Thursday, March 05, 2009

Broadband to the fore

New working group unites the biggest players in the industry.

By: Roger Sansuchat
Published: 4/03/2009 at 12:00 AM
Newspaper section: Database

As it prepares to issue licences for 3G and WiMAX in Thailand, the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) last week announced a new alliance with mobile operators. Called the Meaningful Broadband Working Group, it aims to produce an approach to broadband deployment, revive the economy, boost human resources and preserve Thai cultural and spiritual values.

At the announcement of the formation of the Meaningful Broadband Working Group are, from left to right: Craig Warren Smith of Chulalongkorn University; Todsaporn Simtrakarn, chief strategy officer at CAT Telecom; Tore Johnsen, chief executive officer, Dtac; Supachai Chearavanont, president and CEO, True Corp; and Ricky Corker, head of Asia North sub region for Nokia Siemens Network.

The announcement was a result of the Meaningful Broadband seminar last week hosted by Chulalongkorn University's Centre for Ethics in Science and Technology, sponsored by Nokia Siemens Network.

Members of the alliance, apart from the NTC itself, include Dtac, True Corp and CAT, and efforts are underway to bring two other telecom operators, AIS and TOT, into the group.

Much of the impetus for this approach has come from the Obama administration in the US, which was the first government to put broadband into a starring role in economic stimulus. "We will use our participation in the working group to study carefully how the Obama team is using broadband to boost human resources and to see if the same approach could work in the new Thai economy," said Sathit Limpongan, chairman of CAT. Last week, the Finance Ministry, where Satit is an official, announced a 1.9 trillion baht stimulus plan that incorporates investment in broadband infrastructure. In a speech that caused US Congress to agree to spend $9 billion on rural broadband infrastructure, one of Obama's advisers said "data shows that a $17.4 billion investment in wireless broadband infrastructure could increase GDP by 0.88% to 1.28% - - a gain of $126.3 billion to $184.1 billion in dollar terms - and create 4.5 million and 6.3 million additional jobs over the two-year forecast period of 2009-2010.

"In the same way, Thai stakeholders could align broadband with the Thai government's efforts to overhaul its economy," said Craig Warren Smith. Smith is a former Harvard professor of science and technology policy who is in Thailand to organise the Meaningful Broadband initiative.

"A broadband approach to economic stimulus would not take years to produce jobs," said Smith. "The benefits would begin to occur in a matter of months."

"Now that legal hurdles are being removed, there is an urgent need for ICT stakeholders in Thailand to pool research efforts and formulate policies and practices that will make broadband of optimal benefit for all Thais," said Prof Setaporn Kuseepitak of the NTC.

"Though Thailand doesn't score high on technical indicators," said Ricky Corker, Head of Asia North sub region for Nokia Siemens, "broadband could have a powerful effect on the country's human resources, creating jobs and new entrepreneurial businesses," he said. "Thanks to the academic, corporate and governmental cooperation expressed at Chulalongkorn, Thailand could produce the innovations that allow it to move into the ranks of global innovators in broadband technologies."

"Telecommunications has emerged as the leading growth sector in Thailand's economy. This effort hopes to find new ways to leverage the industry's strength for the benefit of all Thais," said Professor Prasit Prapinmongkalkarn, an NTC commissioner.

"Being meaningful means being affordable," said Dtac CEO Tore Johnsen. "We are keen to share our experience in extending broadband to every Thai citizen no matter where they work or live."

"Broadband applications can harm Thai citizens as well as help them," added Supachai. "Though our participation in this working group, we want to make sure that broadband has the best possible ethical impacts on this country."

The next step for the working group, say its members, is to invite Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to join a discussion about how broadband could assist the policy goals of a whole range of ministries.

Roger Sansuchat, fellow, Centre for Ethics of Science and Technology, Chulalongkorn University.