In an effort to bridge the country’s digital divide, Thailand’s Finance Minister Apisak Tantivorawong announced today it will be launching a scheme that will help provide free internet to the country’s poor people, according to the Bangkok Post.
The SIM cards will be provided by the state-owned telco TOT and the government plans to foot the bill. The cards will only provide internet access, so the SIM cards won’t allow people to make calls. The cards will have a fixed data limit, which has yet to be decided.
The plan is a piece of a larger welfare programme that is expected to be announced in the next month.
The programme is framed as being as much about employment opportunities as it is about technology infrastructure. The hope is free internet can help the poor access education, employment posts and financial services.
While the scheme seems like a positive step, there should be some reservations as both sides — the government and TOT — noted that many of the details had not been ironed-out.
One idea from the government to incentivise TOT to take the deal is to buy the bandwidth from the telco at the retail price.
While the deal is pitched as more of a general welfare scheme, it does fit into the broader Thailand 4.0 programme. The scheme is similar to Smart Nation programmes across the world with the goal of investing in technology as a means for economic growth.
It is fairly interesting to see a free-internet scheme being promoted — and potentially implemented — by a central government. While it’s not unprecedented, the Indian state of Goa being an example, the high-profile free-Internet schemes have largely been driven by private companies.
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