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National Policy Drives Digital Technology and Sustainable Development: Building the Digital Hub of ASEAN

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At Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2021, held in Shanghai, Mrs. Vunnaporn Devahastin, Secretary-General, Office of the National Digital Economy and Society Commission, Ministry of Digital Economy and Society, spoke at the "Connected for Shared Prosperity" forum. This is an edited version of the Secretary-General's speech.

The challenges brought on by the pandemic are faced by humanity as a whole, from the consequent economic downturn to increasing inequalities. We believe digital technologies are essential to achieve a better, green recovery and bring us a step closer to our ultimate goal of sustainable development.

On behalf of the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society, I am delighted to have this opportunity to share with you Thailand's national strategies for the digital economy. We are building the country into a digital hub among the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), with a vision to boost the economy, improve social well-being, and achieve sustainable development.

To achieve these ambitions, we have developed the Thailand Digital Economy and Society Development Plan at a national level. This plan acts as a blueprint for revolutionizing government operations, business practices, and people’s lifestyles. It proposes six strategies that will together build an equitable and inclusive society as well as increase the digital skills of the workforce, equipping them for this, our digital era.

Among these strategies, digital infrastructure sits at the foundation, fostering digital services, platforms, and businesses. Indeed, Thailand is building country-wide, high-capacity digital infrastructure in order to provide accessible and affordable Internet access for all individuals and small businesses.

Building upon this foundation, we encourage digital transformation through initiatives such as digital Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs), digital agriculture, and digital industry, to catalyze new business models and create economic value.

This transformation also extends into the public sector. It will create an open government and help people and businesses with an integrated "one government" approach.

To ensure inclusive and equal access to digital technologies, we are actively implementing a range of programs promoting digital community, digital learning and knowledge, and digital health. This is key to ensuring that citizens can take full advantage of digital transformation.

Meanwhile, the government is working to improve digital skills and literacy across sectors: people will only be able to derive benefits from a digital society if they are equipped with the necessary skills.

As we have all recognized, digital technologies have positively impacted society, especially during the pandemic. They promise to do the same when the world enters the post-pandemic era. The digital economy promises new ways for businesses to grow and brings with it improved social well-being; at the same time, it aligns with our sustainable development goals. Thailand will seize this opportunity to strengthen its digital leadership for a better future.

Last year, based on the Speedtest Global Index, Thailand ranked first among 176 countries in terms of fixed broadband Internet speeds. This leap to the top represents Thailand’s ongoing efforts to advance digital infrastructure, to boost the economy. Within ASEAN, we were the first to launch commercial 5G services. A 5G committee has been formed to ensure the necessary support from the government for 5G development at a national level. We aim to provide extensive, equitable, and efficient 5G access across sectors, helping both individuals and businesses. General Prayut Chan-o-cha, Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Thailand, is the chairman of the National 5G Committee, which consists of 26 members from Ministries and industry associations. This body makes it possible for the Ministry, industry associations, and academic institutions to coordinate on 5G development and align with the overall digital economy roadmap. We have implemented further initiatives including boosting 5G adoption, promoting a telecom infrastructure sharing system, and improving related regulations.

To develop Thailand's digital economy, the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society, the Digital Economy Promotion Agency, and Huawei jointly opened the Thailand 5G Ecosystem Innovation Center in Bangkok. This center will serve as a sandbox for digital innovation in 5G applications and services across various industries. These innovations will create new business opportunities for SMEs, startups, and educational institutions, paving the way toward achieving Thailand 4.0 [the Thai version of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, or Industry 4.0] and building a digital hub in the ASEAN region.

To strengthen the country’s digital competitiveness, one crucial factor (among many) is the efficiency of public services. Currently, there are several government initiatives that aim to improve and transform public services, for example the Government Data Center and Cloud service (GDCC), which aims to be a foundational digital service that drives digital transformation in Thailand. The GDCC provides high standard and highly secure cloud services for government agencies. GDCC also supports the use of new technology to support government operations, such as big data, Artificial Intelligence (AI), and the Internet of Things (IoT). We aim to improve the efficiency of government operations, support the use of advanced technology, and decrease the government budget for digital infrastructure development.

We believe it is vital to bring the benefits of digital technology to all. In addition to providing accessible and affordable connectivity, Thailand's Village Broadband Internet Project (Net Pracharat) is laying efficient, high-speed internet networks in villages which lacking private investment, pushing forward opportunities for broadband access to people in rural areas. A total of 24,700 internet service points have opened for public use — notably, free of charge. The project is also laying more than 80,000 km of fiber optic core network in many remote areas, which will provide crucial digital infrastructure and digital opportunities, bridging the digital gap in many areas throughout the country.

In addition, the Digital Community Center Project is designed to help communities learn digital skills and build confidence in the use of digital services. Currently, 2277 sites have been built, covering 77 provinces, with over 2300 staff volunteering their time. All groups — including senior citizens, the disabled, children and youths, women, the disadvantaged, and residents from remote areas — can learn digital skills in these digital community centers.

The Digital Community Center Project integrates central, regional, and local government agencies to provide people with one-stop services. It not only provides Internet connectivity but also functions as a knowledge sharing platform and activity center across education, agriculture, healthcare, trade, services, tourism, and more.

The objectives set are clear: to reduce inequality by helping people of all groups get the most out of using public and private digital services. This is aligned with the sustainable development goals of the United Nations (UN): lifting people out of poverty, reducing inequality, and providing high-quality education. We always bear these goals in mind and the Digital Community Center Project will continue to strive to enable people to understand, and make use of, digital services, directly and indirectly. More importantly perhaps, the project is a platform for the government to understand the needs of the community and to build people’s confidence using digital services. In the long term, the country's initiatives will help reequip Thailand's workforce and enhance employment skills in the digital society.

I am looking forward to witnessing the rising prosperity brought about by connectivity and digital technologies in the future. And this must be achieved through cooperation between the public and private sector, from the domestic to the international level. Together, let’s overcome the challenges and build a better future.

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