Can the Spread of the Internet Bridge Social Gaps?

Increased access to the internet in Thailand can bridge the social gap between rural people and townspeople, experts said at INET Bangkok 2013, at the Queen Sirikit National Convention Centre on June 7-8. Since today many rural areas in Thailand still experience difficulties in using the Internet, a gap divides people even in the same country.

One of these experts, Mr. Sombat Boonngamanong, founder of the Mirror Foundation, said at the session “Rural Access: Strategic Brainstorming to Promote Accessibility in Remote Areas” that there will be a smaller gap between rural people, especially farmers, and townspeople in 10 years through the development of the internet. “People in rural areas already cannot live without information as in the old days,” said Sombat. “No one can stop this process.”

Sombat Boonngamanong

One of the relevant factors that block access to the internet in rural areas is the present state of Thailand’s infrastructure, Dr. Kanchana Kanchanasut, Vice Chair of the Thai Network Information Centre Foundation, said in the session, “Internet: The Power to Create”. She explained that this is because establishing complex infrastructure systems for the internet requires system engineers, and Thailand has few who can do this.

As a solution, in the session “Rural Access”, Dr. Apinun Tunpan, from the Asian Institute of Technology, shared an easy way for rural people to be online, without the need for highly complex infrastructure; this is a mobile router. According to his presentation, the two keys for rural access to the internet are “cheapness” and “easiness”, which technological developments now make possible. It costs only 1,500-2,000 baht for each, and one touch can put users online. “This easy way to connect to the internet can even support rural people, farmers, to do their work more comfortably,” he said.

 

Apinun Tunpan

While some experts mainly focused on the development of the internet, Sombat mentioned the importance of rural people’s right to be independent. According to him, urban people earlier hoped that rural areas would be developed, but now they want rural people to remain the same as before. “The situation changed,” he said. “Since they also have the right to decide what they want to be, we urban people should not interfere in their process of change. But we can help them when they need us.”

Ms. Duangthip Chomprang from the Internet Society said that those dealing with this problem should not forget to establish a system that rural people can use continuously. “By the people, for the people,” said Duangthip.

Duangthip Chomprang 

According to Internet World Stats, 2.3 million people in Thailand had access to the internet in 2000; this rapidly increased and became 20.1 million people in 2012. But only 30% of the Thai population in Thailand now have access to the internet, compared to almost 80% in Korea and Japan. 

Internet World Stats Internet Usage in Asia

The INET Bangkok 2013 event was a collaboration among the Thai internet community, the National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA) and the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology (MICT), under the theme of “Internet: the Power to Create”. The programme focused on how the internet can become a positive and productive force in society and featured several issues such as rural access, internet governance and new technology. 

Opening Session “Internet: The Power to Create”

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