800 baht a month with free installation.

The programme is projected to attract one million individual users of broadband Internet by the end of next year, according to Dr Surapong Suebwonglee, the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) minister.

The board of TOT Corporation will be asked to approve the project next Wednesday in order to begin developing it before the end of this year.

Calling the project "Broadband Internet for the People," Dr Surapong said he wanted to see more people use broadband Internet service to gain access to rich sources of information.

Without such low-cost broadband access to stimulate usage, the plan to create what he called the "ICT City" would not be possible, he said.

Currently there are only about 10,000 users of commercial broadband Internet service, which costs more than 2,000 baht a month, excluding installation of ADSL equipment costing 4,000 to 5,000 baht.

ADSL stands for Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line, which provides high speed, always-on access to the Internet from a home or business telephone line, without interrupting normal and concurrent use of the line for phone calls.

Dr Surapong's plan calls for 100,000 users in the first quarter of next year, another 200,000 in the second, 300,000 more in the third and 400,000 in the fourth quarter. In total he forecast one million users by the end of 2004.

In addition to monthly charges as low as 750-800 baht, including valued added tax, there would be no ADSL installation cost. Speed options would be from less than 2 Megabytes per second to more than 2 mbps.

A TOT source said the company was already pushing forward with the plan in order to have it fully in place next year.

In the first stage, the source said, TOT would need to purchase a lot of ADSL equipment. But because of the red tape and time involved in a major procurement, TOT is expected to lease the equipment from private companies.

Three payment methods are being considered for the equipment: three instalments of 3,200 baht per unit; 24-month instalments at 455 baht a month, and 36-month instalments at 317 baht a month.

Trin Tantasetti, chief executive of Internet Thailand, a major private provider, said he supported the aim of the project but expressed some scepticism about its commercial prospects.

Citing the low penetration rate of fixed lines at just 6.6 million or 10% of the population, he said TOT needed to speed up its planned addition of 565,500 new lines to meet increasing demand.

Internet Thailand, he said, currently rented circuits from several providers including CAT Telecom, Samart and TelecomAsia to provide broadband services to customers without charging margins due to low usage in the country.

TelecomAsia is the market leader in broadband and most of its customers are individuals. A TA executive said the rate proposed by Dr Surapong was not commercially viable.

He said that although TA was the market leader with a 90% share of the 10,000 broadband users, it could not afford to provide the service for less than 1,000 baht a month as the rate did not reflect the true operating cost.